by Winnie LAM Wai Kwan, November 2009
Calvin Wong's first engineering job in Hong Kong was with a large international interactive agency called Agenda. He was on a multimedia design team that worked on every programming task of projects in interactive technology.
Calvin and I met at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU) in 2004 when we were both taking the Higher Diploma in Multimedia Design and Technology. He was the funniest person I had ever met. Since then, we have become best friends.
One year after we met, Calvin quit his first job in a photography studio and started working at Agenda. As time went on, I noticed that Calvin changed a lot after experiencing many challenges and pressures at work. It is undoubtedly true that his first engineering job helped him mature, and that is why I chose him to be my interviewee. The interview was taken at a cafe in Mongkok on October 18, 2009.
Calvin started by saying, "Although we learned a wide range of skills in university, I had no idea what kind of job I should apply for after finishing my higher diploma in HKPU." After working one year in a photography studio, he realized that there were no opportunities for promotion, so he resigned.
Since there are only a few companies in Hong Kong running a business in the multimedia industry, Calvin decided to join Agenda, which trains many fresh graduates to become professional web designers and programmers each year. At the beginning, Calvin was assigned different tasks, such as animated promotion banner construction and image processing. When he had no experience in a certain job, he tried to apply the basic skills he learnt in school and seek help from senior designers. After a few months, he was assigned to the interactive technology team. Then, he recognized his strengths and decided to concentrate on developing Flash programming skills.
Calvin's main duties included Action Script programming, game development in Flash, website navigation development and interactive advertising banner development. He mentioned that searching for new techniques was also one of his job duties. In addition to the interactive technology team, there were other teams at Agenda, including two designer teams, an account executive team, a project management team, a human resources team and a technical team. Every team member had to be able to work well with his teammates as well as cooperate with members of other teams.
Calvin said that good communication in a team structured organization can facilitate project efficiency and effectiveness. However, at Agency every programmer wrote programming code in his own style, and this often complicated the work. Moreover, Calvin and his teammates found it hard to cooperate with the project management team, because it communicated directly with clients and passed their requests on to the interactive technology team, often giving unrelated tasks and pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines. They were eager to make the clients happy but didn't seem to understand Calvin's team's limitations. As a result of poor communication and poor workload allocation, tension between the two teams grew quite serious and gradually led to job dissatisfaction on both sides.
To deal with this problem, the leader of the interactive technology team organized weekly meetings for teammates to discuss project issues. He also reported the situation to the managing directors. After observing the problem of improper workload allocation for a few months, the managing directors came up with some guidelines to facilitate reasonable work allocation. These guidelines caused the project management team to plan better and practice restraint in making promises to clients. It also greatly improved the working conditions for Calvin's team, since they were given the right to refuse jobs that were outside their job descriptions.
Agenda organized review sessions every week for employees to share their skills and learn from each other. After attending a few sessions on HTML and Silverlight, Calvin learned techniques that could be applied to his Flash programming work. Soon afterwards, he was invited to give a talk on file optimization and new features of Flash 8. "I taught them everything, without hiding any secrets," he said proudly. It was a wonderful experience, because it not only upgraded his image and status, but it also helped many of his colleagues enhance their technical skills through his help.
Being a programmer, Calvin understands that having a professional portfolio is the key to getting promoted in the interactive design industry. He believes that joining international design competitions is a good idea for broadening one's horizon and gaining valuable experience and perspective. Calvin and his teammates submitted one of their works to a competition, and they were awarded a special prize. He believes that this kind of achievement promotes self esteem, team spirit and friendships.
Regarding his working habits, Calvin said, "Hard work, asking good questions, and trying new things are essential factors in adapting to a job. Unlike many companies, interactive design agencies do not have traditional working hours. We usually left the office at 10pm, and sometimes we worked overnight, but this was normal and therefore hard to change." With limited time and virtually unlimited project requirements, Calvin and his teammates were fighting against time every moment. It seems that nowadays people must adapt to new things as soon as new techniques and software arrive. This is especially true in the IT industry.
Calvin worked at Agenda for almost three years, but he quit his job in late 2008. He explained that leaving Agenda was a hard decision, but he recognized that staying in the same environment for too long can restrict professional development and personal growth. "It was time to explore the world before being eliminated by new things," said Calvin.
Society is changing rapidly, so it is necessary to push ourselves to make progress over time. This is not only applicable to engineers but to everyone in society. I believe that the concept of continuous learning is the key to success and the key to making our life's experiences richer. Calvin has been using this special key to open doors to the future by noticing, sharing, adapting and learning from change. Without having any academic background in computer science, he had the courage to become a programmer, and that is what I appreciated most about him. After talking to Calvin, I realized that I have more to learn before I become a professional programmer, and I can learn a lot from him.