Careers X Major Insights - Technology
by Linda Wang
In an increasingly digitised and interconnected world, the intersection between technology and business cannot be understated. Technology has fundamentally transformed and improved the ways companies operate, from automating back-office functions to managing big data with cloud-based analytics. In this instalment of the Major Insights Series, I sat down with Alan Huynh, 2016 President of UNSW Business Society and current Account Technology Strategist at Microsoft, to further explore the technology industry through the lens of his personal experience.
Please introduce yourself – your interests, professional and personal aspirations, extracurriculars in university, current job.
Alan Huynh describes himself as “an aspiring technologist who’s optimistic about how technology can solve problems and the challenges we face”. He currently works at Microsoft, a company with which he shares the “similar goal of empowering every person and organisation in the world to achieve more.” He elaborates, “I’m quite fortunate to see how technology tangibly helps people do their work – through leveraging the data in their organisation, all the way to how care is delivered by clinicians supported by mobile applications.“
Alan also grasps the necessity of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Indeed, one of his long-term aspirations is to have “work turn into a vocation rather than occupation.” “Outside of work and university experiences, I play in a couple Oztag teams and often wind down watching Black Mirror, Star Wars (movies, Mandalorian, cartoon series) and Age of Empires II streamers,” he says.
How did being involved in UNSW BSoc impact your personal and professional development?
Alan’s involvement in UNSW Business Society began in 2014 as a Marketing Subcommittee Member, before becoming Marketing Director in 2015 and finally President in 2016. His response to my question is enthusiastic: “Quite positively! I was very fortunate to be exposed to a plethora of experiences, both fun and extremely challenging – I found that this tested where I was with my competencies and where I needed to work on.”
Projects such as “going through a requirements gathering process of what a cover photo design should look like and then working in a mini team to pull it together” allowed him to develop crucial teamwork skills, such as “conflict resolution between multiple views, getting feedback cycles together with the organising team”. Additionally, Alan was provided with the invaluable opportunity to grow himself as a leader, explaining that “student societies can give you an opportunity to lead teams, run interview processes, and consider how to help your team members be successful.”
Bsoc also provided him with an outlet for fun. “Through attending events like peer mentoring, the socials, career networking and volunteering days, I was lucky to meet new people at UNSW and form friendships that will (hopefully) last a lifetime.” He reflects fondly on his time and leaves us with a thought-provoking comment, “Iron can only be cast when put through pressure and heat, which is what my various roles in UNSW BSoc offered in no short supply.”
What has your career pathway looked like, and what professional roles have you taken on?
Alan’s diverse career pathway has broadened his personal and professional horizons, with each new role impressing upon him a different set of values and lessons. In his earlier years, during his time stacking shelves at Kmart, Alan internalised the “importance of work ethic and ‘earning’ your shift or right to work by showing up and pushing through the grind (within reason).” From working in a project management and sales capacity at the start-ups Gradconnection and Spot Parking, Alan reflects how he “got a taste of the Jeff Bezos “It’s always day 1””.
Later on, Alan began honing his industry expertise. “Prior to my current role I was fortunate to spend 6 months as an intern in a marketing role for Windows 10 devices (HP, Dell, Lenovo) … and then subsequently another 6 months in a sales operations function.” Reflecting on his time spent interning at Microsoft, Alan says, “These roles gave me a foundational appreciation for how a multi-national organisation functions in a consumer and B2B capacity.”
What does working as a technology strategist look like, and what do you think the future of this industry holds?
Alan says, “The way I would describe my role as an Account Technology Strategist is in three parts: the Account (know your customer/organisation and where they want to go), Technology (understanding the Microsoft ecosystem, but also the value that other providers like Amazon, Salesforce, Google, Splunk, Zoom etc. give their customers), and finally the Strategy (mapping ‘Account’ and ‘Technology’ together into a positive future end state).”
Reflecting on the future of this industry, Alan acknowledges the innumerable possibilities for innovation. “Technology companies like Microsoft will need to take a lock-step shift towards leading conversations on what technology can unlock/do as opposed to how to configure Microsoft Teams, Azure, Dynamics 365, Windows, Office 365 or the like.” His outlook is positive. “I’m quite excited to see this unfold in the coming years.”
What do you think helped give you a competitive edge over other candidates for your professional roles?
Firstly, Alan acknowledges the conventional advice given to undergraduates searching for professional success. “The more well-known ‘edge’ is involvement in extracurriculars at university whether it be student societies, academic programs, sport, or volunteering,” he says.
However, Alan personally found success in extracurricular case competitions, in particular the annual Microsoft Protégé competition. “(It) helped get my name out there to the university recruiters and also gave me an appreciation for what the company actually does and challenges it goes through,” he explains. “Beyond this, in going for my graduate role I had a few role informationals with my would-be peers in the team to unpack the realities of the role, while also being an opportunity to start building a connection to the team – prior to any interview.”
Finally, Alan stresses that while undergoing the recruitment process, students must also ensure that the company will accommodate their personal interests and aspirations. “For Microsoft, I mapped my passion for problem solving to technology being a key component, and then subsequently Microsoft having the broadest toolkit to work at said problems.”
What advice do you have for current university students aspiring to work in the technology industry and hoping to gain internships?
Alan highlights the need to be a specialist, rather than a generalist, both in terms of refining our skillset for particular companies and building industry knowledge of a specific topic. He wisely advises, “Building a competitive edge for yourself with that specific company can be quite challenging if you need to replicate it 20x times. While you ‘miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’, it’d be hard to have good shooting accuracy if you took one try at 20 different sports.”
Additionally, Alan encourages students to ask themselves questions about a potential role to determine whether they would genuinely enjoy it. “Consider the ‘things’ you’d like to do and whether roles line up to this as opposed to role titles that sound cool/prestigious. A few examples of ‘things’ is: internal/external-facing, project-based work, generalist/technology area, and numbers/coding heavy or light.”