Samson Tai
Samson Tai is helping better prepare students and schools to meet the needs of the IT industry and clients.
Kids using machine learning interface
Samson Tai is helping better prepare students and schools to meet the needs of the IT industry and clients.

Undeniably it is a digital world. Because of that you might think that the IT industry is turning away people looking to join its club.

You would be wrong. The pipeline of skilled IT professionals, aligned with industry needs, can’t keep pace with the high demand—particularly in Hong Kong, which some have said is at risk of being left behind in the global technology race.

Samson Tai, as the Chief Technology Officer for IBM in Hong Kong, has developed an informed perspective on the needs of the IT industry and its client.

From his unique position, Samson has volunteered his time and expertise to help close the IT skills gap in Hong Kong. He received a 2018 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award for this work.

IBM Volunteers spoke to Samson about his activities to help students prepare for IT careers and the changes that must occur.

What are your responsibilities as an IBM chief technology officer?
I lead the client technical leader team in Hong Kong, working with all the client-facing teams to explore and develop innovative solutions that address our clients’ business pain points with IBM technology and services. I have been at IBM for over 30 years and I’m also honored to be an IBM distinguished engineer.

How did an IT skills gap develop in Hong Kong?
It’s a fascinating and unfortunate predicament. We do have STEM graduates. However, most of them do not end up working in STEM fields. They go elsewhere. Plus, a 2018 Manpower survey indicated skills and knowledge in AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, and more are highly demanded in the market, but students are not getting enough exposure to those topics. I know that clients are looking for analytic skills, such as data science, that help people and organizations use data to make better decisions.

In fact, you led an initiative centered around data science.
That’s right. I created and offered free workshops on data science at Hong Kong Polytechnic University during the evenings and on Saturdays. It was very popular—and, to their credit, I think students realize they must supplement their course work with industry-inspired learning opportunities. We had 430 enrollments within 36 hours, and I’m pleased they gave high marks to their experience in the workshop.

Tell us about some of your other volunteer activities—you have many.
Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to talk about our individual contributions. However, when we do, I think it can give ideas to others about how they can also make contributions—even by starting small. Here are some things I’ve worked on that might inspire others.

  • I have been working with IBM Academic Initiatives and the IBM social responsibility team to develop programs for promoting STEM to many of the secondary schools in Hong Kong. The programs are designed to attract student interest to pursue advanced levels of study in technical subjects after they graduation from university
  • Over the past 10 years, I have developed and influenced content for IT and business programs offered by universities in Hong Kong, including The Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and The Open University of Hong Kong. We’re striving to improve the alignment of skills being taught with industry expectations and needs.
  • In 2013, I established the Marketing Engineering Laboratory at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. IBM and its clients can access resources with domain knowledge to support Big Data analytics in business.
  • I developed the Mainframe Cultivation Program and Mainframe Application Programming courses to address the shortage in mainframe programming and operation support. The program was offered through the Vocational Training Council for working IT professionals.

Do school curricula need to change to prepare students for "new collar" jobs?
Yes, the school curricula must to be updated considering the advancement of digital technology and the changing needs of industries. To prepare students for new collar careers, vocational training needs to focus precisely on industry needs. That’s a big part of P-TECH, an initiative started in the US that is being considered here in Hong Kong. Specifically, interested students begin acquiring IT knowledge and capabilities in secondary school, with assistance from industry mentors.

However, we must demonstrate that a so-called vocational path can be just as respected and notable as a full university path. The opportunities in technology are significant. As that becomes even more apparent, a change in thinking will occur with students and their parents about pathways to successful and lucrative careers. Part of the process must include early career planning with students while in secondary school, so they understand different career options and how to fulfill their career aspirations.

What is most personally satisfying to you about your volunteer activities?
Volunteering gives me a sense of pride, self-confidence and also enhances my social network. Participating in volunteer work is also a way of learning and can be integrated into my daily work. For example, collaborating with universities to create knowledge and teaching assets, benefit not just students in their skills advancement but addresses the talent shortage which potentially can impact IBM’s business growth.

Also, integrating it into your work helps with finding time to participate. There are so many different volunteer opportunities—pick one that fits your schedule and see how it could be part of your daily work. Plus, when you think about the importance you realize the time is well spent.

Samson Tai is among 15 IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the fourteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees. It includes an IBM grant for the associated not-for-profit partner or school.

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