Alumni profile - Barry Lui
As a QMentor, being a part of the crucial transition for graduates who have just come out of university is highly appealing to me, especially as I can distinctly remember how scary it is taking the leap into the world of work. I’ve been there and I started in this exact same University.
What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? I studied Geography with Economics and I graduated about 5 years ago. I am currently an Enterprise Technology Consultant at Deloitte, a multinational professional services network.
Consultancy appears to be quite a broad field; can you describe what a typical working week looks like for you? No one day or week are the same. My week generally consists of finding out what my clients need and then building on that requirement. I’m currently configuring software that caters to a client so a lot of the time I’m meeting them to discuss how their requirements can be fulfilled by this particular piece of software. I’ll then look to build the solution tailored to the client. I specialise in a software package called Oracle, so I’ll look into its features and how to build that for the client’s particular needs. We’ll then go through several phases of testing and training before delivering the overall package to the client. During the course of my career, I’ve worked for a number of different clients, not usually more than one simultaneously, although this can happen.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary and what do you think is unique about Queen Mary? Queen Mary has a really good mix of being located not strictly in the centre of London, but still very much being part of the hustle and bustle of London at the same time. Mile End in general has become much busier over the last decade or so; the area itself, including Queen Mary, has really come up. Queen Mary stands out in this respect as a lot of other London universities have remained the same by comparison and being able to be part of this rapid growth has been a truly unique experience. In a way it has been quite inspiring for me as I was studying during the 2012 Olympics, a time of regeneration across London, particularly in Mile End and the East End in general.
Geography is something that I have always been really passionate about, even at Secondary School I loved learning about the different natural formations and how they come together. This was something I really wanted to take forward in my education and when furthering my studies, thus Geography was key to satisfying my want to delve deeper. Geography is a really good subject to prepare you for working life; I know not a lot of people see it that way but genuinely having to do a lot of cold calling, research and talking to strangers are all valuable skills to take into the world of work and not a lot of other subjects facilitate this kind of holistic training. When it comes down to it and you have a job where such activities are required of you, it is better if it is second nature rather than being totally new to it.
How did you take the leap from studying Geography to a job in consultancy? I get asked this question a lot. As mentioned, Geography is quite a robust and diverse subject so there are a lot of soft skills that come out of it. Oracle, the software I specialise in, is very technical and during my time studying at Queen Mary I worked at Apple part time – a job that really helped me to understand my subject matter. Seeing as technology is at the heart of Apple, I began to learn about enterprise technology whilst I was there and straight after graduation, consultancy was the first thing I looked at and managed to find a role in. Overall, the transition seemed quite natural to me.
What advice would you give to students and recent graduates considering their own career options, particularly those who studied humanities subjects such as History and Geography? I think that humanities subjects such as History and Geography are underappreciated given the soft skills I have previously mentioned. There are a lot of things History and Geography can teach you that are strengths and that students and graduates should really try to harness, especially during interviews. I would encourage students and graduates to be really open minded about what career they can go into; if you studied Geography and you want to go down that route, perfect, but if you’re open to other careers, especially around professional services, then don’t be afraid. Some of the mentees I’ve had (as part of Queen Mary’s QMentoring scheme) have been unsure of how to make the leap post-graduation, but remember that employers are more open minded than we might initially think. I was having a chat to one of the recruiting leads at Deloitte and they spoke at length about the benefit of different perspectives from people from different educational backgrounds to help solve real business related problems.
What made you to apply to be a mentor as part of Queen Mary’s QMentoring? Being a part of the crucial transition for graduates who have just come out of university was highly appealing to me, especially as I can distinctly remember how scary it is taking the leap into the world of work. I’ve been there and I started in this exact same University. I very much like sharing my experiences, for better or for worse, to make sure that graduates can benefit from what I have learnt. I made a lot of mistakes, I am sure that everyone else has and will too. But I think if graduates can learn from my mistakes, it will streamline the process for them when carving out their own career path. Not least, being able to help others is a very rewarding experience for me.
I’ve had three really great mentees, one of them was more technical, he did computer science, and then the final two have been geographers. Even those three people have a totally different perspective of looking at things compared to me and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know all three of them individually. All of them have now either gone onto further study or into work and it has been a really mutually beneficial experience for both the mentors and mentees.
Did you get involved in any extra-curricular activities during your time at Queen Mary? I can’t say I did to a massive extent since I was juggling my studies and my part time job at Apple. I was elected as the secretary to a society celebrating British and Chinese culture organising events and this was a great place to meet new, like-minded people.
Would you say that your time and study at Queen Mary helped your career and development? Absolutely. Who you’re talking to now is quite different compared to the person that walked through the doors at Queen Mary in 2011. I was particularly shy when I first joined; meeting the kind of people you do at university and just being able to have that independence from home really builds you as a person. I also had the chance to live with different people studying different subjects and this helped me build good habits, for example, I lived with a medic who was particularly studious and that had a very good influence on me.
Why is it exciting to do what you do? Being able to build something very bespoke for a company that needs it. That’s the bottom line that really does it for me. A company shouts out that they need this particular piece of software to improve their business and in a way, it is really great that people like us who are really innovative and know how the software works, are able to build a solution that works for them. I particularly specialise in public sector clients, so a lot of these companies have causes that make a huge difference in the real world; it is really rewarding to see the software that we make for them go live.
Do you have any memorable moments from your time at Queen Mary? I have many memories; when I first came through the doors I vividly remember a feeling which was one of immense nervousness because I, like many others, came through clearing which is a really great thing for someone like me who may not have got the grades. I felt really welcome at the time, there were a lot of students in the same boat as me and the overall environment that Queen Mary promotes helped contribute to my feeling of belonging. You can see this atmosphere embodied throughout the University. It is something that I’ve remembered and carried along with me.
I understand that you attended a recent panel event for the Students’ Union. Can you tell us a bit more about that? It was a really interesting panel event; the main message behind it was that your degree doesn’t need to define your later career. The panellists, myself included, were all doing careers that were different to our degrees. I found it really interesting and a lot of the students in the audience were really keen to hear what we had to say. One of the students was a politics undergraduate who was really keen to move onto something else, I think it was really positive that they had the benefit of our experience and to know how our journey evolved as that jump can be really daunting for them. I would love to get involved in more activities at Queen Mary; I encourage my fellow graduates to get involved too, as they would have been really keen to receive that kind of advice whilst they were a student, so it is only fair to give back.
You mentioned previously that you live in Mile End, did you live in Mile End before coming to study at Queen Mary? I didn’t move to Mile End until after university with my, then girlfriend, now wife (who I met at Queen Mary). I moved there in 2015 and the area is very much a part of me. I have a strong connection to the local community also. Coming back to events being hosted by the University helps me to stay in touch with the community and they help to shape who I am as a person too, seeing as Queen Mary was such a definitive place in helping me to come out of my shell all those years ago.
Do you have any role models that you look up to within or outside the industry that you work in? There are a lot of people I admire, but one in particular who inspired me years ago was Elon Musk from back in the day, the way he built on an innovation and invested everything from that to his subsequent ventures and was willing to risk it all. I’ve read a lot about his journey and all of the work he has done to not only build his own businesses, but also to progress his strive to better humanity.