Interview With a Software Engineer Doing App Design and Development

by Eugene WONG, May 2016

Why did you choose this profession?

I didn't. From an early age, I was naturally curious and wanted to build things. I tried several other engineering courses and didn't do very well in them. I tried Electronics hobby classes before college and it took me forever to make them work. I did well in secondary school physics but never felt totally at home with the overwhelming amount of math. By college major selection time, I looked at which subject was universally useful in all other fields. And software it was.

It was more of a process of elimination and what I felt most at home with.

Having said that, I will not hesitate to move if I find a better fit. You never know.

Can you please tell me about your current job (title, responsibilities, department, nature of projects, etc.)?

Software Engineer, responsible for app design and development.

Started off in Mobile App development and then slowly learnt design and backend due to project necessity. Design because I had something to say about design. Backend because a backend bug is also considered an app bug.

App projects mostly.

Can you please tell me about your company and why you chose to work there?

I chose to work there because the company had an interesting project, which was also delayed. During my first interview, I offered to take a look at some bugs that were bugging them. I told them how I would fix them and the manager looked happy. I was happy too, we negotiated reasonable compensation and that was it.

How long have you worked for this company?

2-4 years.

In retrospect, what were the major challenges of your first engineering/IT job?

This sounds like those loaded interview questions (e.g., What is your greatest weakness? What do you feel is the greatest challenge you will encounter in this job?), where candidates are advised to not give any real weaknesses/challenges that they cannot solve, because that's how HR vets candidates.

There is a general rule in most businesses to never to say anything negative about anyone. At the risk of breaking this unspoken rule, I hope to give you some insight that I sincerely believe would make the world better.

So I'll keep it real.

Most challenges were psychological and people. Technical challenges are either doable within the constraints of the project or they aren't. If they are, you just do it. If they aren't, you consider alternatives, commit to one, do your best and call it a day (and maybe a night). But psychological challenges are where people vary very widely.

The hardest challenges have also been where I have learnt the most. One of the hardest problems I ever had was a manager who had a massive project delay due to overcommitment, tried to blame me for everything bad and became generally abusive. What made this particularly difficult was that I found it very difficult to let him know how I felt and thought. I just stood there and couldn't say anything. And I found this difficult because I was insecure. I needed approval from my bosses. When I didn't get it, I became frightened and ashamed. It was this, that I saw to be the greatest problem.

But at that moment, I knew it was fire or be fired. I had to fix it immediately.

Pressure to fix technical things is one thing, but pressure to fix myself was a totally different experience, because there was a tendency to be hard on myself, exactly when I needed to be self-compassionate, accept myself and find where I learnt to be so self-critical.

When I accepted and validated my feelings, I became calmer. I emailed friendly upper management about the issue, told them what I understood to be the best way to resolve the issue and thanked them for the opportunity to learn about myself and communication skills. And then, I took my first break since employment and went on leave. When I returned, he was gone. Later, I found that many colleagues had had similar issues but never did anything.

The most important lessons I got out of this were:

  1. The best way to change the world is to change myself. And the sooner I want change to happen, the sooner I have to change, myself.
  2. Direct communication with whoever can do something about the matter is key.
  3. When there is nothing you can do, have faith and trust that it will work out.

I do wonder just how many people have had similar experiences, and if so, whether they had similar takeaways.

Fundamentally, the most difficult thing anyone on a job can face is maintaining four things at the same time. A sense of relatedness, autonomy, mastery and purpose. If any one of these things go missing, immediately discuss with people who can do something about it. If that doesn't work, move until you do find these.

What was the most rewarding experience in the first job?

Going home every evening, knowing that everyone is better off because of what I did that day. Some people say that delivery and seeing users is the most rewarding. I most enjoy that feeling of progress from nothing to something. If you ever go sailing, it's like having wind in your sails and being steadily pushed forward.

What would you say are the important and unique aspects of working in HK as an engineer/IT professional?

HK is a tiny market. This means that most projects aren't monumental, variety is somewhat limited and you're likely to bump into acquaintances and former colleagues at events.

HK may not be the most adept at creating the newest technologies or being early adopters. It's getting better all the time, but depending on where you work, it can be slow to change.

If you want the best there is while making the best of your youth, consider going abroad, as close as you can to the cutting edge of technology, and then bring some new stuff back. :)

I'm not trying to criticise HK, in any way. These are the facts you can choose live with.

On the bright side, HK is good for business and has low taxes. So starting a business has become increasingly popular.

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