by Joshua WONG Tang Tat, November 2009
On 31st October 2009 I interviewed Kenneth So Chi Wai, an Internet engineer at T & A Technology Limited, which is located at the Hong Kong Science Park. After Kenneth finished secondary school, he studied at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE). Because of his excellent academic performance, he was able to transfer to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and continue his study there for two years from 2007 to 2009. He was fresh graduate this year, and so his first engineering job has been at T & A Technology Limited.
I came to know Kenneth when I was a second year undergraduate student last semester. At that time, he was in his final semester at HKUST. We met in a computer science course called 'Introduction to Software Engineering'. We were both in a group of seven people working on a course project, Kenneth was the group leader. There is no denying that Kenneth was a great leader, and that is why I chose him for this interview, so as to learn something from him.
Most university students choose their profession just before they enter university, but Kenneth made his decision even earlier than that. Before studying in university, he was already studying computational-related subjects in IVE. As far as I know, he had already decided to become a programmer when he was in secondary school. It is good for a person to have a clear career path at a young age, and Kenneth was able to have one.
Kenneth's reason for choosing engineering as his profession was also clear. When I asked him about this, he didn't need much time to think about it. He just said that he was very interested in his profession - programming. He thinks working in what he's interested in is a great situation. Working as an engineer is challenging, and he can apply what he learnt in his university studies. From my point of view, he is quite satisfied with his job as an engineer, and he likes his profession very much.
Kenneth's first engineering job was and still is being an Internet engineer at T & A Technology Limited, a new start-up company focused on the design, development and operation of a new golf social networking business. The company combines state-of-the-art IT technology and design expertise to help golfers improve their golf games. It is also building an online golfing community to allow golfers to help each other.
As mentioned before, T & A Technology Limited is located in the Hong Kong Science Park in Shatin. The Hong Kong Science Park has 20 state-of-the-art laboratory-fitted buildings that house more than 200 technology companies engaging in biotechnology, green technology, precision engineering, electronics, IT & telecommunications and professional services. It goes without saying that the Hong Kong Science Park is the 'Silicon Valley' of Hong Kong, and many engineering and science students hope to work there after graduation. It is nice to hear that Kenneth has this special opportunity.
Kenneth's role as an Internet engineer entails developing an application for mobile devices that will help golfers measure individual shot distances and show yardage to fairways, hazards and greens. Kenneth is responsible for design, coding and testing the application. He reports to the managing director, and he also needs to provide customer support.
Just like other normal college students in Hong Kong, I have spent more than 17 years in school in order to acquire knowledge. Even though I have worked in some summer jobs in recent years, I still do not know much about working in society, so interviewing Kenneth was a good opportunity for me to learn.
When I ask Kenneth what are important and unique aspects of working in Hong Kong as an engineer are, he told me that he thought an engineer needs to be enthusiastic about his job, because this will help him feel motivated to work the typically long working hours. In addition, he said that being eager to learn is especially important for junior engineers, since there are many new things to learn and adapt to.
When I asked Kenneth about the major challenges of his job, he said that he needs to deal with all aspects of the application development, such as meeting user requirements, making the product fast and efficient and fixing bugs. He must communicate often with his boss about the details and specifications of the application. Sometimes, this is not easy, since Kenneth does not know much about golf and golfers' habits. Thus, he has had to ask a lot of questions, learn new concepts and patiently explain the technical limitations to his boss and customers. In addition, security is also quite important for his project, and it can be complicated. For instance, due to the high number of lost or stolen mobile devices, good user authorization is important to prevent identity theft, so Kenneth must implement some data encryption. Also, due to the growing number of PDA viruses, Kenneth must build some defensive measures into the application.
Kenneth said that he often needs to upgrade his technical knowledge in areas like programming in portable devices and supporting wireless in a portable device. In order to satisfy user requirements, he also has had to study the game of golf. In addition, he has also had to learn to patiently discuss technical issues with his boss, who does not know much about new technology. Therefore, he has had to work hard on his communication skills.
After the interview with Kenneth, I found that becoming a professional engineer is more difficult than I had previously thought. I am glad I still have one year to devote to full-time study, because later I will need to both work and study, since life-long learning is essential for the survival in modern society.
During the interview, I realized that Kenneth's final year project (FYP) at HKUST involving building software for a portable device was very important for his success in getting hired for this job, since the application is similar. This showed me how important the FYP can be and how it is good to pick a topic that can perhaps later be applied in work. Unfortunately, my FYP is a multiplayer action game, which is not too related to most I.T. jobs in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, I will try to manage the project well, learn new skills and work hard, so that at least I will prepare myself for the pressures I will face when I start working.
Actually, I think there are many differences between FYPs and a real software development in the real world. For example, Kenneth always needs to communicate with his boss and with customers in order to understand the need of both. He sometimes has to patiently ask questions. Other times, he needs to patiently explain technical issues. He needs to be polite and try to see things form a non-technical person's point of view. The situation for university students is not so complex. All we need to do is study project specifications, do some research and planning and then just do the work. Most FYP students do not need to communicate with anyone besides their advisors and other FYP students. Now I realize that I need to improve my communication skills with people from different backgrounds, especially people without much I.T. knowledge. I need to try to see things from their point of view and explain technical concepts in simple terms.
Kenneth's mention of engineers' long working hours surprised me quite a bit. Before the interview, I thought that only people working in accounting or banking needed to work long hours. However, as a junior engineer, Kenneth told me that he needs to read many documents and learn new technique related to his job after he goes home.
Thanks to Kenneth, I have learned some of my greatest lessons in life. As a consequence, starting today I intend to do more to prepare myself to become an engineer in Information Technology, so hopefully I can contribute to the Hong Kong society in the future.