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MDEC CEO driven to contribute to Malaysia's 'great ambitions'

By Julie Randles
December 28, 2018
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In 2011, Malaysia’s prime minister handed The Multimedia Development Corporation (MDEC) a challenging mandate: transition the country toward a developed digital economy by 2020.

In September 2014, MDEC went after IT royalty in its country to make that happen: Dató Yasmin Mahmood. Her private sector career included roles as the executive director of yYTL e-Solutions, managing director of Microsoft Malaysia – the first woman in that company’s history to hold the position – regional manager of Dell Asia Pacific and general manager of Hewlett-Packard Sales Malaysia. She was also active with the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Consortium of Services Malaysia and the Women Development Panel of SME Corp Malaysia.

Beyond the string of leadership titles, former employees love to talk about her ability to open doors in the public sector and her ability to engage with people. Local media describe her as the face of the “Malaysianizing Microsoft” campaign that moved the tech company to a more inclusive environment.

So it was a given that MDEC’s board of directors recommended her as its ceo, and that she’d be the frontrunner in the candidates’ list made up of males.

Her employment agreement, on the other hand, wasn’t a done deal. The oldest daughter of two teachers, Mahmood grew up in Pasir Mas in northeast Malaysia. She was the athlete others picked to be on their team, playing netball and basketball and running sprints on the track team for her school. She graduated with a double major in computer science and math, which she used to land her first job as an analyst programmer with a bank. Then Hewlett-Packard’s opportunities opened up, and it was a fast track to the C-suite for Mahmood’s talents.

When MDEC came calling, “I was in the position where I was already 50, I’d already been a ceo for God knows how many decades and I just wanted to pursue my passions,” she says. Not to mention this opportunity came with a bigger responsibility than she’d ever shouldered. “In this role, if you fail, I feel like you would be failing the whole nation… If I am to do something, I want to make a difference – otherwise, I won’t do it,” she said in an interview.

And, as it turned out, that was exactly what made her say yes. Technology, after all, is a cornerstone of the national economy. She’s seized the chance to work with young college graduates to make her country known as a hub for gaming programs, and she’s continued to champion women’s opportunities in the field.

“Our nation deserves great ambitions, and I intend to contribute toward those ambitions, God willing,” Mahmood has told reporters on more than one occasion.

In an interview with entrsekt, Mahmood lays out her thinking regarding ed tech trends, the impact of the ISTE Standards and women in the digital economy.

Who influenced you as a youngster?

From a very young age, I have always looked up to my father and mother as my role models in life. My earlier life experiences laid the foundation for later development, in particular the penchant for excellence and to always lead by example. These are virtues that were instilled in me by my parents. They also encouraged me to actively participate in sports. I played netball, basketball and I love track and field.

One can learn much from sports that leads to success in life and career. Just as I push myself in sports, I also apply the same never-say-die attitude to my work.

When growing up, I remember my mom going to school with biscuits, a comb and powder. Every morning when she did her rounds, she would help poor kids in need. Her deep passion and commitment toward a student’s development and betterment was constant – and I was inspired by her kind deeds.

My mom always emphasized “getting the best education you can get,” and “always do your utmost best.” This holds true today. However, education has also evolved as it relates to skills requirements, pedagogy, teaching tools, etc., and teachers and students must always stay up to date with the latest methods to get the most out of education.

Both of your parents were teachers. How has the role of the teacher changed over the years? What has remained the same? 

The first thing that comes to mind is a quote by Anthony Robbins. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Over the past many years, the workforce in many countries has slowly morphed, albeit at different paces. Initially, most places were based on agriculture, then moving toward industrialization. Today, so many are looking toward the age of technological advance.
In the past, it was fine for classrooms to have a teacher at the front of the room who acted as the sole resource of learning. Besides books, he or she was the only knowledge resource.

Times have since changed; we must prepare today’s students to not only have the skills to fit jobs, but to create jobs. The internet and borderless trade has created opportunities never seen before.

To succeed, students will need creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration and entrepreneurship. They will need to be able to adapt to change, be resilient and be able to work effectively in a variety of environments.

