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Pairach Thajchayapong : Still putting the nation first

Pairash Thajchayapong, the man who built up Thailand's IT industry, remains highly active in the field despite his retirement two years ago

Published on October 9, 2007

Pairach Thajchayapong :   Still putting the nation first

Two years after his retirement, nothing much has changed in the life of Pairash Thajchayapong, a former permanent secretary of the Science and Technology Ministry. He spends most of his weekdays working in the field that he loves.

As per long habit, he wakes up early to prepare for work at the National Science and Technology Development Agency. He was the agency's director for six years, but now, as an adviser, he helps to give direction to its activities.

Pairash also offers his abilities and experience in science and technology as an adviser to other national research centres, including the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) and the National Nanotechnology Centre.

He also leads a research team at Nectec, conducting research and development work in the fields of computing and electronics.

"Life is not much changed for me, except I have more time to follow my passion for research, which I've not done for a long time. This makes me feel enthusiastic about coming to work each day," he says.

For Pairash, time and age are of no consequence. He believes he can still use his experience and knowledge gained from his three-decade career to help the Kingdom's development, and this drives the man who has supposedly retired to keep going, without concern for fatigue.

He says work makes him feel valued, especially when it involves helping Thailand. He operates according to a "nation first" philosophy and keeps pride uppermost in his mind in each job he takes on. Looking back on his past and seeing what he has achieved for his country makes him very happy.

Over the past two decades, Pairash has been behind many of the important developments in Thailand's science and technology.

Twenty years ago as a doctoral graduate in electrical engineering from Cambridge University, Pairash was the director of the computer research and service centre at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Lat Krabang (KMITL). He was asked by the science permanent secretary at that time to help start up a new organisation to develop computer technology in Thailand.

Pairash built up the new organisation, which later became known as Nectec, by pooling computer experts from universities to help its establishment. For 10 years, he worked with Nectec as well as serving as KMITL's rector. He succeeded in making Nectec a key mechanism driving the development of information technology (IT) in Thailand.

At the start of the previous decade, not many knew what IT was. To drive development in the field of computer technology, Pairash initiated Thailand IT Year in 1995, to create public awareness of the new technology. Gradually, IT has become virtually a household term.

But that was not enough. To drive the use of IT in Thailand, he pushed the development of many national projects that have since become a foundation for the country's IT development. The Internet, formerly known as the Network of Networks, was brought to Thailand and first used among academic circles under the ThaiSarn project.

"We could see many IT developments at that time. From ThaiSarn, we could eventually push the Internet for commercial use, and this was a big revolution for industry and society, from using IT," he says.

Then there was the establishment of the SchoolNet project, which brought the Internet into local secondary schools around the country, the setting-up of Software Park Thailand to promote the local software industry and the formation of Thailand's first wafer-fabrication plant, to name just a few of the major development strides.

During Pairash's time, the National Information and Technology Committee (NITC) was formed to oversee IT development policy. The committee, with a secretariat at Nectec, was a key mechanism driving the development of the country's first-ever IT master plan, called IT 2000.

"All of it really came from hard effort," Pairash recalls, "and I would say all of the success did not come from me alone, but rather from my academic experts and volunteers whom I invited to help drive IT development for the nation."

He says the key to his success was having good people who not only had good knowledge, but also were also honest, virtuous and felt a calling to do something for their country. These people all helped to make Pairash's mission possible.

Yet none of the paths to success were easy. Driving real implementation of IT projects that relied on government funding required extraordinary efforts, particularly when dealing with governments that knew little about IT or the potential it held for the Kingdom.

Pairash and his team had to work hard to make governments understand the benefits that IT projects would bring. They had to make in-depth studies, draft plans and convince governments of the importance of each proposal.

It gives him great pleasure now to recall those projects that bore fruit. But for Pairash, the one aspect of his career that gives him the greatest pride is having worked under HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on many IT projects, especially those using IT to help underprivileged children and the disabled.

Serving the Princess also led Pairash to join a Thai research team helping Prince Akishinonomiya Fumihito, the second son of the emperor of Japan, conduct his research into the human-chicken multirelationship. As the project leader on the Thai side, Pairash coordinates and facilitates the chicken research work being done in this country.

Having worked closely with Japanese organisations for many years, Pairash was awarded the Honour of the Rising Sun, a Japanese award given to only three Thais to mark the 120th anniversary of Thai-Japanese relations.

Despite his retirement, much more work lies ahead for Pairash, but the 62-year-old feels no stress. He manages to achieve much in parallel and maintains a cheerful, energetic demeanour.

"If you love what you do, you'll never feel bored with it," he says.

Apart from his work, Pairash takes time to care for his health. He exercises regularly, swimming a half-hour each morning. He eats mainly fish and vegetables, saying he wants to maintain his good health so that he can carry on with his work. There is no thought of an end to it.

"It's really what I love doing," he says.

Pongpen Sutharoj

The Nation

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