by Edith TUNG Wai Yin, November 2009
Most form seven students are eager to acquire a bachelor's degree, but most of them focus mainly on the public examination. I suppose most of them do not think a lot about their career until they complete their university studies. On October 16th I interviewed Raymond Wong, and he had a lot to say about this and other career matters.
Raymond Wong, a systems analyst at Hong Kong Airport Services Ltd. (HAS), believes that many Hong Kong high school students focus only on achieving brilliant results in the two public examinations – HKCEE and HKALE. He added that this causes many students to enroll in university programs they are not interested in, and this short-sighted outlook often continues throughout their time in university. Then, upon graduation, they struggle in selecting a career path.
Raymond said that when he was in form six and seven, he also worked very hard to prepare for the public examination, but he would ask himself questions like, "Which subject do I like most? What type of job would I like most? Which majors am I capable of enrolling in at university?" He said he thought deeply and knew that he was really interested in computing. He tried to find out which jobs he could apply for if he had a bachelor's degree in computer science. By surfing some job hunting websites and reading the career section of a local newspaper, he started to learn which kinds of jobs he could apply for with a bachelor's degree in computer science.
After finishing secondary school, Raymond enrolled at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) with a major in computer science. During his three years at HKUST, he spent most of his time studying, and he never spent much time on extracurricular activities. He said some of students spent too much time on club functions and programs; their three years at HKUST appeared to be more like a honeymoon than preparation for a career. He said it seemed that those students never thought much about their career. "Although planning your career or your future does not necessarily mean you will be able to achieve what you want, it sure helps to get headed in a good direction," Raymond said. He further explained this by sharing about his first engineer job after graduating from HKUST in 2005.
Like most fresh graduates, he was worried about looking for a job during an economic downturn. When he first saw the post of systems analyst at HAS, he was afraid he would not be hired by such a big company. "When an important opportunity comes your way, grab it," he said. It turned out that he got the job, and he has already worked at HAS for 4 years. Following are some important lessons he has learned in these four years. They are important for fresh graduates to understand.
The first few weeks Raymond worked at HAS, he was very unfamiliar with the hardware and software. At first, he hesitated to ask his colleagues for help, because he was afraid of disturbing them. He said, "Like most fresh graduates in Hong Kong, I preferred not to ask colleagues or managers any questions. Later, I found out that I should ask questions whenever I have a problem." He further added that questions allow us to learn what we cannot learn by ourselves. For example, he learnt some techniques which HAS customized for their unique system needs. Apart from learning skills, Raymond said he also learned how to better cooperate with his colleagues. He further emphasized, "Even when your colleagues may be unwilling to help you, you can still learn something through the experience." He said that in this situation what you can learn is not how you use some hardware or software but to work with different kinds of people. He explained that the manner, attitude and the words you use to ask questions may make people react very differently. I agreed wholeheartedly with Raymond, and I also shared my experience with him.
One summer, I took a job as a clerk in a property management company. One day, I needed to ask some colleagues from an office in a different district about an upcoming meeting. After several phone calls, I realized that if I spoke more politely, people would be more willing to help me.
Both Raymond and I agreed that asking questions is helpful in learning more about skills and company expectations, and our methods and attitude are also important in working with different people.
"Try not to think that it is unfair to do much more work than your colleagues. Instead, just grab every chance to learn," Raymond shared. He said some people might think that it is unfair to have to do more work than others. Consequently, they lack motivation to learn techniques, or they develop a bad attitude towards their work.
During the first few months Raymond worked at HAS, he always left the office late. He never thought HAS was unfair to him, as he was willing to spend extra hours acquiring more skills. "The extra hours were not an issue for me. What concerned me was that I might not have such a good opportunity to learn skills," said Raymond. He said that what he had learnt might not be immediately useful, but he believed it would be one day. He cited his previous experience when he was maintaining the SQL database server during the early days he worked in HAS. He used his leisure time to conduct relevant research on the SQL database. Later on, HAS and Cathay Pacific (CX) had to merge their systems, and it required preserving data consistency and conserving resources. Some of these systems were centralized at HAS using their SQL database server. Thus, his curiosity and the time he spent learning SQL enabled him to point out essential information both HAS and CX needed to know.
He added that maintaining a learner's altitude towards your job can be beneficial in different ways. For example, as mentioned above, it can motivate you to gain more knowledge which might be useful one day. It can help your company, gain your employer's appreciation and provide personal job satisfaction. It might even help you have a better chance of being promoted to a higher position.
Raymond mentioned that he had met somebody who was a first honors graduate in Computer Science. She was talented and skillful in software engineering, but she was sometimes impolite to other software engineers in discussing relevant issues. He said that people who have the best qualifications tend to look down on those with less knowledge or experience, and this makes it difficult for them to learn from others. Raymond is more humble. He believes he can learn from all kinds of people. He explained that even though this first honors graduate had much better programming skills than the other software engineers, her work was actually less organized than theirs. If she had been able to humble herself and show some respect towards the other software engineers, she might have been able to recognize their strength and learn from them.
Raymond further cited a personal experience he had during his school days. When he was a second year university student, he was involved in a group project with six other students. Although not everyone in the group had excellent programming skills, the scope of the project was so large that everyone had to complete a certain amount of programming work. Raymond was quite interested in programming, and he had already gained quite a lot of experience, so he generally had no difficulty in dealing with his assigned programming work. However, some of his groupmates encountered difficulties, so Raymond and other groupmates helped those who had problems. He discovered that they had come up with their own unique methods of solving problems. Raymond said, "Although they were not very good at programming, their ways of solving problems and their attitude in dealing with difficulties was worthy of emulation."