In the end, today’s teachers must evaluate where they are on the teacher continuum and be empowered to purposefully make small scaffolded changes. For example, coding is a subject that should be strongly emphasized due to its growing relevance, and teachers must equip themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge so they’re able to share it with students.

You’ve had leadership positions in some of the world’s largest technology companies. What skills are 21st century companies seeking in employees today and into the future?

Today’s companies are increasingly harnessing digital technologies and innovations to strengthen and sustain their competitive advantage, or as I would call them, companies in digital economy sectors. These sectors are highly diverse and can range from typical tech giants to any other industry, be it oil and gas, health care or financial services.

Based on my personal experience and my interactions with leading global and Malaysian companies in such digital economy sectors, the core skills that are being sought are problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, communication, agility/adaptability, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

To better prepare our students to become future talent for the digital economy, there needs to be a greater emphasis on these skills in the formal education system. Computer science education is increasingly being acknowledged for its efficacy in cultivating such skillsets, especially when coupled with project-based learning approaches. This is something that MDEC is also pursuing in Malaysia with strong support from the Malaysian Ministry of Education.

What are the education technology trends that will have the greatest impact on education in coming years? 

Social media

Social media is pervasive and is increasingly being used for teaching, learning and as a business tool. Teachers must be comfortable in harnessing social media to engage the next generation. Malaysia has one of the highest number of Facebook friends per capita, and 19 million Malaysians are on social media. This provides a huge opportunity to leverage social media for educational purposes both for the young and old.


Increasingly, a child’s first exposure to a computing device is via a tablet or smartphone. Children born in this digital era are often exposed to mobile devices even before they are exposed to books. The price points of mobile devices are also now more affordable to lower- and middle-income segments. This may explain why 75 percent of Malaysian youth ages 15-24 are digital natives, defined as having a minimum of five years of active use of the internet. Accordingly, policymakers must take advantage of this phenomena and support appropriate byod policies, as well as policies to recognize the student’s ability to learn anytime, anywhere.


Analytics are being used not just to manage and grow businesses, but in recent years, we have seen the rise of performance management tools for the education sector that use data analytics. With such tools, teachers and policymakers alike can obtain rich data in real-time to ensure more effective educational intervention. Data analytics also enables teachers to have better insights to manage personalized learning for each child, as well as to manage the diverse requirements of an entire class or school.


Teachers and students now have the ability to access myriad rich educational content via cloud-based repositories. Many countries, including Malaysia, are already looking to have electronic and interactive textbooks stored in the cloud, eventually replacing physical textbooks. This will mean content can be updated more regularly without having to incur the cost of re-printing textbooks. Cloud-based service also reduces the need by school districts to invest in costly hardware and software to store and manage educational content. In a nutshell, cloud technology will help to make learning more accessible and inclusive to all, especially as internet connectivity is increasingly pervasive. 

What are your greatest concerns related to education technology?

My two greatest concerns are educator readiness and security and safety.

There are 10,000 schools in Malaysia with 420,000 teachers. Teachers and school leaders must be ready to embrace the latest pedagogical approaches to ensure students are able to meet the talent demand for 21st century. Teaching and learning should be embedded with computational thinking and problem-solving. MDEC is working closely with the Ministry of Education to address this issue.

With borderless learning, and kids having access to an abundance of information at their fingertips, the security and safety of going online should not be compromised. Kids should be protected and must know the ethical way to surf online. Censorship may not be the ideal or sustainable solution to protect our children. Parents and teachers have a key role in educating kids in the safe use of the internet.

What is your vision for education in Malaysia in five years? 10 years?

In five years, we hope that computer science education is fully embedded in the majority of the 10,000 schools in Malaysia, and that we have sufficient teachers trained to effectively deliver the new curriculum.

In 10 years, I envision that key digital economy sectors in Malaysia, including big data analytics, digital games and animation, the Internet of Things and mobility will have sufficient high-quality talent graduating from our education system.

How do you view the role that the ISTE Standards play, and will play, in Malaysian education?

