InfoSyte, an IT trainer with an eye on the future

It probably goes without saying that to stay in the job market these days, amidst so much uncertainty, you have to keep learning. It’s evolve, or die (not literally). While there are still many cushy jobs about, the days of milking a piece of paper you received 20 years ago are over for most of us.

So I’m excited to be working with InfoSyte, a leading IT trainer in Malaysia, for two reasons: 1) I get to tell their story through data-driven approaches, which is always fun; and 2) I’m familiarising myself with the latest IT skills and certifications. In other words, I’m learning about learning at a time when ICT matters more than ever. Very meta.

For example, I knew that cybersecurity was important. But I was less sure about the skills or qualifications necessary to succeed in the cybersecurity world. It all seemed very cryptic (excuse the pun) and even off-limits – until now.

InfoSyte partners with the likes of Cisco, Huawei, Microsoft, Oracle and CompTIA to provide the very latest IT training. They also offer soft skills training, which is equally important in today’s world – ultimately, while having technical skills are important, you will be more marketable if you can influence people, especially as automation gathers pace.

Their location is also a strategic advantage: InfoSyte is based in Malaysia, located in the heart of the fast-growing ASEAN region and within sight of China.

While they have two training centres in the KL area, InfoSyte also deliver classes around the world. In recent weeks they were in South Africa, Ghana and Zambia (the latter two are also Belt & Road countries).

If you’re working in IT and interested in taking a course, and quite frankly you should be – because the world is undergoing rapid change at the moment – then take a look at InfoSyte’s new website.

And if you’re not working in IT, then take a look at the website anyway – IT is a safer career choice than most.

Commonwealth opportunities in a post-Brexit world, from trade to impact

*Update*  Soon after posting this, I signed up as a Founding Fellow and Mentor with the Commonwealth Communicators Organisation, meaning a shiny new title to add to LinkedIn there will be more info to come on Commonwealth opportunities…

Recent days have propelled more than one formerly glorious institution with members around the world back into the spotlight. First Liverpool FC, then the Commonwealth of Nations through the Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM, sounding like an icky cough) and the Commonwealth Games.

I remember the Commonwealth having quasi-iconic status in my youth as a remnant of the British Empire, being quintessentially “British” in a global way like Hong Kong and Concorde (technically also French, but you know what I mean).

Yet unlike Concorde and British Hong Kong, it’s still there. A bit like The Simpsons, it continues to tick rather than hum along in the background after so many years, while the global conversation has moved on, to the EU, ASEAN and Africa, eyed by China and Macron. This in itself is pretty remarkable. The USSR imploded and the EEC is no longer a thing as such, yet the Commonwealth is still with us.

And it’s still relevant. They say that size doesn’t matter, but it surely plays its part. Numbering 2.4 billion people, the Commonwealth is not only bigger than Facebook – its citizens get to keep their data.

It also has breadth, wrapping itself around a fifth of the Earth’s territory. Comprising 53 member states (53 is apt, being the year The Queen was coronated and Everest was scaled for the first time), the Commonwealth includes large influential countries like Canada, Australia and Pakistan, and small countries like Tuvalu – a South Pacific island state, rather than a tickly organ in the back of the throat.

It’s this global reach that is enabling countries from across the Commonwealth to eliminate avoidable single use plastic in a bid to clean up the world’s oceans, from plastic bags to avoidable plastic waste – an admirable initiative that came out of the CHOGM (excuse me). A similar initiative to help protect the world’s rainforests, the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, was launched in 2015, with 40 countries now taking part.

As Britain pulls out of Europe, there will (probably) be more opportunities with Commonwealth nations, including fast-moving countries like India, Malaysia and Singapore, from trade deals to free movement.

But more than anything, there are shared interests between Commonwealth nations, which simply make working, living and doing business that little bit easier – the “softer” things in life.

As the Commonwealth was mostly the British Empire, member states share interests that are British in origin, like use of English, driving on the left, sports like rugby and cricket, and picking a fight after last orders the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy (though it’s fair to say that “democracy” is loosely interpreted in at least one or two nations). In fact, Malaysia remains the most comfortable country I’ve lived and worked in, and I believe that familiar factors like the English language had much to do with it.

But these are still early days in the Brexit journey, and from my point of view there are institutional and brand challenges for the Commonwealth to overcome. The organisation still feels a bit…staid, and its not entirely clear what its purpose is.

Perhaps oceans, forests and young people point the way forward – an opportunity to use our links to positively impact lives and the world around us.

Penang, Southeast Asia’s Silicon Valley, is a digital nomad dream

Little Children on a Bicycle mural in Penang

City and country slogans are often cringingly bad. Incredible this, amazing that. The “Pearl of the Orient” is one of the few exceptions that ring true.

