Interview with Ahmad Malik

As part of career counseling and advice, BrightSpyre will now be regularly featuring interviews of successful Pakistanis who have made it big nationally or internationally. We hope that these interviews turn out to be inspiration for young Pakistanis and also help them in advancing their careers.

Ahmad Malik’s Profile: Mr. Malik has been working for CIBER (A US$1 Billion dollar American company in Denver Colorado, USA) for the past eleven years as Director of IS Applications. As part of his job, he has lead numerous projects to implement, maintain and enhance Enterprise Applications (ERP, CRM, and Portals) used by CIBER to run its business. He completed his bachelor’s degree in computer science from FAST Institute of Computer Science in 1994 (now called FAST National University), and an MBA in management from University of Colorado at Denver.

Q) You were in one of the first batches to graduate out of FAST Lahore. How was that experience?

FAST helped me discover myself. I was very glad to be educated in the field that I was planning to get into since my first visit to the computer exhibition at American Center in Islamabad a couple of years earlier (in the late 1980s). At FAST, we worked with very limited resources and to this date that experience helped me find optimal IT solutions for my customers based on the available resources.

Q) You have studied here in Pakistan and also in the USA. What is the major difference in the education that you have found?

As I answer this question, keep in mind that it has been 14 years since I graduated (from FAST in 1994) and just like anything else education has improved and vast resources are available to learn from i.e. internet, email, etc. In the US, we are required to perform extensive research to write papers or evaluate case studies. Team exercises are encouraged since it helps in the real life. Critical thinking, risk taking, and learning from mistakes is encouraged.

Q) What skills did you gain at FAST that helped you make the transition to the US institutions with ease?

FAST gave me a lot of confidence which helped me market myself to get admissions in the US institutions. Additionally, some courses that we took were advanced level as compared to Bachelor’s courses in the USA. FAST helped me secure internship at IBM and job at Oratech which also helped me during my time in the US Universities.

Q) Is there anything that you would like to see improve among Pakistani graduates?

I am a strong advocate of having betters soft skills. Technical skills are very important and if soft skills are absent, technical skills are of no use. I recommend improving the following soft skills:

1. Resourcefulness

2. Organizational Skills

3. Problem Solving Ability

4. Customer Oriented

5. Honesty and Integrity

6. Thirst for Knowledge

7. Communication Skills

8. Good Attitude

9. Longevity

10. Goal Oriented

11. Hard Worker

12. Enthusiasm

13. Performance Trend

14. Fast Learner

15. Team Player

In the past I have delivered presentations in FAST with a title “Successful traits that make you valuable in the IT industry”. Details can be found at FAST Alumni website.

Q) What is one of the major differences in work that you found between the USA and Pakistan?

I have worked only one year at Oratech before coming to the US and I was fortunate to find that the right management team that helped me gain more knowledge and insight to the working of IT industry. They pushed my comfort zones which was very good. There was a time I consulted for a few months in another organization in Pakistan. I found that people are technically very capable but they need to improve their soft skills.

Q) Do you miss your family back home? How often do you travel back?

Of course I miss them and they miss my family 🙂 I visit my parents at least every other year. They visit me when I can’t.

Q) Given a choice, would you prefer working in Pakistan over the USA?

One can find passion to work at any place and make a difference. If I get a chance to bring the skills to grow a company in Pakistan, I would be glad to come back.

Q) You have transitioned well from a technical person to an executive. How did you manage that transition?

I would not consider myself an executive yet. However, it is one of my goals to be a part of the executive team to help the organization meet its business goals. IT can help every department in an organization to improve efficiency and productivity.

As far as the transition is concerned, these two simple approaches helped me in my career:

  • Managing downwards (employees) or sideways (peers): Share/Transfer knowledge. This freed me up to learn new skills and take on new challenges.
  • Managing upwards: free your boss’s time. Take on some of his/her responsibilities. You will learn new things and at the same time prepare yourself for the next job.

These two simple approaches helped me to transition from a programmer to business analyst to project manager to program manager to IT Director. And I hope that this will help me to transition from VP IT to CIO to COO to CEO.

Q) Books are something that you love to read. What are some of your favorites?

Some of my favorites include:

  • 7 habits of the highly effective people by Stephen Covey
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • The five dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni

Q) What magazines and periodicals do you read on a regular basis:

  • CIO
  • Information Week
  • Harvard Business Review

Q) What are the top two/three sites that you visit regularly:

Q) Can Pakistani IT curriculum be improved in any way?

It has been a while since I have looked at IT curriculum in Pakistan to suggest improvement. However, I would stress the importance of having students work at least one semester as a part of their degree. As always, I would like that the soft-skill improvement plan be incorporated in every course. Simple things as making random team can help the students prepare for the real-life ‘random’ teams.

Q) What is one thing that you look into when you hire a fresh graduate?

I evaluate candidates based on the soft-skills listed above. Additionally, I follow the following statement by Dee Hock (founder of VISA internationals):

“Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities”

Q) What is it that you would like to see more in Pakistani graduates when they get out of school?

One thing: Improve your soft skills.

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