THE INDUSTRY EXPERT: Gu Chen—It’s all about balance

By Masha Tseveen.

For the fifth installment in the Industry Expert interview series we present Gu Chen from IBM Greater China Software Group. If you missed our previous interviews, you can check them out here. Please join the conversation by sharing your thoughts below!

GuChenPicMr. Gu Chen (Rice) is the first Distinguished Engineer in IBM Greater China Software Group to have a client facing role. Over the past 22 years at IBM, Mr.Chen has dedicated himself to advancing IBM software solutions, Cloud solutions and technology, software deployment, and application development. He started his IT career at IBM Shenzhen International Software Development Company in 1991 upon completion of his masters degree from Peking University. Since then, Mr. Chen has worked in IBM Japan Yamato Lab, IBM Canada Toronto Lab, IBM Vancouver Innovation Center, and IBM China Software Group as a Developer, IT Specialist, and IT Architect. Mr. Chen takes on multiple technical leadership roles in support of GCG clients – including being the Trusted Technical Advisor for major accounts, SWG Cloud Technical Leader, Software Group  PureSystems Technical Leader IBM Security Product Chief for China Government, SWG Quality Assurance Leader. In addition, he is leading IBM GCG Technical Communities in Solution Designs, Academy of Technology Eminence, and Regional Technical Leadership Exchange.

Your current role at IBM is the Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technology Officer, Greater China Software Group. Can you explain a little bit about what that means?

Distinguished Engineer (DE) is the Executive level position within IBM for a technical career. The DE position is the top technical achievement in IBM apart from IBM Fellow. In IBM’s 102 year history, only a total of 300 IBM Fellows have been named. Only those who gave the great contribution and impact to the world IT industry can be IBM Fellows. As the second leading technical position, DE is a change leader at IBM from the technical perspective, Distinguished Engineers provide technical leadership on large, complex projects.  Currently, the population of DEs is around 0.15% of all IBM employees.

My role as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) provides proactive technical counsel to the IBM leadership team on technical strategy, innovations, direction, optimal solutions design and strategic project/deal leadership to help IBM clients derive value from application of new and existing technologies in order to accelerate innovation.  As DE and CTO for Great China Software Group, I drive technical innovations and set the winning technical agenda in the pursuit of technical excellence that is essential in effectively serving the clients through IBM software products and technology.

You’ve developed a cloud architecture and solution named Smarter Cities Cloud. What was the driving force behind this initiative? Can you give us an example of how this is making the cities smarter?

Cloud has become an IT trend all over the world. To accelerate China’s Cloud adoption, my team and I worked together to develop the Smarter Cities Cloud initiative.  The key is to build a cloud ecosystem for the cities to allow them to utilize Cloud technology to support Smarter City solutions such as City Safety, Smarter Transportation, Smarter Water and Health Care. The architecture of Smarter Cities Cloud contains two main components: Cloud Platform and Smarter City Applications.

The Cloud Platform is the foundation that can be built based on the needs of the individual cities. The Smarter City Applications can be snapped into the foundation of the Cloud Platform. One example is China Northwest Cloud in Gansu. Using IBM Cloud technology, it allows small and medium-sized enterprises to easily use IT resources to accelerate their business growth.

What other interesting developments are happening in Cloud technology?

We have seen that more and more enterprises are looking for IT services from the Cloud instead of building IT services by themselves. IBM has been doing a lot of investment on providing Cloud services to the whole world. SoftLayer is the platform on which IBM provides all kinds of Cloud services:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – SoftLayer provides physical and virtual machines, storage, network to allow clients to build their IT environment to serve themselves and their customers.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – BlueMix is a DevOps environment running on SoftLayer to provide application platform service. Using BlueMix, anyone easily develop, test, deploy and run  applications in a single platform. It will extremely shorten development cycle and accelerate value achievement of applications.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – Application is the key for enterprise customers to achieve their business targets. End users do not care where the service providers are located as long as the services are secure, stable, and reliable. IBM Software Group has been transforming to provide more and more software applications in the Cloud, called SaaS offerings. Under this strategy, the latest IBM Watson service will be provided on the Cloud to allow customers, business partners, and end users to utilize the world largest Cognitive Analytics platform.

Also, I think the hybrid Cloud will be booming after many enterprises move their common IT service requests into public cloud in order to keep the core and sensitive applications and data in the private cloud. The challenge is the information exchange between public and private clouds. And the hybrid cloud will provide the services in conjunction with private cloud and public cloud.

What do you look for when you’re adding technical talent to your team?

For me, I always look for talent who are full of passion for the technology and can be persistent while learning new things.  I advise – “try to learn what you don’t know, and then learn  the things you don’t know. This will grow your knowledge and expand your impact to other people.“

I also look for some common characteristics and basic skills:

Common characteristics: Optimistic, Curious, Open-minded, Honest, Courageous, Modest, Responsive, and Persistent

Basic skills: Communication Skills, Team Work, Negotiation Skills, Visibility, Commercial Awareness, Root Cause Analysis Skills.

Depending on different job roles, technical skill and capabilities are also required. For example, JAVA language, programming, project management, architecture and business domain knowledge, etc.

Let’s talk about your professional journey. During the course of your career at IBM, you have lived and worked in three countries – first China, then Japan, Canada and now China. How did you come to do this?

After I joined IBM China, I had the chance to be assigned to the Japan Yamato Lab. I am always trying to learn more and think more how to do my job better. I was the only person to be asked to extend the stay in IBM Japan. Since IBM is an American company, in my heart, I hoped I could join IBM in North American to broaden my career. After I immigrated to Canada, I had the chance to join IBM Canada Toronto Lab, and Vancouver Innovation Center to develop IBM products and implement projects for IBM clients. This helped me know better IBM’s development process for new technology trends. After four years working in Canada, I thought it was a good time for me to contribute my knowledge and experience to China customers, and I decided to go back China in 2002 to help the customers in China utilize IBM products and technology.

Be clear about what you want and what you do. If you have a plan for your career and proactively look for opportunities, you will get it.

You have won several awards for your work on innovation. How do you stay creative? Do you use any technique (e.g., mind map)? What do you do when you’re stuck on a problem?

I believe many senior technical leaders in IBM have similar characteristics in always wanting to learn new things. I am full of passion to learn new technologies, especially those future technical trends.  There are many ways to learn from books, the internet, the IBM intranet, and even from talking with different people. The key thing is that for me is that I summarize what I have learned through each experience and I take that to create an idea and frame my thoughts in a larger context. When I am stuck on a problem, I will put that problem in a big context, it may be not a problem at all.

What three pieces of advice would you give to people who would like to follow a similar career trajectory?

Be passionate to learn new things. Keep a good attitude to do your job as you always can learn new things from your daily job. Expand your networking to get to know more people.

Anything else you would like to share?

Balance is the word I like. If you can make things balance, you may achieve what you can’t imagine. Like the below picture I took 14 years ago, how could you imagine the stones standing there were put just by balance?