Malaysia’s small but satisfyingly formed Penang Island shines like a gem, from its photogenic heritage town (now spruced up) to its jungle-clad hills. It’s impossible not to feel seduced by it.

Penang was my first Asian destination, way back in pre-smartphone 2002 when a camera roll of 36 exposures was a luxury, and I was entranced by its exotic smells, wildlife, cultural celebrations, heritage, and prawn mee with belacan. It looked like a sprawling film-set, and the “Asia” I’d imagined.

On my second visit, in 2009, a beautiful young Malaysian couple ahead of me in a street food queue started a conversation that ended with an invitation to their wedding the following month. I returned weeks later; a random, wide-eyed foreigner attending a traditional Chinese wedding. Oddly enough, I had to wear a pair of disposable underwear over my trousers – but that’s a story for another time, as they say.

That’s the kind of place Penang is – blessed by the (many) gods – and in the years since, I have been drawn back again and again.

In more recent years, Penang has undergone a renaissance of sorts.  First, Unesco World Heritage status put it firmly on the international map, resulting in a flurry of boutique hotel and hipster coffee shop openings, giant murals painted on buildings, and steel rod caricatures (some with a tacky feel) labelling key streets. The town bubbles with cultural events like the annual George Town Festival.

And people have noticed. The accolades keep coming. Last year, Lonely Planet named George Town fourth in the Top 10 Cities list for Best in Travel 2016. Conde Nast Traveller named Penang among the best places in the world for retirement.

Second, with its past a major asset that pulls in the tourists (some might say too many), George Town is now looking to its future. There is a crackle in the air, and possibly even a cheeky wink at its bigger and more conservative cousin Kuala Lumpur.

George Town is fizzing with startup energy. Mostly famous for brilliant startup Piktochart (the go to website for infographics), new projects are popping up like mushrooms after a tropical downpour.

The town’s startup culture has been aided by the recent opening of a grand coworking space near the waterfront, @CAT.

Set within a hundred-year colonial heritage building that had laid abandoned for 40 years, Wisma Yeap Chor Ee, @CAT is an ideal location for creative inspiration (film buffs might also recognise it as a filming location for Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution). Of course I had to check it out on my first visit to Penang in more than a year.

I was kindly shown around @CAT by Community & Operations COO & Partnerships Director Zoey Teoh, who explained that the co-working space was supported by the Penang State Government (hence the amazing location) and that its ultimate purpose was to appeal to foreign investors.

@CAT coworking space in Penang
Where Googlers come to talk at @CAT

Penang was ideally suited to tech startups, Zoey added, saying that both it and Silicon Valley shared an electronics industry heritage. (They’re also on the west coast and have long-ish bridges, and that’s probably where the similarities end.) There’s also a bit of Silicon Valley at @CAT, with people from Google and what not coming over for events.

The @CAT community is made up mostly of freelance coders and digital marketers, several of whom are digital nomads who come and go (Zoey said that they were always pleased to see familiar faces return). But there were corporate faces too – two big companies (unnamed) had sent staff over to scope out the Penang scene.

Alongside a board naming startups there was a wish list. Top of the list was coffee (and why not – it tops my to do list every day), which was somewhat of a surprise as there was a huge cafe downstairs.

The Penang Science Cafe was impressive enough in its own right, replete with interesting books that didn’t include the usual tatty airport novels left behind by backpackers. There was even a 3D printed model of Penang Bridge to gaze at.

Penang Science Cafe
Penang Science Cafe

But here’s the really fun part: in an adjoining room there were things to tinker with that included a Raspberry Pi and – how else to write this – an aircraft. So in theory, you could wander over with a flat white and stare at a Cessna.

Cessna aircraft at Penang Science Cafe
Plane bonkers

If that wasn’t exciting enough, you could probably build your own Sky Hawk II minutes later. Across an outside courtyard with potted plants there was a Makerspace and Garage with enough gizmos to make Q from the 007 movies blush. It was an electronics, woodworking and metalworking playground where you could probably just about make anything, apart from Mars exploration rovers.

I could have lingered for hours at the Wisma Yeap Chor Ee building. For young creative Penangites, it’s the stuff of fantasy. For digital nomads and entrepreneurs, it’s an affordable place to work and mingle.

Conveniently, it’s also a few Andaman island hops from Thailand’s Koh Lanta, the scene of coworking community KoHub, which would make a fun trip – something to think about if you’re stuck in a beige office on a grey November day.

Aerial picture of George Town, Penang, from Komtar
@CAT is in there somewhere…