by LEUNG Wai Man, October 2013
Hong Kong is a busy city, and everyone has his own duties. It is quite difficult to find someone whom you have never met before who is willing to spend time to have an interview. Fortunately, I have a good friend, and he introduced his father to me. I conducted an interview with Mr. Gary Tang on 6th of October 2013 in a coffee shop. He is actually the ideal person to be interviewed, as he is highly experienced and passionate in the area of electronic engineering.
Mr. Gary Tang has been working in the electronic engineering field for more than 30 years. He is now a senior electronic engineer in the engineering department of E&D Enterprises Limited in Dongguan (東莞宏起塑膠電子有限公司). Observing the needs of the market, understanding currently existing products and redesigning them to meet market demand are the main duties of his job. He worked in Hong Kong as a technician and junior engineer for about 20 years, and then he moved to Mainland China.
“Locating which part is the broken electronic board is not my interest. My interest is to find which component, such as an IC (integrated circuit), of that electronic board is broken,” Tang said. He is extremely passionate about electronic engineering. That is the reason why he chose to work in the electronics profession.
After having a precise goal, Tang started to fight for his dream. At the beginning, he was just a technician repairing electronic appliances for a company called Hei Man Lin Limited (喜萬年有限公司). He considered it to be a worthwhile stage of his career, since every small detail was important. He said, "I needed to understand all the fundamentals before I could do more advanced things." He knew that he had the potential to be more than a technician. So he worked at day time and studied courses related to electronic engineering at night in order to equip himself to be an engineer. This was really a great challenge to him, because it was extremely hard and tiring to work and study simultaneously. In addition, he also had a family to take care of. However, Mr. Tang finally overcame this through hard work and discipline.
After Mr. Tang finished his evening course and acquired enough working experience, he left Hei Man Lin and joined another company as a junior electronic engineer. He said, "If you just stay at the same place, you will not improve your skills. To make progress, you have to face new challenges."
After much hard work and perseverance, Mr. Tang finally became a senior electronic engineer. Around that time, he faced his biggest challenge in his career. Hong Kong was developing into a global financial center in the late 1980s. At the same time, the electronics industry in Mainland China was growing very rapidly, providing cheap, stable and qualified products. Due to this new competition, the Hong Kong electronics industry started to suffer. He said, "The market collapse was an undeniable fact, so I kept working hard and pursued further studies to keep myself valuable." Although Mr. Tang insisted on staying in Hong Kong, the changing job market eventually pressured him to go to work in Mainland China in 2008.
Tang offered a good analysis of why the Hong Kong electronics industry can no longer compete well with that of other countries, especially Mainland China. Besides having cheaper goods, China’s implementation of economic reform has also greatly helped its electronics industry. Before the reform, foreign customers usually communicated with China through Hong Kong. But after China became more open, foreign countries did not need Hong Kong as a medium, so the Hong Kong electronics industry suffered.
Furthermore, Hong Kong focuses more on service and commerce than on research and development. This can be a handicap, since innovation is essential today. However, it can be quite expensive in terms of time, money and human resources. In a fast paced city like Hong Kong, deadlines and quickly changing market demands typically lead to small, pragmatic design adjustments rather than ground breaking inventions.
Nevertheless, Hong Kong still needs engineers, and it actually has a variety of good learning programs for people who are willing to work hard and pursue further study. These courses allow engineers to keep up with technological development.
Based on his experience, Tang gave the following advice to me and other junior engineers. Because of the great competition from the Mainland and limited resource and development support, it is not easy for junior engineers, especially electronic engineers, to survive in Hong Kong. To deal with these difficulties, junior engineers should be aware that a sense of superiority and complacency are the main enemies we face. We may or may not be better than people from China or other countries, but we should keep equipping ourselves through continuous study.
Mr. Tang stressed the importance of observing people to understand different viewpoints and perceived needs, since these influence market demand for electronic products and technologies. This is especially true today, since the market is changing very fast. Smartphones are a good example. iPhones have changed the way people live. The more innovative we are, the more competitive we are.
Mr. Tang also pointed out that practical experience is often more important than book knowledge. He noticed this when he interviewed engineering graduates who were applying for jobs. He found that many knowledgeable graduates could not handle some simple application problems in work. “They are filled with knowledge, but lack experience.” Therefore, he encourages undergraduates to try to participate into internships or other events to get more experience, and he encourages graduates to continuously seek opportunities to learn new skills.
Last but not least, Mr. Tang believes that passion is very important to engineers. "If you like your work, you will try to study it and do it well," he mentioned. Without passion, you will not be willing to learn and you won’t fully enjoy your work. Passion gives us curiosity to discover; passion gives us power to study.
At the end of the interview, Mr. Tang disclosed that he is planning to return to Hong Kong and work in a business which sells LED lights. Hong Kong still has a lot of opportunities for engineers. He urged me and other junior engineers to work hard and not give up. This should lead to success.
Although my major is not electronic engineering, Mr. Tang’s points are still relevant to me. Every engineer needs passion and experience. At the beginning, I was not interested in Computer Science. But, after taking some courses, I found it enjoyable to design and code algorithms. Developing a passion for it really helps me in my studies, providing good motivation to study hard. Moreover, as I have come to better understand the requirements of various engineering careers in IELM4110, I have come to realize that I still have much to learn. Since technology keeps on advancing, it is not easy to keep up with all the changes. To be competitive, engineers must keep learning and try to gain different kinds of experience by participating in various activities and work. I learnt from Mr. Tang that book knowledge actually does help in our careers and lives, but more important is hands-on experience and a passion to learn. And Hong Kong is actually an ideal place for us to equip ourselves, as it is full of opportunities.