Interview with an IT Professional

By Mervin San Andres

I sat down with a colleague of mine and asked him to share his experiences working on the industry as well as his opinions on some of the issues in the field of IT. Goodwealth Chu, or Goods to his colleagues, is currently a manager to one of the business lines of the Nokia Manila Technology Center.

Good day and thank you for giving us the time for this interview. First of all, can you give us a background on your working experience? When did you start and what are the companies you have been to?

I started working in 2004. Right after graduation, I started working in the printer company, Lexmark, in Cebu. In Lexmark, I worked on different things. I worked on printer firmware initially and later on I worked on automated test tools using LabVIEW, the graphical tool from National Instruments. I stayed there for a little less than five years. After that, I moved back to Manila and worked with the company Emerson Network. I was with the embedded computing group and we worked on server blades, optimized for high-performance and used for data centers. During this time I worked on bootloaders. What was assigned to me during this time was U-Boot, some sort of counterpart of BIOS for Linux. I stayed for 2 years and after that I came to Nokia. This is where I stayed the longest, actually. This was in January 2012.

When you came here to Nokia, what was your projects?

My very first project was a graphical tool for visualizing data logs. I stayed there for a year then I moved to this group (BTS SM) where I worked as a line manager. That was my first managerial post.

You graduated at Ateneo right?

Yes, I studied ECE [Electronics and Communications Engineering], 1999 to 2004 in Ateneo [de Manila].

What made you enter this field?

I think its due to the exposure to technologies in ECE in college. There were analog electronics and there were digital. I was more interested in the digital part. There was only one programming course in ECE in Ateneo but during the latter part of my studies, I focused more on programming. Actually my thesis was programming using SystemC, a C-based language similar to Verilog. Little by little I became interested in programming and incidentally, my first job is very low level which fits my interests.

So you are working now as a line manager. What is your typical working day, what do you usually do?

It’s hard to say what is a typical working day. Every day is a different day if you are a line manager. A line manager is more on doing many small things. First, talking with team members, keeping in touch with the team. I don’t like talking with the team every three months. In LTE tools, I keep track of project execution, so we are expected to be responsible to our commitments. There also practical things like budgeting, recruitment, especially now that we have many openings in LTE. I take part in interviewing and evaluating candidates. Others would be answering questions from stakeholders and receiving escalations. Essentially balancing what the team can do and the demands from outside.

You think is it a tough job? What do you think is the enjoyable part of your work right now? What are the downsides and the challenges that you encounter?

Let’s start with the challenges. I think the most challenging part is that I’m working with people. Different people, different ways of working. The same message has different understanding. It’s not like work as a developer that is predictable where you expect an output from an input and if something goes wrong, you can say if it’s your fault, that you provided the wrong parameters. When working with people we have to account with different work styles, different priorities. They are not machines that you can take for granted. You always have to find the right balance. You can’t have the same old rules, too strict, but not too loose.

Those are the challenges. The downsides and the upsides?

The same challenges would be the upsides actually. When working with people, the challenge is big. If you do this job well, you get great satisfaction. You see people grow. For example, from hiring, I hired fresh graduates or people with no experience in telecoms and over the years they become experts, even better than people who taught them. It’s not that I claim credit but from a distance I’m really happy for the people that they’re growing. They were and are still given the opportunities, the training, and the resources and they convert it to something productive. For me that’s satisfying.

You mentioned your role as a developer. How do you compare it with your role as a manager? Which do you think would you prefer now?

Actually regarding the question of if you are given a chance, here in Nokia we are always given the choice. You’ve seen many people switching roles, managers who goes back to developing, developers who goes into management, and back again. There’s always a choice but right now I have no intentions of going back as a developer. Partly due to when I see team members do things that when I as a developer cannot do. Somehow, I see the company is better off that I help these people instead of me insisting that I develop.

Let’s go into the IT field in general. What do you think are the pros and cons or working in this field?

In terms of pros, I think it pays reasonably well.

