Conversations with Terence Lim

By Jolie Fong and Jejhar Singh

Terence Lim is a Microsoft 365 Devices Specialist Global Black Belt in Modern Workplace Enterprise Sales (Asia) at Microsoft. He holds an MSc in Computer Science from Imperial College London and a BSc in Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon University. In this article, he shares his experience studying abroad and seeing the world, as well as lessons learnt from six years of working in the technology industry.

I started working for Microsoft in 2015. When I started, I was a technology evangelist, where I taught developers, students and enterprises how to scale through our platforms. Today, I am in a sales role helping enterprise customers to successfully deploy our solutions and oversee these operations in different countries across Asia.

The role “Global Black Belt” means we are supposed to be the most technically advanced solutions workload specialists in the business for the different Microsoft products. My specialisations are in Microsoft devices and Microsoft Teams.

I graduated with a computer science degree and thought I would end up doing something technical. The technical evangelist role was fun – I got to write code, build demos and share what I was passionate about; it was a role where I would talk more than I had to listen, because the objective was to reach as many people as possible. It was more of a broad role. When I pivoted to sales, it became a bit different. You are helping the customer to solve a problem. As such, you would want to listen more, rather than speak. Now, my job is to ask the right questions and find a way to build trust with customers. Compared to tech evangelism, the relationship-building aspect with individual clients is much deeper. Though both roles demanded different things, the IT skill set that I picked up along the way has always been helpful.

In the IT industry, it is good for one to have a technical background. However, it is not something you will necessarily use in your day-to-day life. When I came to Microsoft, I ended up doing something I never learned to do in school. I only picked up the sales skills and knowledge of Microsoft products after I had already started working. Nevertheless, my knowledge of the technical fundamentals trained me to think logically on the job.

If you want to pursue a technical role, for example, as a software engineer or IT consultant, having a technical degree would more likely give you the depth of knowledge you would need to get started, since the competition is quite intense. However, there will still be many things that you have to learn on the job.

It depends. Studying overseas would be a better option if your goal is to get a job overseas. Here in Singapore, most of the fresh graduates who come in (to the industry) are actually from local universities. Inversely, I had an overseas education but started my career here. My experience abroad allowed me to see new ideas that I can bring to the table locally. I would consider this as an advantage as well.

I believe that everyone, if they have the chance, should spend some time overseas. It will change your life. It gives you perspective, and you will learn to be more independent. If you do go overseas, try to make the most out of the experience, because there is so much out there that you would never get to experience if you stayed in Singapore your whole life. If you are a student, you will have a lot more freedom to experience life like you have never before. What you should do in particular would depend on what you want to get out of going overseas. This could be travelling, networking, working abroad, or just having fun.

I have been to more than 50 countries ever since I started travelling, and experienced many memorable moments. The IT scene in the US is much more entrepreneurial – even in college, everyone is thinking about how to kickstart their newest business idea, whereas in Singapore and Europe, people are more likely to follow the trend. I learned to see the world through a different lens, and even started to appreciate Singapore more in certain aspects. My most memorable experience would be when I was in Rwanda for three months. When I arrived there, I was shocked that everybody seemed to know about Singapore. I learned that their country was trying to model after ours – after all, both are very similar in terms of history. In Rwanda, I spent time with an NGO that fosters children who have lost their parents to genocide. The children would tell me about their experiences, from being imprisoned to seeing their loved ones die. They were trying their hardest to get an education in order to get out of poverty. These stories changed the way I saw things.

In the last year, the world as we know it has changed drastically. Part of my job today is to help enterprise customers adapt to new changes with the adoption of Microsoft technologies like MS Teams and hardware like Microsoft Surface devices. This allows them to be more productive in a remote working landscape. Every country poses different challenges for the job – some countries are on lockdown while others have heavily regulated industries, so we have to figure out how Microsoft solutions can help them to overcome these problems. Apart from meeting customers, I coach internal sellers to help them sell and scale across their countries.

The most enjoyable aspect of this job is that it is dynamic. I do not have a set routine every day, which is good as I am not someone who enjoys working a 9 to 5 job. I have the flexibility to plan out my day with my customers and internal stakeholders. I find that working with different clients across the world and coming up with various solutions to meet their varied, changing needs is an incredibly unique and exciting part of the job. Pre-pandemic, my work would sometimes require me to travel abroad, which happens to be my passion as well.

For enterprise solutions, it is crucial to understand what the customer is trying to achieve from a business productivity standpoint. For example, a lot of enterprise network applications run only on Windows OS (operating systems), and they are standardised in terms of security, compliance and management. This is why many still look to Windows to achieve their goals. 

Windows appears to have many more viruses when compared to other operating systems, but this is because the use of Windows is widespread, with many people trying to target the system. On the flip side, this means Microsoft can swiftly identify and roll out defences against new viruses. If you are trying to defend your assets, know that no matter which OS you choose, someone can eventually find a way to bypass its security. Would you pick a smaller-scale OS with fewer threats currently, or a more widely used one which ensures an extensive suite of protective measures against all sorts of threats?

Yes, you can encrypt your files if you want to. For example, you can encrypt your emails to revoke access to your files, check where and when they were accessed, and by whom. This can be done remotely.

Some people used to think that you only write code in the IT industry. However, cybersecurity, machine learning and E-commerce entails much more than that. Additionally, there is a misconception that an IT degree is needed to be in the industry. This is not the case, as there are many roles in the industry. However, a background in IT does give you an edge over other applicants as you would have some relevant knowledge.

Today, you need to be someone who enjoys a fast-paced environment, has an open mind, and is not afraid to learn new things. New technologies and innovations emerge everyday, and as a solutions setter, I need to keep up with technology. Having the mindset of staying current and constantly learning is key. What you learn in university prepares you for learning on the job.

I would tell myself not to be afraid to try new things and take risks. As an undergraduate, there are many opportunities to build your network and learn more things from your peers. Having the curiosity to learn new things by yourself and from others will help in this industry.

I hope to get some overseas exposure and try a more hands-on role which taps on my sales background and leans towards tech. I would like to interact with more people and gain more experience. I am keen on staying in the industry and perhaps trying out a management role, where I can help people succeed in their career. It is all about growth and learning.