Another article in a series that profiles IEEE volunteers who have had a significant impact on our organization.
When Member Timothy Wong became chair in 2013 of the IEEE Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Committee (now the IEEE Young Professionals Committee), the organization was in serious need of rebranding. Established in 1996, the committee helps bring recent graduates together to network, develop professional skills, and find jobs. But the group’s very name and the skills it taught were no longer resonating with those it wanted to attract.
“The running joke was that GOLD contains the word ‘old,’” Wong says. He led the effort that year to rename the group and focus on improving its members’ experience. The name change to IEEE Young Professionals Committee (YP), already in use, becomes official 15 August, when the new membership year begins.
A new name was just the beginning. Wong also instilled a greater sense of accountability on the part of YP committee members, bolstered the group’s social media presence, offered more online special-interest and training sessions, and developed strategic partnerships with other IEEE committees. These changes, coupled with the fact that those who graduated within the last 15 years, up from just 10, are now eligible, will bolster the reach and impact that Wong’s committee has on membership and the more than 150 YP groups running local events around the world.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The first thing that needed to go, Wong says, was the name. “It was giving us huge problems with recruiting members,” he says. “Volunteers had to make an extra effort to explain what GOLD stood for and how it was for professionals who are in the early stages of their career. It was a big challenge to get people involved.”
One of Wong’s responsibilities as chair has been to restructure the committee to better delegate responsibilities. Vice chairs now oversee four areas: leadership and training, products and services, strategic partnerships, and communications and marketing.
YP also created LinkedIn and Facebook pages, which have attracted a growing number of followers, and began to strongly promote the career-based services provided by the IEEE Job Site, IEEE MentorCentre, and ResumeLab. Now that the group will expand to people who earned their first professional degree within the last 15 years, these products and services will benefit many more professionals as they change careers or pursue graduate work.
Wong also encourages a stronger emphasis on helping members develop their soft skills and improving teamwork among YP groups, which he believes can help them find job opportunities and network better with leaders in the field. The revitalized monthly webinar series—some in partnership with other IEEE groups like Women in Engineering—has offered several talks this year on leadership strategies and time management, with upcoming talks on effective communication and team building.
In an effort to inspire budding entrepreneurs, Wong is now helping the Toronto YP affinity group organize a small conference for October on technical entrepreneurship. The event will be advertised later this year through the YP website and social media.
“Many of our members are interested in becoming self-employed, but not everyone knows how to start out, protect their ideas from copyright infringement, or raise money,” he says. “We’re exploring how to provide meaningful online workshops to teach early career members how to launch their own companies, develop business plans, and attract venture capital.”
Wong, now 30, first joined IEEE as a student member in 2004 while earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Western Australia, in Perth.
“I was looking for a professional society and chose IEEE because it had a local student chapter that was really active on campus,” he says. He became treasurer of the student branch in 2005 and branch chair during his last two years at the university, in 2006 and 2007.
Wong’s perspective broadened in 2006 when he spent a semester at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. As part of a student exchange program, he got to meet IEEE student members there. “It was the first time I’d tapped into our global network,” he says.
After graduating, Wong worked for a year as an engineer with AECOM, a consulting firm, and then accepted a position the following year with Horizon Power, a utility, both in Perth. Throughout this transition he continued his IEEE involvement with GOLD, devoting personal and vacation time to IEEE duties. He visited local branches around the world to network and recruit new members and moved its GOLD Rush publication to a blog, which continues to evolve. He also oversaw affinity groups in IEEE Region 10 (Asia Pacific) in 2011 and 2012, before assuming YP’s global chair position in 2013.
Wong has a knack for inspiring others. “I like engaging with people,” he says. “Graduating student volunteers want to know what the next step is and how to be more involved. So I’m pushing for a formalized structure to develop active volunteers.
“At the same time, I’m trying to encourage other committees to include YP members,” Wong adds. “Our members have a lot to bring to the table, especially their energy and enthusiasm, their point of view of growing up with technology, and an awareness of trends happening among young professionals. They’re the future of IEEE.”