All I want for Christmas is a better approach to tech in Malaysia

DECEMBER 25 — I got my honours degree in IT two decades ago and back then, IT was seen as a field full of potential.

We even had our national sweetheart Datuk Siti Nurhaliza singing an embarrassing jingle about how we should “Love IT.”

We had so many ambitious projects, such as the Malaysia Technology Park, Cyberjaya, the various techpreneur grants and the various government-funded IT training courses.

What has that brought us so far? The initiatives instead created many fly-by-night operations where businesses were set up just to take advantage of said grants.

Money was frittered away on huge directors’ salaries, fancy cars and other perks but in the end, those companies folded.

There was so much money floating around in the hey-days of the IT boom, then when the bubble finally burst, I remember how many IT graduates (me included) left unemployed.

Now we have people again exhorting that we all “learn to code.” Can’t find a job? “Learn to code.” You’re currently in a field that is dying? “Learn to code.”

As someone who has a fancy piece of paper to show that yes, I can code, I’ll just say that is the worst advice.

I know plenty of people who shouldn’t learn to code and will not benefit from learning to code.

Tech is more than programming and programming itself is hard work, with a limited career path.

What no one tells you in the IT field is the money is in getting into management or sales.

It’s the salespeople earning commission who make the real money while the coders work weekends and long nights without overtime pay, with nothing to show for it except carpal tunnel.

We do need to have incentives in place to keep the few legitimate tech outfits around.

What we don’t have is proper check-and-balance to ensure that grants go to the right people and not the cousin’s brother-in-law’s sister’s friend of a friend.

We still do have potential as a regional IT hub, what with our multilingual population, low power prices as well as generally lower operating costs.

Until we remove many of the barriers to growth and clamp down on nepotism and corruption, we will see our neighbours win the bulk of foreign investment.

We have to ask ourselves, why, even if Singapore is so much more expensive, that foreign companies still choose it over us?

It’s time we clean up our IT initiatives and weed out the pork barrel politics interfering in our tech sector.

The biggest challenge, however, is cleaning out the cronyism from the tech sector and that, I fear, will take a lot of political will and fewer corrupt politicians.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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