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Joy Tan: Why it is essential to make time for personal development

Make time for personal development: We’re all so busy and it’s easy to get carried away by your work. There was a time when I was constantly dealing with global issues that I had little time to think about myself. I think it’s critical that you set aside time for yourself to pursue your personal […]

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Make time for personal development: We’re all so busy and it’s easy to get carried away by your work. There was a time when I was constantly dealing with global issues that I had little time to think about myself. I think it’s critical that you set aside time for yourself to pursue your personal interests. The satisfaction you derive from your hobbies can also help you grow professionally as well. Now that I’ve made time to read books, I’ve been able to both enjoy learning something new while gaining knowledge that can better inform my work.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Tan of Huawei Technologies USA.

As Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at Huawei Technologies USA, Joy leads a diverse team of communications and media affairs professionals to convey Huawei’s cutting-edge innovation and best practices as a global technology leader to U.S. audiences.

With more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications, Joy has amassed global expertise across a variety of industry sectors, including telecommunications and energy. As a strong advocate of building a fully connected, intelligent world, she is passionate about the future of 5G, digital inclusion, and sustainability. At Huawei, her goal is to extend the benefits of digital technology to the entire world in a sustainable manner that nurtures a healthy and harmonious ecosystem.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I first studied biology at Tsinghua University, which I pursued because it was the top program available to me. Back then, I didn’t really understand or know what I wanted for my career, but I knew science was important and meaningful. Later I came to the U.S. for my Ph.D. in neuroscience, but as I explored my interests, I realized that I liked communicating with people and gravitated toward that over working in labs and conducting experiments. That inspired me to enroll in a marketing MBA program at the University of Texas at Dallas. Telecommunications was booming at the time and there were great opportunities to exercise my skills to help foster a growing industry, which drove me to take my marketing career to that sector.

Professionally, I got my start in 1998 when I joined Verizon as a marketing manager, where I was responsible for consumer strategy and digital marketing. I was selected to participate in a one-year management program that aimed to foster young, promising employees through events and training which taught me a lot and helped fast-track growth into more senior level positions. Later, I joined China Voice Holding Corp., as director of operations in 2005. However, 2007 is when I began my career at Huawei Technologies where I grew from senior director of marketing communications to senior vice president of public affairs. In my role, I’m responsible for setting and executing public relations and government relations strategies for Huawei Technologies USA.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of the most interesting experiences I’ve had is when I met with Topher White, founder and CEO of non-profit organization Rainforest Connection, to help him install a “Rainforest Guardian.” This is an upcycled smartphone that helps prevent illegal deforestation and unsustainable hunting. It is placed high up in a tree to collect and analyze sounds in the environment and provide real-time alerts of potential danger to local rangers. I’ve known about Rainforest Connection installing guardians all over the world from Indonesia to Chile, and then this was my chance to install one in the woods of California. We were so high up that we could see the tops of all the trees around us, which brought home to me the scale and majesty of the ecosystems that humanity is at risk of losing. It was an inspiring experience that directly showed me what tech can do to support environmental conservation efforts. I remain impressed by Rainforest Connection’s commitment and resourceful way of approaching such a threat to global biodiversity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Colin Powell once said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” I strongly believe this and think of this quote when I face challenges and opportunities in my work. It’s important to focus your efforts on what you can control to ensure that what you achieve is as close to your goal as possible. Every experience is also a learning opportunity that serves as a way to refine your strategy and execution. Overall, I would say this quote is representative of how I approach my work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate to have had many mentors help me grow throughout my career. When I was working on my master’s, my marketing professor played an instrumental role in encouraging me when I came from a completely different educational background in biology and neuroscience and had no experience in marketing or management. When I started working at Verizon, I had another mentor who really supported me in my first job in the telecommunications industry. He helped me navigate through a large organization, understand corporate culture and just generally grow professionally. Even now, 20 years after, we still keep in touch and he offers me advice. And of course at Huawei, there are many people supporting my growth and relying on my leadership, so I’m very grateful to be surrounded by so many encouraging people.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a woman leader in technology, I’ve made it a personal mission to encourage and empower other women in tech. I think it’s important for people to know that women are playing an integral part in the efforts to close the digital divide and widen access to the benefits of technology. Leveraging my position and experience, I regularly speak at various events like Women in Technology International’s Digital Inclusivity Summit and The Information’s Women in Tech, Media and Finance Summit about how technology is providing increased opportunity for women, whether through education or healthcare. I also speak about how Huawei and other organizations are creating programs to improve the lives of women around the world to raise awareness and support for these initiatives.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

As a leader in 5G technologies, Huawei has been pioneering and developing global 5G innovation in all aspects from network, deployment and ecology to experience. In fact, Huawei became the first company worldwide to launch the industry-first 5G commercial chip. We work closely with our customers and partners to focus on inventive 5G applications, expand the 5G ecosystem and accelerate 5G commercial success. With unprecedented high speed and low latency, 5G has the power to supercharge industries across the board by vastly upgrading capacity levels, which ultimately improves the daily lives of people all over the world.

How do you think this might change the world?

5G will usher in a new era of innovation, enabling exciting new advancements across industries. The ability to share huge amounts of data in mere seconds will allow doctors to more easily treat patients remotely through telemedicine and even remote surgery. It will also reshape transportation as we know it with V2V and V2X communication. By enabling communication between vehicles and infrastructure, 5G will improve road safety, boost traffic efficiency and offer environmental benefits. With support for higher bandwidth demands, 5G opens up the door for new types of enterprise and consumer AI and ML applications that can process large amounts of data very quickly. Additionally, 5G equipment is extremely energy-efficient and will help shrink the carbon footprint of telcos and contribute to the fight against climate change. Ultimately, 5G will push the boundaries of innovation and introduce new possibilities.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

The world is becoming increasingly connected, and this underscores the importance of security and privacy. From service provider and supplier to consumer, everyone should conduct their due diligence to ensure they’re protected. Innovation means nothing if people don’t feel safe using the technology. To address this, standards and testing are essential for establishing a trust system based on facts and verification. This means the 5G standards should be developed and validated by experts, and shared with everyone for transparency. Additionally, it will be important for industry leaders and independent third-parties to conduct rigorous testing and regular reviews of processes.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to creating this breakthrough technology? Can you tell us that story?