I think some stats say it is the highest paying job.

Yes, and there’s anecdotal evidence. That’s one advantage. Second, it is a satisfying work, I think. It is a fairly challenging job. It’s not just administrative that you will not think. And I believe that the bigger the challenge, the bigger the accomplishments and the payoffs in terms of satisfaction. Also, it affords some flexible in terms of working hours. Others would be working on-location. That’s the flexibility of working in IT. Even if we’re working with people in other timezones, we don’t have to adjust that much since our contribution can be found in our codes.

Those are the pros. How about the cons?

I mentioned that I work with recruitment. Unfortunately, a number of people doesn’t pass our recruitment. I think we, meaning the IT industry and the universities, disappoint people who think that when they study IT they will automatically get a good paying job, which is not true. Do we ask for too much? Is our entry barrier that high? Honestly I don’t think so. Second, in IT, people can be specialized. It can be good and bad for some people. Good, meaning if you are really good in this specialization you’ll be very valuable. Bad for people who like to hop around companies.

Because you start from scratch.

Yes, it happens. Even in my experience, whenever I change companies, it is essentially domain knowledge going back to zero. You can only carry with you your programming experience. And even that, I see that when I started, what’s popular was C and C++. Today, we are going to Java, Python, Javascript.

It’s a fast-paced industry.

Yes. Again this is another aspect that can either be good or bad. If you like studying good for you, but for people who is tired of learning, it’s not good. Your investment in learning should be continuous.

How does it feel working with people as a manager and a developer? Do you think we have enough talent as you have seen it?

It’s hard to answer if we have enough talent. I can say that in our team, we have good people. We have good people in the company who do the work. But we don’t have enough people. The people we recruit can do the job, they learn very fast, no problems there. But the number of openings that are unfilled shows different. If there are more qualified people, we would like to have them in the company.

In the end it’s always quality over quantity.

Yes. If you get not so-good people, it goes back to you. It piles up as technical debt. So it’s better that you work on the job with fewer people but with better output.

How much changes have you seen in the field since you started working?

I would say the expectations of the engineers who enter the industry. When I was starting, my expectation was to gain experience, to learn, to be an expert. Recently as a manager, when I talk to people, they’re looking more for quick gains. After one year, they would say, “I’m tired of this. I no longer want this.” The timespan is very short. I think that if you’re really studying something worthwhile, one year is definitely not enough. Others would say five years to be an expert. The time horizon of engineers that I talk to is very different.

You think the passion of the newcomers is lacking?

No it’s not about the passion, it’s more on that they are rushing. There’s no problem of passion. I see that they really put their heart to what they’re doing. But they think that after one year, I should be good at this. If I’m not good, there’s a problem with me, there’s a problem with the company, there’s a problem with the project. I think it’s not that. You need to invest time. That’s one thing, time horizon. Another thing, In general, we have better tools now. When I started, we don’t do things such as lint check, no static code analyzers. Even build systems such as Jenkins, I think I haven’t heard of them then. It’s actually good, it leaves more time for other productive work.

What can you advice to the people who are working on this field and to those who are planning to enter?

If you really think that this is what you want to do, you have to invest in yourself. It means, practicing coding. Don’t depend on your work alone for practice. It should not come from your work alone. Even in the office, allocate some time for competence development.

We are actually allowed to do that.

Actually, we are encouraged to do that. Talk with your manager or a person you trust. How do I upgrade my skill? We said, it’s a fast paced industry, technologies change. You have to keep pace with that. And for those who are entering, the same goes. For example, I interview people who are not prepared. It lowers their chances of getting in. People who are willing to put in the work has higher chance of getting in.

Thank you for giving us the time and we very much appreciate it.

No problem.

Mervin San Andres

Software Engineer

Mervin is a graduate of the University of the Philippines - Diliman where he took up BS Computer Science. He is currently working as a software engineer for a telecommunications equipment company, where he develops and maintains windows and web applications. In his free time, he would watch movies and anime.