by CHENG Ho Tin, October 2013
My interviewee Peter Wong [not real name] is working as an Assistant Mechatronic Engineer at Haddock Invention Hong Kong Limited, 472 Kwun Tong Road, Phase 1, Unit F, 8th Floor. Mechatronics engineers have knowledge of both mechanical and electrical engineering. We first meet at a dinner through mutual friend. We found that our interests are similar. On the evening of 14th October, 2013, we had another dinner at Quarry Bay. After the meal, we conducted this interview at a nearby McDonald's. He is a trustworthy person who has good problem solving skills, which is why I selected him as my interviewee.
Peter has worked at Haddock Invention for around 2 years. Haddock is a creative company that works with their partners, finds solutions to problems and creates products from new ideas. Many of the interesting solutions are shown on the website, www.haddockinvention.com. They have new designs related to green energy, such as their Windcell, a low cost wind power generator, and their Solar Pocket Factory, a portable tabletop machine that automates a solar panel assembly process. The company is currently also working on its Looking Glass project, which is about creating 3D scenes that can be viewed inside a transparent box created with many 2D plastic sheets. Peter has personally contributed to this project.
Since he is a mechatronics Engineer and his company is small in scale, he has multiple roles. He designed the transparent box of the Looking Glass projects, and combining 2D plastic sheets into a 3D scene was partly his idea. He also investigated the requirements of mass production, for example, sourcing of the raw materials. Since he studied a minor in business during his university life, he can work as a bridge between businessmen and engineers. At Haddock, he sometimes helps with marketing their products. The difficult work is done by other electrical engineers and mechanical engineers. They co-operate and work as a group, making use of their respective skills.
When Peter was a secondary school student, he liked problem solving, and he achieved good grades on his science subjects, especially physics. Moreover, he wanted "to change the world, even just a bit, to leave a footprint" on this world. Therefore, he selected engineering as his career. His first engineering job was an internship at HK Incubator, where he did research and prototyping. However, this type of work was not what he wanted to do. After graduation, his first job was in building construction. After the cement forms were laid, his job was to build the ventilation system and other basic components of the infrastructure. Although this is important work, it doesn't require much creativity, since all it requires is to follow a set of instruction and procedures, like a production line. He learned some good things, but after one year, he quit this boring job. Then Peter started working in Haddock, where he could use his creativity to design new products. Since Haddock is a small company, he enjoys close relationships with his colleagues, being involved in special and interesting work, having regular opportunities to talk with his boss, and being able to fully make use of his talents. But the most important thing is that he can really get closer to realizing his vision, leaving a footprint behind. This is the most valuable part of the job to him, providing his most rewarding experience.
According to his opinion, jobs in big companies are safer in terms of income and financial stability. They also guarantee chances for development for talented people. The disadvantage of big companies is that work tends to be routine and compartmentalized, with few opportunities to gain special experience. On the other hand, small companies may not offer a good pay, but the work is more interesting. He advised me to find a job I like in the future. Both big companies and small companies have their pros and cons. No matter what environment engineers are in, they have to develop themselves. Technologies in the world are improving day by day, so engineers have to develop themselves and keep up with changes in their fields. Problems that were not solvable before may be solved by new technology, and engineers should strive to find new and improved solutions to existing problems.
In Hong Kong, Asia's world city, engineers have a unique competitive edge, but they also face some challenges. Since we are living very close to China, materials for development can be purchased at relatively cheap prices, compared with prices for procurement in other parts of the world, thanks to low shipping costs, shorter delivery times and no import duties. In additional, Hong Kong people can adapt to changes in the environment very fast, which is a big advantage. On the other hand, the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong society often think that engineers are less important to society than businessmen, bankers, doctors, lawyers and accountants, so engineers' salaries tend to lower than they are in some western societies, where engineers have a better social status. Peter once went to a western country as an engineer, and he found that people respected him as a professional, but this is often not the case in Hong Kong.
Peter also mentioned that Hong Kong tends to be too short-sighted for engineering enterprises to receive adequate funding and suitable research and development (R&D) management. For example, a group of researchers at HKUST was investigating an important new component for the well-known Google Glass. They wanted to pursue extensive R&D, but they could not find adequate funding from investors in Hong Kong. As a result, a Taiwanese company names Himax invested money to investigate and develop the component instead. Peter also mentioned that the facilities at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks are not as engineer friendly as they could be. For example, many of the park's services close at 9pm, but many engineers work more efficiently during the quiet hours of the night.
Peter also advised me to step out of my comfort zone. Staying in one's comfort zone, not being willing to take action and just hoping that everything stays the same is not innovative, and engineering is about being innovative to solve problems. People who have started their own businesses, or who have posted ideas on kickstarter.com have sometimes made a big difference. They know how to take initiative. They know how to take initiative. Peter also pointed out that engineering is changing, so knowing more about marketing may help sell new products. Having knowledge about adding value may also help in the future. An example is the Mega Bot. The product itself does not have many special characteristics, but the community and the forum behind the product add a lot of value and make it a successful product.
Now, I am planning to work as a programmer or something similar. I want to follow my dream as much as possible, just like Peter, and find an interesting job that helps fulfill the vision of my company. To achieve my goal, I need to pay more attention to changes in technology and study hard to gain more technical knowledge and skills. I will also try to follow Peter's example and try to find an internship to gain experience and build up a social network.
My interview with Peter was very helpful. It helped me know more about engineers in the Hong Kong society and in the world community, and it helped me identify some of my personal strengths and weaknesses, It was sobering, because I now realize that being an engineer in Hong Kong might not be as exciting and easy as what I had previously thought, but I will try to stick with my goal. Making use of the opportunities and resources at HKUST can help me start my career and take my first step. Also, I will try to gain some real world experience in an internship and work hard to acquire more knowledge, problem solving skills and communication skills. Taking initiative and personal responsibility for my own self development is also a quality which Peter inspired.