I wouldn’t say there was a specific tipping point, but rather a culmination of technological research and development that began in 2009. Technology at the time was reaching high maturity and was widely adopted, so businesses were beginning to look for new ways to innovate and grow. This signaled the need for next generation connectivity, powered by lower latency, higher speed, and higher capacity, which would unlock so many more capabilities across industries. Akin to a virtual cycle, emerging technologies like cloud, AI and IoT are also helping push the rollout of 5G because of its capabilities to boost processing power and outputs, allowing for technology to realize fuller potentials. To help take technology to the next level and provide the world with greater benefits, Huawei has devoted many years to developing 5G to commercial launch.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

When it comes to 5G, the technology exists to implement next-gen networks safely and effectively, but legislation to bring 5G to market commercially is still undergoing scrutiny. Real cybersecurity is only achieved when there are global standards across all vendors, rather than having security by logo or country. A comprehensive and consistent approach to cybersecurity should use global standards because that’s the only way to ensure the security of the supply chain. The public and private sectors should work together to develop and enforce global security standards to secure 5G networks and protect critical infrastructure. Developing robust standards for 5G will help to protect people’s privacy, facilitate competition and foster innovation.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them, of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the daily lives of many people, and this includes the way they work and learn. Stable, high-speed communications networks and digital technologies are vital to meeting the challenges we all currently face, and Huawei feels a responsibility to meet these needs. In China, we have helped carriers quickly deploy 5G networks in hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, and are collaborating with these carriers to find new uses of 5G in medical environments. We are implementing precise, data-informed and intelligent epidemic prevention and control measures, and enabling remote diagnosis and treatment.

Also, the implementation of 5G and the rollout of next-gen networks, especially in rural communities where medical services are less readily available, provides an efficient and reliable way to make telemedicine accessible. Telemedicine is becoming the new norm amid the pandemic as a safe way that people can get evaluated by healthcare professionals without leaving their homes.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Gain greater multicultural understanding: I generally knew that culture was essential in communications, but once I began working, I came to realize its significance was to a greater extent than I initially thought. At Huawei headquarters, the Chinese culture influences the way my coworkers understand and perceive things, as well as management style. Meanwhile, Huawei is also a global company with partners and employees all around the world. When I travel to Europe or Southeast Asia for work, I’m constantly communicating with people from different backgrounds. Paying attention to cultural nuances is tremendously important to ensuring clear communication and successful collaboration.
  2. Meet more people to expand your thinking: Going off my previous point, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to travel and meet different people at various conferences. It’s allowed me to listen to more people about their different perspectives and help me open up my own thought processes. While I’ve been able to meet so many people due to the nature of my role, I think that professionals should also strive to arrange more meeting opportunities to encourage discussion. Being open-minded is the foundation of innovation, which is a mindset particularly important for people in tech.
  3. Collaborate more to overcome differences: In a corporate environment, there are many stakeholders with just as many opinions. Given that people might not agree on everything, there are various lessons to be learned on how to listen to others, how to stand by your opinion, how to collaborate and how to find middle ground with the united goal of executing the business mission. It’s a multi-step process that is much easier in practice than in application, but through that hard work, your team will come out much stronger and more in-tune.
  4. Get out of your comfort zone more: In order to grow, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Previously, I never consciously thought about this, but once I applied it more in my life, I saw how much more I was able to achieve. For instance, I’m not very enthusiastic about public speaking. However, I had the chance to speak at a high profile meeting in Thailand, where the country’s deputy prime minister was present along with numerous high officials and business leaders from various Southeast Asian countries. In total, there was about 3,000 people in this gigantic hall. I was nervous to face all these people, but I put in time to prepare my presentation and spoke about a topic that people were keen on learning about. Ultimately, it turned out to be a successful and engaging session. From this, I’ve learned to embrace the opportunities provided by public speaking.
  5. Make time for personal development: We’re all so busy and it’s easy to get carried away by your work. There was a time when I was constantly dealing with global issues that I had little time to think about myself. I think it’s critical that you set aside time for yourself to pursue your personal interests. The satisfaction you derive from your hobbies can also help you grow professionally as well. Now that I’ve made time to read books, I’ve been able to both enjoy learning something new while gaining knowledge that can better inform my work.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I could inspire a movement that offers the greatest benefit to all, it would be digital inclusion. For some of us, it’s second nature to go about your day checking your e-mail and surfing the web to learn something new. For half the world though, they don’t have access to digital technology. To help realize this movement, I support Huawei’s TECH4ALL initiative, which focuses on breaking down barriers and providing new opportunities for everyone to enjoy the wide-reaching benefits of tech. Through working with global partners such as NGOs, research institutes governments and businesses, the initiative aims to help 500 million people benefit from digital technology. Aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, this program focuses on facilitating tech, applications and skills training to improve four high-impact domains: supporting equal access to high-quality education, protecting the fragile environment, promoting health and well-being, and driving balanced development. From providing digital skills training in rural communities to protecting the rainforest from deforestation with AI, we’re committed to making a difference all over the world by connecting the unconnected.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn to see what I’m working on and read my thoughts on connectivity, innovation and digital inclusion. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’d love to engage in more discussion around how we can build a fully connected, intelligent world together.

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