MDEC and ISTE signed a memorandum of understanding in 2015. The objective of the memorandum is to promote excellence in teaching and learning through the use of technology, with a specific focus on computational thinking and 21st century learning. It is also in line with Shift 7 of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-25, which encourages leveraging technology in education.

ISTE provides a platform for Malaysian educators to be part of a global network of 100,000 educators and education leaders worldwide to exchange and learn from new ideas and experiences.

What opportunities do you see ahead in the ISTE/MDEC partnership?

To start, ISTE will be training and certifying master trainers in Malaysia to prepare more than 10,000 head teachers in phases starting in 2017. The training will focus on the ISTE Standards for Coaches and computational thinking. Our aim is to ensure that Malaysian head teachers are equipped to lead and drive the effective integration of technology in education, and more specifically to support the roll-out of computer science education in Malaysian schools.

Additionally, with the global network ISTE has established, there are possibilities to share the Malaysian experience with educators from the rest of the world. As the first country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to integrate computer science education into the national school system, Malaysia’s experience will provide valuable lessons and benchmarks for ISTE to share with other countries in our region.

What do you see as the opportunities in the computer gaming sector for Malaysia’s students and young entrepreneurs?

The Southeast Asia video games market represents about 4 percent of global consumption and is expected to grow faster than any other geographical region in the near future.

The population of Southeast Asia is close to 650 million, which makes this a great market for game developers. This growth potential presents massive opportunities to
the region’s industry players. Driven by the rapid rise in internet access and ownership of information and communications technology (ict) devices, the region’s market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent between 2015 and 2018. This is the fastest growth of any geographical region. In comparison, the global growth rate is estimated at 7 percent for the same period. This tremendous enlargement of the games market in Southeast Asia provides vast opportunities for the industry to exploit.

To strategically and effectively capitalize on this potential, it is important for industry players to have a clear understanding of the characteristics and capabilities of the region’s game industry.

Certainly, the Malaysian government provides support to the game industry in terms of funding and market access. Equipped with a high English proficiency level, it would be easier and faster for the industry to expand. Supported by high ict literacy and internet use by Malaysians, the gaming industry will have a bright future to grow exponentially.
Further, Malaysia is ranked in the top 20 worldwide for ease of doing business. Malaysia also has business friendly policies to encourage more investors to venture into the game industry.

The engagement of women and female empowerment is a major focus of yours. What are your plans for bringing more women into Malaysia’s digital economy?

As I see it, a key issue in female empowerment is not in terms of skills, but in terms of a better channel to work-life balance. The internet serves as a market access enabler, and there is no reason corporations should not leverage this to tap into the female workforce when traditional methods may instead isolate them.

My hope is for MDEC to be known as an agency that catalyzes and opens the eyes of the industry in the country, spurring them to consider flexible and agile solutions instead of sticking with the tried and true.

As they say, if there is no change, there is an illusion of safety, when in reality the whole world is sprinting past you. My hope is also that all segments and communities in the country will be participants of the digital economy to fulfill their aspirations. 

You have been quoted as saying that “the road to success is always about learning.” How does your perspective on learning impact your role and your leadership of MDEC?

MDEC is currently working with several key industry players in the games industry to help them capitalize on this area of opportunity. Almost all of them are looking to aggressively expand their operations, even though they are already established companies with aaa title experience. Examples include Streamline Studios, Lemon Sky and Passion Republic.

Streamline Studios is a video game developer working on outsourced production services. The company was founded in the u.s. and supported by major venture capital players, with the majority of the development and art teams based in Malaysia. They are the ones who developed the Streamframe project management tool in Malaysia.
Lemon Sky is a studio that has collaborated to work on several hit titles with global developers and publishers, including 2k Games, Bethesda and Ubisoft, across multiple platforms.

Passion Republic provides aaa content for many top developers and publishers, such as Activision, Microsoft Games, scee, Sega, Square Enix and Warner Brothers Games.

It is through these sorts of partnerships that local game developers can find their road to success, and mdec will be beside them all the way.

Julie Phillips Randles is editor of entrsekt.