He found what makes him tick at the start-up, Pulsifi

Changing career path often happens when one is much older and had gained a lot of experience in a particular industry, but not for 24-year-old Pulsifi Software Engineer, Zachary Ng.

Zachary spent most of his working life in the accountancy field, including a short stint of four months with KPMG. He then moved on to the advertising field with M&C Saatchi for two months before settling down as a Software Engineer in Pulsifi.

It’s been more than 1.5 years since Zachary joined the Pulsifi team, the longest that he had been in a company, which means he could have found what he truly enjoys doing.

In his interview with entree.sg, Zachary shares why he moved from one industry to another, and why working as a Software Engineer at Pulsifi seemed to have grounded him.

You were with KPMG for less than five months. It’s a job that many accountancy students ever wish for. But you decided to drop it to join M&C Saatchi. Isn’t it a very different industry and a waste to give it up? Why?

I learned a great deal from my time at KPMG, the most important lesson of which was resource allocation. With a career being the largest investment of resources (my limited time on earth) I’ll ever make, I realised I had to stop misallocating it to an investment that didn’t yield my desired return of happiness. I joined M&C Saatchi in search of a more fulfilling yield.

When did you first realised that you are interested in coding? Was it during your three months with NEXT Academy?

Yup! I remember that very early on in that course, we learned about the concept of “iteration” – which is the process whereby you tell a computer:

“Hey, do this thing – and keep repeating it until I say otherwise.”

I think that was my big “AHA” moment. A tool that let’s lazy people resolve all the repetition in their life? That’s practically a superpower!

Having worked in a few industries, though short, do you think that you have found what you are meant to do?

Kind of. I think what I found is that I like to solve problems, so I’m going to keep doing that. And since every problem in the world (or at least those that can be fundamentally divisible into small repetitive tasks) can be solved by coding and computing, I think this will keep me occupied for a while.

Did your loved ones comment on your career choices or have they been very supportive?

Ultimately my parents just wanted to keep me from ending up homeless, my brothers wanted me to find success (as long as it was marginally less than theirs, apparently), and my friends just wanted to make sure I made the time for the occasional beer with them. So after demonstrating that a career in coding could (miraculously) fulfil all of the above, everyone has been very supportive.

Zachary Ng, Software Engineer, Pulsifi

Zachary Ng, Software Engineer, Pulsifi

Nothing on your CV says coding. We assume that you learned it all by yourself? What are the programming languages you know to date? What language would you be learning or consider up and coming?

I learned how to code in Ruby at Next Academy. Since then, I’ve picked up Javascript, loved it, and now use it for most of my work. With the recent trends toward Machine Learning and AI though, I think Python will be a valuable asset in the coming years.

How’s it like working in Pulsifi? What’s so different from other organisation you were with?

Joining Pulsifi in early 2017 after my time in corporate was like boarding a sampan after spending my whole life in the service of an ocean liner. It was chaotic, exhilarating, challenging and humbling all the same. Anyone could steer the ship if they knew where they were going and everyone (captains included) had to get on their knees and shed water when times were tough. Good ideas were more important than seniority and resulted always trumped bureaucracy.

The Pulsifi family of today is a lot larger than what it once was – a well-oiled machine in place of its MacGyver-ed past – but the core values, just like Pulsifi’s grand vision, are unchanged.

Pulsifi isn’t directly saving lives in the way that modern medicine does, but by engaging our collective talent hard enough in the areas of AI, predictive models, data science and organisational psychology, we just might help a whole bunch of people in the world achieve the grand potential they were destined for – helping humanity in our little way. I think that’s a meaningful challenge worth taking on.

For aspiring software engineers, what’s your advice for them?

If you haven’t started yet, do it. Free resources online will get you started. What will keep you going are mentors and problems that need solving. Find a mentor who can think a few steps ahead of what you’re currently able to – foresight is a definitive product of experience. Find problems that you care about solving – the journey will be a lot more fun if it’s taking you where you want to be. Lastly, know that it’s okay to be a geek. Somehow, we were born into a generation where being a geekiness can be sexy. Don’t waste the chance!

Also, for those thinking who are looking to learn to code, what programming language would you suggest for them to start first and why?

Know your end goal, and pick the right tool for the job. If it’s hardcore data science and machine-learning you like, try Python. Build cool websites? Javascript, HTML and CSS. Build mobile apps that’ll impress your friends? Give Apple’s Swift a go.

If you’re not sure yet, you can’t go wrong with Ruby. It looks like plain English and is super intuitive to pick up.

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