Finding a way through: overcoming early setbacks to forge a successful career path

Finding a way through: overcoming early setbacks to forge a successful career path

Today, Barry Lui is a manager in one of the world’s leading professional services organisations, pressing ahead in a successful career in enterprise technology – a field he loves.

But it wasn’t always that way, and in fact Barry (OE 2004–2011) had to overcome serious early disappointments in order to put himself on the right track.

“If I think back to myself in 2011, leaving school and starting university after going through a tough UCAS clearing process, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to foresee or plan where I am today. There’s a message I’d really like to get across to young people, as I have often come across those who are not necessarily getting the best grades and often feeling very dispirited and pessimistic about the future as they’re still in an environment where their present and short-term future success is equated to, or determined by, their grades.

“They should keep their heads high and know that their future can still be very bright so long as they are proactive about finding their passions and strengths.”

Barry had relished his time as a pupil at the School, where he enjoyed success in national mathematics and chess competitions. “I look back very fondly at my time at QE: I made life-long friends and I’d say it has defined much of my character. The School encourages pupils to be organised, disciplined and focused. Organised in the sense that we were expected to be very aware of the homework expected of us and the quality required; disciplined in the way we were taught to address teachers and be very regimented about our schedules; focused by reinforcing the importance of our studies and encouraging a lot of competition.”

With Geography his favourite subject, he duly made his UCAS application, only to find that his grades did not live up to expectations. After ploughing through clearing, Barry gained a place at Queen Mary, University of London, where he studied Geography with Economics from 2011 to 2014.

He then faced disappointment again on realising that the course contents did not match the kind of material that he really enjoyed learning about. “Geography at QE allowed us to explore a good breadth of the subject, exploring themes from both Physical and Human Geography. I always enjoyed learning about Physical Geography a little more. The subject matter at university became much more narrow and focused on Human Geography.

“I came to a junction: I could either change my subject, or stay the course, but try to find another way to find, and then explore, my passion.” Eventually, he decided on the latter path, determining to take steps to give himself a career head start while still studying.

A way forward came in the shape of a part-time job with Apple, where he started as a humble shop floor assistant (a ‘Specialist’) at an Apple Store, before progressing to become an ‘iOS Champion’ –- “basically anything to do with iPads, iPhones etc.” –- and then being offered the opportunity to deliver workshops, in addition to his iOS Champion role. (He is pictured, circled centre, on his first day.)

“I delivered workshops to sometimes large numbers of people, which really helped build my confidence in presenting face to face. On the other hand, sometimes there were no registered attendees for the workshop, so we’d turn the speaker to max and deliver the class for the whole store to hear and try to draw a crowd that way!”

It was a job he did throughout almost his whole time at university, and the effects were profound. “At the beginning, I was quite a quiet and reserved person, and this job really helped me come out of my shell and explore new ways to engage with people. It completely changed my life in many ways, both in terms of personality and of giving me an industry focus.

“During this time, IBM and Apple formed an Enterprise Mobile Application partnership, which was really big news at the time, as mobile apps were becoming much more mainstream. I saw this as an area of very fast growth and decided to explore it more.

“In my final semester at university, I was simultaneously writing my dissertation, working part-time at Apple and I also picked up a summer internship at a recruitment software development firm exploring the industry of SaaS (Software as a Service) and Cloud software. At this point, I decided I wanted to work on landing a career in enterprise technology and put all of my focus into securing that as a graduate job.”

Juggling everything was not easy and, as Barry admits, in the run-up to his finals, his studies suffered: “I’d either be working, or applying to every single technology consulting firm graduate opportunity that I could find. I found that job applications were extremely time-consuming, especially if you want to tailor each application to each company.”

While he may not have ended up with the best marks in his degree, he had certainly gained a great deal of determination in his university years. And so, armed with this and with his professional experience, he found a technology consulting graduate role with Capgemini, where his main role was implementing Oracle Applications to clients who ranged from public sector organisations to retail companies. Significantly, in terms of his career development, he also teamed up with other graduates to build up an enterprise mobile applications initiative, building custom mobile applications based on client business need.

“I was then offered an opportunity at Deloitte to continue working in that space – albeit for projects on a different scale – with a strong and fast-growing team, so I decided to take it on.”

Four-and-a-half years later, Barry remains with Deloitte, “slowly taking on more and more responsibility, growing a great network and learning so much along the way”. He has risen through the ranks to his current position as a manager delivering functional financial and procurement solution consulting for enterprise technology programmes.

Over the years, he has increasingly sought to give back to those he can help: he has participated in mentoring schemes at his former university for the last three years, spoken at career panels and helped out at a QE careers day.

Barry married his wife, Mina, in 2019: “We’re continuing to grow together.” The couple met at university – “so, if my grades hadn’t taken me to Queen Mary, I wouldn’t have met my wife!”

As he reflects on this and on his career to date, this former Apple employee, concurs (in common with other QE alumni) with the words spoken by the company’s inspirational founder, Steve Jobs, in his commencement address to Stanford University students in 2005: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”