This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview David Downs: International Top-ranking Services Director for Microsoft in South East Asia and Emerging Markets. Does IT skills development contribute to economic development? David answers this question and many more in the interview including providing his deep insights of the attributes and best practices for success. Take the time to listen! In addition, I just received this information, which provides an update to the government outreach that he talks about.
In November, David and Mr. Paul Matthews, CEO of the New Zealand Computer Society and board member of IP3, a global program for professionalizing ICT, spent a number of days in Brunei Darussalam, where they held a workshop with representatives of government, the education sector and industry, with the aim of creating a common framework for ICT skills. There was good progress made during that meeting and the Brunei government has indicated they will support the establishment of a national standard, aligned with the international work of IP3. “The level of interest and engagement in the workshop was very high”, says David, “and there was keen interest in the work of the NZ Computer Society, and a willingness to do a similar exercise in Brunei”.
(For added background, IP3 is a program of IFIP, the international Federation for Information Processing. IFIP was established in 1960 under the auspices of UNESCO, following the first World Computer Congress organized by UNESCO in 1959 in Paris. IFIP has a formal consultative relationship with UNESCO and is listed as such as an international non-governmental organization (NGO). Here’s a news release announcing the Presidency of Leon Strous beginning in 2010. http://www.ipthree.org/images/IP3/NewsReleases/press%20release%202010.pdf. An interview with Leon also appeared here.)
David Downs is currently the Services Director for Microsoft in South East Asia and Emerging Markets (HQ'ed in Microsoft Singapore), where he balances leading a large team of technical, sales and operations staff, with ensuring customer satisfaction and profitability for the Services business in the 7 countries he is responsible for. These countries are Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
In David's outstanding Microsoft career, he has achieved much recognition including the Circle of Excellence award, the Chairman's award for Outstanding Achievement, Microsoft Platinum Club, election to the ExPo Program for High Potential Employees, and continual achievement in the '20%' category. As of 2010, David is in his 10th year with Microsoft, most of that spent managing the Services business in New Zealand, although he also spent time in marketing and customer satisfaction.
David joined Microsoft in 2001 after a year working in Ireland with a technology hothouse for Eircom, Telecom Ireland. Before that, he was the General Manager of Eureka Software Development for 4 years, a software development company and Microsoft Partner in Auckland, working with many medium and large NZ companies.
While he has worked for over 15 years in the IT sector, he also worked in other industries, notably the entertainment industry as an actor and writer. In David's richly diverse history he opened and ran a bar/entertainment venue, wrote a number of books, succeeded as an award-winning radio producer, and worked on many TV shows and commercials.
David holds a BSc in computer science from Auckland University with post-graduate studies in business administration.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
What triggered your initial interest in computing which led to your studies?
"....My parents bought me my first computer when I was fairly young. I loved programming and the idea that you could sit in front of a keyboard and make things happen...."
Can you profile your prior roles leading up to your work with Microsoft and how they influence your work with Microsoft?
"....Communications is a key part of any role but I think it's more important than ever these days. We get so used to communicating by email, blogs, etc. and the 'in-person' communication skill is getting scarcer...."
Can your profile your prior roles with Microsoft and what key lessons you wish to pass on?
"....The core of my time has been working in the Services area managing our relationships with large corporate customers...."
Tell us more about your vision and objectives behind your current roles? What do you hope to accomplish in the future and how will you bring this about?
"....My vision is to take Microsoft's business and the wider IT story to the businesses in these countries in Southeast Asia, and show them what IT can do to help enable them achieve more with technology...."
Please profile some of your recognitions and awards and how they were achieved?
"....Microsoft is very much an organization that celebrates people who 'think outside the square' and challenge the norms and I've been lucky enough to benefit from that...."
You are an accomplished leader and manager. What specific tactics make for good leadership and management?
"....It boils down to one comment that was made to me very early in my management career at Microsoft (which I remember and come back to a lot)....'I've discovered the secret to people management. If you want people to think that you care, you have to care!'...."
What other specific attributes make for success for the current roles you have with Microsoft?
"....IT is a very difficult business because you must have your eye on the long (term) and the short (term) simultaneously and be able to seamlessly switch between them...."
For computing professionals who want to work in Microsoft, what attributes make for getting hired and being successful?
"....They have to have an appreciation and knowledge of our industry and our customers, but really that soft skill of knowing your own skills and failings and where you need help, for me is a mark of someone who has moved to another level in their professional development...."
You've talked about knowing your own skills and failings. I'm going to put you on the spot. What are your own failings?
"....I'm a very optimistic person and I live with the 'glass half-full type mentality'....Most of the time that does me well but every now and then I need to develop that critical perspective...."
What do the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) and the International Professional Practice Partnership Program (IP3) mean to you professionally?
"....I have a passion around the professionalization of our industry....It's really around putting in place the framework so that we can present our (relatively new) industry with confidence so that customers, partners, and other industries can look at us and see a level of professionalism there...."
What does IFIP and IP3 mean to countries and their development?
"....Part of my role at Microsoft is working with some smaller and emerging economies and countries, and as part of it I was working with the government in this particular country in SE Asia who expressed the desire to grow the overall professionalism and skills in IT. I reached out to some contacts I had who quickly put me in touch with IP3. I was lucky to be able to introduce to this country the concept of this worldwide body with a body of knowledge and experience in helping to build an ICT body of knowledge proficiency within particular countries. That has been quite a revelation to me to see how generous IP3 has been with their time and also the amount of impact they have had in a short amount of time...."
What is the link between IT and productivity?
"....IT has an amazing impact on productivity but only if it's used well and is sustained and conscious effort is put into it to ensure that it is sustained...."
What are the best practices for working in new developing markets?
"....Every market is different, every economy, every culture has its own variance and variation....I wish I had a list of best practices but I'm kind of developing them myself...."
How does IT skills development contribute to economic development?
"....That is one of the core premises of much of the work that we do. Most of the countries that I work with in Southeast Asia are only 20 to 30 years into democracy or to the commercial ways of working....It's interesting to see how quickly some of them have latched on to IT skills as a way to grow their economies and how their skills development is a key part of it...."
Over your career, what are some top lessons you can to share with the broad audience?
"....People work with people - make sure you develop your people skills....Change is just part of our industry. On one hand you have to embrace it and on the other hand you have to make sure you constantly invest in your own readiness....Opportunity is what you make it - you need to put yourself out there and create opportunity...."
Do you have any additional tips for IT professionals in terms of how they can be successful?
"....Invest in making sure that our industry is growing and that you are always working on your professional skills...."
Please make predictions for the future, their implications, and how we can best prepare?
"....Anybody who predicts IT more than about five years is probably doomed for failure...."
What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"....How to be predictable....How to be reliable...."
If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
"....'How does IT have an impact on the economy (ie. organizations ability to transact business, etc.)?'...."