Chat with Xu Ying on My Career Journey (Part 1)
This part one of the interview was originally published on Xu Ying’s LinkedIn article on 18 Nov 2019.
I am Xu Ying, a final-year School of Information Systems student in Singapore Management University. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to have a chat with Henry Suryawirawan, who is currently working at Google as a Strategic Cloud Engineer. He has more than 14 years of professional experience working in consulting, startup, government, banking and insurance industries delivering complex IT business solutions & products. During our chat, he shared about his amazing career experience, starting as a software engineer in an insurance company, and how he landed his career in Google as a Strategic Cloud Engineer. He also shared his advice to everyone on how to start and advance a career in the Cloud Computing.
In this first part of the interview, it mainly covers Henry’s sharing on his own career journey. The second part of the interview covers what Henry does in his role as a Strategic Cloud Engineer at Google, and his best advice for students who are interested to start their career in Cloud Computing.
How did you start your career?
My career actually started from the university. In fact before I graduated, I was offered a teaching assistant position, and then I spent about one year or so teaching university students. Afterwards my professor introduced me to one of his Masters students who had an opening in an insurance company in Jakarta. And that was when I took the job and started my professional career. So it’s funny, I started like working three days a week as I was still doing the part-time teaching at the same time. After close to six months or so, I switched to a full-time role at the company. So my first job started as a software engineer in an insurance company in Jakarta.
How different do you find as a software engineer in an insurance company from at a tech company at that time?
Well, like years ago, there was no this notion of tech companies, I found the company was not adopting latest and advanced technologies. In fact, some of the systems were a bit legacy. They used a lot of Sybase PowerBuilder applications with GUI, like Microsoft Visual Basic, where you can drag and drop and build apps, instead of writing the code. So my first task there was to build a web-based point of sales system, which was using different kind of stack than what they were used to, and to convert the PowerBuilder-based application to a web-based application. I introduced Java and AJAX technologies which were quite advanced during that time.
After the start of your professional career as a software engineer, what led you to your current role, as a Strategic Cloud Engineer at Google Cloud?
So after my first job, I had the opportunity to move to Singapore for another insurance company. Then I went to work at a couple of banks in the financial industry. I also had the experience working in a startup, and then went to ThoughtWorks, a software consulting company. When one of the headhunters in Google asked whether I wanted to try to apply for a Strategic Cloud Engineer role opening, so I thought that was a good opportunity and the role sounded interesting to me. I gave it a try, went for a kinda long interview and in the end I got the job.
During the time when you started as a software engineer, there’s not much presence in the cloud area as today, so how did you start gain experience and decide a career in the cloud computing?
It’s a matter of getting a chance to experience a lot of technologies and knowledge these days. For me, my cloud learning experience actually happened during my startup days. During the time where I worked in banks, there was barely any chance they would use any of the cloud technologies. Even with that chance, it is most likely that not all employees will be exposed to the cloud directly. They would basically liaise with internal teams, and one would deploy apps without actually knowing how it gets done. So my cloud learning experience started during the start up time, where I had to learn AWS on the go, as well as built on top of it. Eventually, during that time I managed the whole company’s infrastructure on AWS. So it’s a long way to go from knowing nothing up to be proficient enough to run the whole company’s AWS set up.
So you managed everything including hosting, database storage, networking on the cloud for your startup?
Yeah that’s right.
Could you share which part of the experience is most important to you? And what kinds of cloud services wow you the most?
The good thing about learning by doing, is that you will remember it no matter what. As it’s so relevant and you experienced both the goods and the bads, so it will still stick in your mind. And what I like about AWS during that time, it’s like mind-blowing. Wow, there’s such a cloud infrastructure where you can just use without setting up the physical IT infrastructure, and just terminate the services anytime without the need to pay for it, as supported by the cost-effective pay-as-you-go model. We used a lot of EC2 last time, also Redshift as our core data warehouse component in the whole ecosystem. Redshift itself during that time was mind-blowing for me. It’s like wow, so fast and powerful that you can query terabytes of data within a few seconds.