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Exploring New Frontiers

Three HKUST Computer Science & Engineering Alumni Forge Careers Overseas

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(From left) Alumni CHAU Wing-In, Stephen LUI Ka-Fai and Alan SHAM Ka-Yi have adapted to their new ways of life in Tokyo, Munich and San Francisco respectively.
(From left) Alumni CHAU Wing-In, Stephen LUI Ka-Fai and Alan SHAM Ka-Yi have adapted to their new ways of life in Tokyo, Munich and San Francisco respectively. [Download Photo]

Scattered around the world, three HKUST Engineering Alumni – CHAU Wing-In, Stephen LUI Ka-Fai and Alan SHUM Ka-Yi – who graduated with a BEng in Computer Science from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) in 2016, reunited in cyberspace across time zones to reminisce about their experiences at the University and talk about their trajectories after graduation. Each of them has flown the nest, making their mark on a different continent.

Wing says she had always been enamored of Japan and its rich culture. “I was determined to go to Japan from Year 1 when I learnt that HKUST offers many opportunities of Study Abroad,” she says. “When I finally went to Sophia University in Tokyo, I enjoyed life there very much.”

She was delighted to secure a full-time job at the well-known Japanese company Rakuten, Inc. when she returned to Hong Kong through Career Mosaic, a biannual recruitment fair at HKUST. Full of excitement and some trepidation, she moved to Tokyo in 2016 to work as a producer in Rakuten. Her job involves project management, big data analysis and modeling to help departments enhance their performance in a fast growing e-commerce ecosystem.

Stephen took a more adventurous route to exploring his longtime fascination with Germany. “I wanted to experience the life here so without much preparation and even before I had a job offer, I flew to Hamburg in 2017.”

When he started applying for full-time positions, he was pleasantly surprised to land a job in around four months. “It’s extremely difficult for non-locals to get a full-time job here. My engineering background was a great help.”

He is now enjoying life in Munich, working as a programmer in Koch Media, a game publisher. “My key role is developing telemetry tools to collect data on game players to help the marketing and development teams build and sell new products.”

Meanwhile, Alan says the United States was his dream destination. “I missed out on the chance to go there on exchange in Year 3, so I went to South Korea instead. But luckily I was chosen for a summer internship at an American company, so I flew to San Francisco right after my exchange program ended. When I graduated, the company offered me a job.” He later joined Linkedln in Sunnyvale, where he works as a software engineer, helping build sales solutions.

All three alumni say the decision to leave their hometown, which struck out on their own and forged a career far away from their families, involved many challenges. But their strong desire to explore new horizons won out.

Overcoming challenges

Although all three landed where they wanted to be, there were still trials to be overcome as they adjusted to living and proving their mettle in a new country.  Wing admits she was relatively fortunate. “I had no problems at all immersing myself in life in Tokyo and adapted quite well to the work as over half of my team are expats from different nationalities. We mainly communicate in English.”

Only one thing initially bothered Wing. “Often in team meetings, our Japanese colleagues never openly disagreed with others.  After the meeting, however, one by one they might come to me in person and share different views, which puzzled me.”  She puts this down to the Japanese cross-cultural communication style.

Stephen had a more onerous time. “The German language is not easy to master. I had zero network and foundation here; I had to start from scratch.” He is grateful to a fellow CSE alumnus in Hamburg who gave him many tips, including how to tailor his resume and cover letter.

“Asians are a minority in my company. My colleagues, who are mainly German or from other European countries, are friendly. It just took me some time to get used to their more relaxed attitude to deadlines. Overall I’m very happy with the working environment.”

For Alan, adjusting to keeping house himself was the biggest struggle. “Suddenly I had to handle everything myself in a city in which I knew nobody and nothing. I had no idea where to buy cheaper groceries, not to mention how to submit a taxation form.” He is proud of being able to manage well now and can whip up many dishes. “I didn’t struggle much at work and my teammates have always been helpful and willing to teach me. Now I have a good friend, an Argentinian colleague who I go cycling with.”

Channeling the HKUST spirit

When talking about the experiences they are proudest of, their faces light up. “Recently I had a chance to ask the Japanese interviewer why he offered me the position years ago,” Wing says smiling. “His feedback was very encouraging. He said he had been confident I was capable of taking up the role of managing projects and effectively communicating with software engineers, and that my track record over these years and the positive feedback from my teammates showed he had made a wise decision.”

Stephen was struck by the myriad cultural differences in how people express themselves. “Germans tend to be reserved. Even if they are happy with your performance, they rarely say so. When my boss had very positive comments for me in my yearly appraisal, I was surprised and valued it a lot.”

Alan recollects a defining moment in his fledgling career: “From having little knowledge about the products to delivering a project that satisfied users and being endorsed by our CEO at an annual event, I’ve come a long way.”

In addition to their own efforts, all three credit the attributes common to HKUST graduates for their outstanding performance in the overseas arena. Both Wing and Stephen actively participated in the Engineering Student Ambassador Program at HKUST. “We had plenty of opportunities to exchange ideas with international students on campus and develop a global outlook,” Wing recalls.

Stephen adds that the vibrant learning environment at the University enabled them to hone their communication skills. “We Hong Kongers not only have a comparatively wider global vision, we can also adapt easily to different environments.”

Enduring passion for computers  

All three say they had been intrigued by computers since childhood. Stephen laughs and says his interest in the subject probably started before he was born. “My mum told me she was always playing computer games when she was pregnant. In most of my childhood photos, I was sitting in a desktop, holding a mouse.”

At the moment, they are all content in their current jobs and places of residence. “I would like to speak Japanese like native,” Wing says. Stephen concurs, “Yeah, I want to be able to quarrel with someone in fluent German soon. That would indicate I’m truly fluent.”  Alan says he is happy to be able to see a clear career path at LinkedIn and will continue there, though he is interested in exploring other parts of America as well.

Their message for HKUST students: define your goal, prepare yourself well, leave your comfort zone and keep improving.