He then cited one more experience at work. To provide a better working environment for staff, HAS decided to migrate their main office to the Dragonair House. Raymond had to manage migration process, and he only had one week to do it. He needed to plan and arrange for shipment of all his department's computers and also plan and manage their configuration in the new office. Since this process involved forty to one hundred computers, he could not organize the whole process by himself, so he communicated with several colleagues. Each of them suggested different ways of handling the migration, and Raymond combined their ideas with his to come up with a plan. This saved time, and helped the process go smoothly. The experience helped him realize that others' advice was very essential to him; most people know something they can teach you.
To elaborate this point, Raymond compared one of his part-time jobs with his current job at HAS. During his first summer vacation as a university student, he worked as a part-time technical clerk in a commercial company. Unfortunately, he had a boss with very a bad temper. Every one of his colleagues was afraid of the boss. One day, Raymond was repairing the computer network, and one of his colleagues accidentally corrupted the system. As both of them feared the boss would lose his temper if they told him the problem, they repaired it together as quickly as they could. However, the resulting system might not have been a perfect one. Raymond said that if they had not been afraid of the boss, they would probably have used more time to produce a more maintainable system. Thus, the boss's temper and their own cowardice together might have had a negative impact on the company.
However, during Raymond's first months at HAS his supervisor gently guided him and helped him become familiar with the working environment. This supervisor always had a smiling face, and he talked to everyone politely. Raymond said he has never seen the supervisor have a bad temper. As they worked together, Raymond learnt more about the supervisor, and they became friends. Later on, Raymond learned that something bad had happened in the supervisor's family. Still, the supervisor was polite and had a smiling face. Raymond added that he believes our emotions can influence the emotions of others. If the boss and colleagues are polite and have a good attitude, then everyone in the office usually feels good. Compared to the company with the angry boss, HAS seemed to produce better work and seemed to work more efficiently. Raymond believes that this was quite related to the style and emotions of the management.
Raymond knew that I am planning to graduate next year, so he gave me some advice on seeking jobs. His colleague who works in the human resources department said that some interviewees do not know the general background of HAS or even ask the human resources department staff which positions they are interviewing for. Raymond suggested that I save the details of the jobs I apply for by email in a job application folder, so it is easy to review the details whenever there is a phone call for an interview.
Raymond said he conducted in-depth research on the background of HAS before he attended his interview. After he was hired, his manager shared with him about the recruiting process. He said that employees generally have a bad impression of interviewees who don't take time to learn much about the company prior to their interviews, since this communicates a lack of interest in the company. In addition, those interviewees who do not remember much of the details of the recruitment post also tend to leave a bad impression with the interviewer, since this communicates a lack of interest in doing the job. The main reason companies hire staff is to do specific jobs that help the company serve its customers and make a profit. It is always important to keep this in mind.
Raymond continued by emphasizing that choosing a suitable job was very important. He provided two real examples, one of them was about his cousin and the other was about his university classmate. His cousin graduated from Hong Kong Baptist University with a degree in Chinese. After graduation, she applied for a job as a secondary school teacher. She was hired, but she resigned after several months, because she disliked teaching and because controlling a class sometimes was annoying to her. Later, she was employed as an editor for a newspaper publisher. She loved writing Chinese articles and she is still working in this company now. Raymond said it is important to choose a suitable job.
The second example was about his university classmate. His classmate liked programming very much, so he applied for a job as a programmer, and he was hired, but the job required frequent travelling to different places in China. He did not like travelling to different places so often, so he quit the job. Raymond said other than the main duties of the job, we must pay attention to all the details of job requirements before responding to job advertisements.
Finally, Raymond concluded the discussion by mentioning some special suggestions for working with Hong Kong engineers. He said engineers, especially those with much experience, often think they are important to their companies, so they think that they deserve more respect. Raymond illustrated this with two examples.
One example was about his manager and an electronics engineer. One day, the manager told the engineer he should record all his procedures so that auditors would not complain that they did not follow the standard procedures. Because the manager was not polite and the engineer did not want to do it, he ignored the manager's instructions. Later, the manager realized that the problem was probably related to attitude, so he tried again. He politely and patiently discussed the situation with the engineer and explaining the need and the importance of recording the information. This time, the engineer then agreed to cooperate. Raymond told me we should always be polite to everyone in the office, especially to experienced engineers.
The other example was about Raymond and his project partners. Raymond was working on a project to update the company's financial system. The work was divided equally among himself and three partners. Raymond finished his assigned work earlier than the deadline, and he checked the system to see if he could help his colleagues. However, the colleagues thought that they could handle the work without Raymond. Indeed, they did not like others meddling in their work. Some might have even felt insulted. After this experience, he would not initiate such offers to help.
Raymond really taught me a lot by sharing his real life experiences at work and in cooperating with colleagues. This should be quite useful as I search for a job and begin my career.
In conclusion, Raymond first emphasized the importance of planning your life or career so that you can know yourself and pursue a job you would be good at and enjoy. He said that we should be well prepared before each job interview, so researching the company background and reading the job details are essential. In addition, when we are hired for our first job, we should take initiative to learn and ask questions. In every office setting, we should be careful when working and communicating with various people. The words we use and our attitude and timing can be very important and make the difference between success and failure. A little humility and showing respect can be very helpful.