Alumni of the month: James Zhan
James is a lifelong-learner with multiple degrees and executive courses from universities spread across four continents. With working experience from Google, Twitter and most recently Facebook, he has a clear view on how to set yourself up for a career of success.
One big difference I found between Norway and China, was that all my Norwegian colleagues had a part-time job while they studied and all lived by themselves despite having their parents in Bergen, says James Zhan.
– Norwegians they really want to be independent. I also find that the Norwegian approach on how the courses are thought is very logical: my professors would always ask me to come with evidence to support my hypothesis. Norwegians professors were very direct but in a constructive way. I found this approach to be very effective: straight to the point. In China, if someone criticizes your prospective it is quite common to take it personally.
In general, I believe that European universities, compared to the Americans, are more theory focused: in the US, the courses are built on case studies which can be applied right away in your job.
– You have a great deal of experience from the tech-world i.e. Google, Twitter, Facebook. What do you think will be the a big industry to bet on for the future?
– I believe that mental health will be big in the future. The increased levels of competition in the working life and the distorted image of the self, portrayed through social media will generate more mental illnesses. In addition, I believe that it will be very important for every professional to have a good set of skills in communication.
In the globalized economy we live in, every business to grow and strive globally need to reach every corner of the world. Reaching small communities and be able to communicate at a local level.
– How did your studies contribute to your career in tech firms?
– The knowledge I acquired through my university studies doesn’t apply significantly to what I am doing right now. This is not uncommon among my colleagues. But I believe that the methodology I learned in tackling questions, the network I built with alumni and professors, and the philosophy I learned to formulate during the university period is fundamental in driving the direction I desire.
– What should a freshman do to set him/herself up for success throughout college?
– Find what interests you and build your network while you are still a student. Talk to Alumni from your university and get an insight of the sector you are interested in: if you only imagine what your dream job will be, then you might have some bad surprises when you start working. During my first job I realized that what I thought was my dream sector, was not what I had imagined. Then I landed an internship at Google and this has shaped to professional I am today.
Therefore my advice is to get a thorough insight of the sector you would like to work in, because you might get disappointed and find out that it is not what you really wish for.
James has an advice to students wanting follow his footsteps in the technology sector:
Be brave enough to face the uncertainty in any sector, in Facebook where I work now, change happens on a fast pace: the industry, the organization structure, and even people you work with are changing every day. In Facebook I work with Facebook Gaming, my job is to create partnerships between Facebook and gaming companies. And of course gaming is a fast changing sector. Bear in mind that you need to be able to adapt and change in order to be competitive all the time.
– Do you have a book you would recommend to your younger self?
– Steve Jobs: The exclusive biography. If you have time, definitely find his speech in Stanford for graduates.