Live & Learn
5 Career Lessons for Youths from the People Who Have "Made It"

Contributed by Dave Tai

Our career shapes a large part of our lives, but it is almost never straightforward. So who better to learn how to navigate through our careers from the ones who have ‘made it’.

From C-level executives of tech giants to entrepreneurs and founders, Young NTUC and Lifelong Learning Institute, brought together an impressive array of speakers for LIT DISCOvery with a series of talks and discussions to shed light on the future of technology and careers.

No matter whether you are starting your career, considering a switch or looking to start your own business, these are lessons from their experiences that would always apply.

Lesson 1: Embrace Change

"The future of jobs will probably be something you are not doing now," said Kevin Wo, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore.

It’s true, our world is changing faster than ever. Who knew data scientists and UI/UX designers would become in-demand jobs. And even being an influencer has become an entire industry on its own. While change is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be scary. The moment we make the most of the change happening around us, incredible things can happen.

Abraham Thomas, Managing Director of IBM Singapore can definitely attest to that. He has been with the company since he graduated in 1986, but his growth has always been shaped by change. Most memorable of which was the time he was offered the chance to focus on IBM’s business in India.  "It’s very difficult but it’s the best experience I had," said the Managing Director who recounted uprooting his entire family from Singapore to India when his son was only a year old. The move forced him to learn about new cultures and take on new challenges that he would otherwise have never faced. He has been no stranger to change since and even took up the challenge to be based in Africa for a few years where he picked up a bit of Zulu along the way.

He probably best captured his philosophy when he said, "If my company does not embrace change, we will die." Change may not always be comfortable, but those who embrace it will often find themselves one step ahead.

Lesson 2: Never Stop Learning


"Our ability to learn fast enough has to be faster than the pace of change," said Kevin Wo, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore. Learning and working used to be two separate phases of life. But graduation is no longer a full stop on education. To thrive in the workplace of the future, learning has to be a continuous journey.

For David Gledhil, Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Head of Group Technology and Operations from DBS Bank, this meant a shift of mindset from "we know everything" to "we know very little".

In fact, his adventures in continuous learning have led him on a very hands-on journey. Through self-study and taking on personal projects he had learnt to write his own mobile applications and even built an IPad from scratch with a uniquely DBS lego casing. "Last ten years is a journey of continuous discovery," said David.

The power of constant learning applies not only to David’s personal life but he has seen it drastically change things at work. Previously at DBS, an ATM runs out of cash about once every 3 months. But DBS equipped with new skills in its digital transformation has pushed back the likelihood of an ATM running out of cash to once every 55 years.

Lesson 3: Know Yourself

"I wish I had known myself inside out earlier," said Rachel Lim, co-founder of Love, Bonito. Having been an entrepreneur since she was a student during the early days of online shopping, she had grown the business from strength to strength and even taken it from the digital space to retail in the past few years. Looking back at her journey Rachel saw how important it was to be self-aware. After all, how would you even know if you are in the right career for you if you do not know yourself well?

”You have to be genuine. Don"t try to be someone you’re not." For Abraham Thomas, knowing what he likes gives him the clarity and drive to perform at work. "You must enjoy what you are doing," Abraham adds. "I’ve been doing this for 32 years and I"ve been looking forward to every Monday.”

Teo Ser Luck, a former Minister of State who left government service to pursue his own entrepreneurial journey, sees the need to know yourself as a matter of being pragmatic. ‘What is your threshold?’ he asked aspiring entrepreneurs. While it's important to know your strengths, it is just as important to know your limits.

Rachel probably emphasized the importance of knowing yourself best when she said, “I believe each of us has a very different superpower. Learn what it is, hone it, and make a dent in the universe.”

Lesson 4: Own Your Growth

"It’s important, especially for young people, to adopt a growth mindset," said Abraham. He highlighted the need to take the initiative to make your own growth happen.


For Teo Ser Luck, the motivation to chart his own future started since he was young. Coming from a poor family, he saw how easy it was for his father to lose his job and that drove him to become a serial entrepreneur now. His ventures vary across many different industries but they all stem from the same starting point. ‘I like to solve problems,’ said Ser Luck. A company he founded started simply because he wanted to eat healthier and that eventually led to the creation of a program that generates healthy recipes.

"Ask what am I going to do about it instead of what the government is going to do," said Abraham. With more resources than ever for self-starters to learn and grow there is no excuse not to get started.

Kevin echoed the same sentiments, ‘"I think we need to see ourselves take up the responsibility of reskilling ourselves." If you are unsure of where to take your next steps, he foresees a shortage of skills in creativity, critical thinking and scientific research and development, so these areas would make a good starting point.

Lesson 5: You Are Not Alone

“People is everything,” said Rachel. “You can’t do everything yourself, you need to bring the right people to team up with you.” We all have different strengths and weaknesses. And in our career, it’s important to work with people who are able to complement your weaknesses and amplify your strengths. In fact, Rachel believes that having the right team is the key to solving any challenges.

Kevin is on the same page. In fact, Microsoft Singapore has inculcated a culture where everyone openly shares their learnings and insights with one another. This gradually created an environment where everyone is constantly improving. “Leverage others’ success to help you do your job better,” said Kevin.

While we sometimes seek help from our peers, it is actually the seniors who have walked on the path before us that could help us accelerate. These are after all the people who could show us the mistakes to avoid and introduce us to the skills we need to get ahead. Abraham shared that the mentors in his life, be it from work or outside of work, were the people who helped him become who he is today. “Take the initiative to spend time with your mentors, Change your calendar so you can speak to them,’ he advised.

Look at the people in your lives and consider the learning opportunities around you. After all, “the right people and the right time is everything,” said Rachel.