Gary Wong - Engineering - November 2017

Gary Wong

This month, we spoke with alumnus Gary Wong. Read about his time at UBC and what he has accomplished since.

Find out why Gary Wong (BASc '71 ELEC) decided that retiring at 45 wasn't his ideal and why he now pays it forward. Gary currently mentoring and coaching as well as creating The Age of Walter Gage: How One Canadian Shaped the Lives of Thousands.

Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of work that you do?

Upon graduation I joined BC Hydro in 1971 as a Distribution Engineer. I later took on a role as an internal management consultant conducting workshops, facilitating strategic retreats, and running business improvement projects. It led me to leaving Hydro in 1998 to join Ernst & Young Consulting and ultimately operating my own consulting practice. I’ve now shifted to doing more mentoring and coaching.

What did you envision your job or career to be when you started university?

The vision coming out of high school was simple. Graduate from UBC Engineering. Get a good job. Earn P.Eng. Start a consulting firm. Do successful work. Retire at 45.

Thankfully I discovered other things that enriched my naive vision such as lifelong learning, building family and friend relationships, and “paying it forward". Walter Gage taught me the last one while I was on UBC campus. You can click here to read my story.

I’m currently participating in gathering many heart-warming stories about this amazing man from grads, faculty and support staff. The end result is a book the Friends of Walter Gage are publishing entitled The Age of Walter Gage: How One Canadian Shaped the Lives of Thousands. Giving voluntary time to keep a shine on a UBC icon and true friend of UBC Engineering has been an honour.

What was your 'aha' moment?

About a decade ago I was shocked when told I was viewing the world with “one eye open”. Up to then I saw everything as ordered, structured, idealistic. As engineers we are educated to be linear reductionists. We’re experts at taking things apart, fixing each part, and putting the pieces back together. The approach works well for handling physical machines but not when dealing with humans. Discovering complexity science has opened both eyes. My understanding of the real world has significantly changed. I can appreciate why people, groups, teams, mobs naturally behave the way they do.

What have been the turning points and milestones in your career?

Knowing how to apply complexity & chaos thinking in my life has been a major turning point for me. A turning point itself is a phenomenon of complexity. It emerges unexpectedly often from feedback provided by diverse views. Ten years ago I faced a decision - do I stay within linear reductionist paradigms or try something totally different? I’m sure glad I chose to break out of my comfort zone.

My latest career milestone is being involved with EGBC to deliver a series of Navigating Complexity courses. It’s been a great opportunity to share what I’ve learned so far and help fellow engineers and geoscientists open both eyes.

What would you do if you weren’t an Engineer… in alternate universe?

I would be a distributed ethnographer seeking to answer the question: How did we get to Now?

My role would be to facilitate worker dialogues, listen to their stories, convert collected stories into data points, and generate a landscape map for engineers to visualize the Now. Working with a map makes it easier to find new solutions because Innovation self-organizes from the evolutionary potential of the Present.