Richard White shares his unconventional career journey with UTS graduates
When you start your career journey it can be daunting to try to map out the life ahead of you. But according to Richard White, you don’t need to have it all figured out from the start. Instead, create value from your varied life experiences, learn from the people around you, and actively cultivate a thirst for lifelong learning.
Richard was recently awarded an Honorary Doctor of Technology by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and delivered the occasional address to the Faculty of Engineering and IT graduates. He shared five key lessons taken from his own unconventional career journey – from rock musician and guitar repairer to self-taught software engineer, then founder and CEO of WiseTech Global, STEM education advocate and philanthropist.
Here’s a summary of Richard’s five life lessons or listen to his full address and life story here.
1) Expect to change your career several times throughout your working life.
A collective mix of experiences creates huge value and can be attained within one company or across different businesses.
“I didn’t go to university after high school. My career path was unconventional. My success was not overnight. But I remained impassioned, intensely curious, with a thirst to learn, and a love of building things and solving problems. I worked as a refrigerator technician and was a guitarist in a rock band. This led to me build my own business repairing guitars for well-known Australian rock bands including ACDC and The Angels. I moved into entertainment lighting systems for concerts and learned from the qualified engineers around me before establishing a computer wholesaler. Eventually I designed software solutions for the logistics industry, building the successful business that has become WiseTech. Throughout this long journey.”
2) Be resilient and rise to the challenge of solving problems, no matter how complex it might seem or painful it might be.
You can’t be perfect. You must adapt, create, be resilient, learn and grow.
“For example, we were asked to design and build specialized lighting for The Angels’ live gigs on large concert stages, but a colleague had bought the wrong light sockets. We didn’t have time to buy new ones, so I created a hack that ended up working better than the prototype we had originally designed. The new lighting solution spread in popularity and was used in live concerts around the world. The simple mistake became a major invention!”
3) Breakthroughs in any field often come from outsiders – often people who combine several other knowledge bases and technologies see a new way of solving old problems.
People with cross-dimensional skills are fundamental to solving the world’s problems.
“When I was R&D manager for a large concert staging business we built the world’s first computer-controlled lighting system. This was a pivotal moment in my life as I had to learn digital hardware design and software programming. This eventually led me into system integration where I worked with several businesses in the logistics industry, and developed a combined fluency in technology and logistics. This was when I saw that the logistics industry needed an integrated solution that had never been built before, and started writing the code for the business that would eventually become WiseTech Global.”
4) Be curious, collect knowledge, skills and fluency, and embrace the concept of lifelong learning.
Your academic qualification will be overtaken by new knowledge. The way forward is through lifelong learning, striving, and adapting.
“In 2000 we needed a larger market of customers for the WiseTech business to grow. I enrolled in a Masters of Business in Information Technology (MBIT) from UTS. Beforehand, I was only interested in the marketing subject, but when I started the course content blew me away! For every subject I studied and wrote the assignments as if they were business plans for WiseTech. And it was directly because of this directed study that we started building the second generation of our system.”
5) Follow your own path. Don’t be constrained by stereotypes.
Realize that success, talent, and passion are long term developments. You’ll work outside your comfort zones, endure hardships and stumble at times. But be resilient, resourceful and keep moving toward your goals.
“Today, the customers of WiseTech include the world’s largest logistics companies. Yet I was told I’d never be able to do it – it was too big, too much and particularly not from Australia. I didn’t believe them and kept going. You have to believe in yourself. You have to surround yourself with great people that also believe. Take your knowledge and your passion and build something fabulous. Challenge the status quo and do big things in the world. Know that a goal is not the end, they are only a waypoint to an even greater or more interesting goal.”