Syed Almas Kabir spent 10 years as an academic, teaching and mentoring hundreds of students and guiding them through the best career choices, with stints at the Independent University Bangladesh and North South University. Then he made a career switch to become an entrepreneur. He has been serving as the chief executive officer of Metronet since 2006 and currently holds the president's office of Bangladesh Association of Software Information Services (BASIS).
In a recent conversation with The Business Standard, Almas took a ride down memory lane and spoke about his life as a professional, the challenges and difficulties that he faced. He also spoke about how young professionals should prepare themselves for the job market.
The Business Standard (TBS): In 2006, you joined Metronet as the Chief Executive Officer. But before that you had been working at reputed universities in the country. Shifting a career path is never easy and has its challenges. What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?
Syed Almas Kabir (SAK): It has indeed been a very long journey. Let me tell you from the beginning. After completing my undergraduate degree in Electrical engineering from Jadavpur University in 1989, before my results were out, I started working with Flora Limited. Three months later, I joined Concord as a systems analyst. In late 1990, I moved to US to complete my Masters and worked there for some time as well. Finally, I returned home and joined Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB) in January 1994, where I worked till 2004 in different capacities before joining Metronet in 2006.
The shift in my career brought on philosophical changes and fetched some technical challenges as well. For example, when I was a teacher, I did not think like a CEO. I taught database but never told my students to learn Oracle, because I thought learning database is necessary, Oracle is not. But, as a CEO, when I look out for someone with Oracle experience, if they do not have it, either I have to train them or reject them. Another is the sales and marketing aspect that every businessman needs to know. Teachers do not need to think about it, but businessmen do. It was challenging, because it was new to me. But I took it as a challenge, and enjoyed every bit of it.
TBS: Thousands of fresh graduates are not getting jobs they desire even after securing good results. Employers are looking for an X-factor which is sometimes absent in candidates. What is your advice for fresh graduates on job hunts?
SAK: I have experienced on both sides of the job market in my life, hence talking on this is easier for me. In 2005, when I was the Director of Career Placement and Development (CPD) at NSU, I was always on the watch out for opportunities to place the students at different organisations. But, when I joined Metronet as the CEO, I became an employer and discovered that our fresh graduates have the knowledge but not the skills. Some also lack the passion or communication skills required for the job. If you have passion, you will succeed.
Therefore, I would suggest every fresh graduate to do at least one internship before joining the job market. Even if it is without pay, they should still do it. The internship can be for at least three months, but I would suggest for six months. Getting an internship is easier than a job, because employers have little or no expectations from them, and the payment is low. But from an internship the fresh graduate gets to learn a lot of things which universities do not teach through textbooks and lectures.
TBS: Compared to men, why are there not enough women involved in the ICT sector?
SAK: This is very unfortunate. It has been so for many years and the situation persists in Bangladesh and many other countries. Ever since I took the president's office in Bangladesh Association of Software Information Services (BASIS), I have taken many steps in this regard. I have established the BASIS women's forum and have also formed a standing committee to encourage our member companies towards hiring more female employees in their companies.
In addition, we conducted multiple focus group discussions with women from the ICT sector. There we found some disappointing information, including the low female participation in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). That is because society to a greater extent psychologically discourages girls to pursue a career in Maths and technology.
While women are reluctant to join this industry for various reasons, I also think that only the IT sector of our country is a very suitable career option for a woman, considering all the social and family burdens that she has on her shoulders. I am saying this because the sector allows her to work from home and earn money through it, which is somewhat impossible in any other profession, unless it is an unprecedented situation like the current one.
Steps need to be taken from the national level. The government must encourage more female employment in the fields of technology and create mass awareness in this regard.
TBS: Many young professionals are now seeking to start their tech-startups. How can the BASIS help them in launching their businesses?
SAK: BASIS has 1,428 member companies, of them many are startups. Keeping these small companies and growing businesses in mind we have taken a number of steps. We have successfully developed the growth ecosystem. Through this, we ensure that these companies are growing.
For example, we can help them find office space at a lower cost, and also, we have tried to fill the gaps of expertise in these new businesses. For example, if they don't have expertise in marketing, HR or any other administrative work, we stepped in and trained them.
We have also talked to some lawyers and arranged for a free corporate legal support for these new businesses. This also includes IP and copyright registration. Moreover, we have arranged for access to finance, so that these businesses can get loans.
Most importantly, we have established a mentoring system, where a pool of senior or successful professionals of the industry play the role of mentors and these new businessmen are the mentees and are groomed by the seniors. It is a three-month program where one mentor teaches three to four mentees during the period.