Graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic can certainly be a time of stress and worry, but it can also present opportunities if one knows where to look. In the case of 2020 BS in Computer Science and Game Design graduate Lim Kay Hwee, he seized the chance to explore a career in a new field through the form of a government-sponsored traineeship.
The SGUnited Traineeships Programme was introduced in March 2020 to help fresh graduates find training opportunities amidst a weak labor market. The government co-funded training allowances under this program, with companies only paying 20 percent of the allowance. As a result, employers were generally more open-minded about their traineeship candidates. Kay Hwee had been working as a technical staff member at DSO National Laboratories in November 2020 when he saw a SGUnited Traineeship opening for a frontend software engineer at Zendesk. Keen to broaden his skills in a new industry, Kay Hwee successfully applied for the traineeship and started work at Zendesk the next month.
Zendesk is a customer service software company that was founded in Denmark and currently headquartered in San Francisco, California. They offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that empower companies to improve customer experience and increase sales conversions. There are currently over 100,000 companies worldwide that use Zendesk. Kay Hwee initially applied for the traineeship as a frontend software engineer, but his interviewers felt that his skills would be better suited for backend development. Upon joining the firm, he was referred to the agent workspace team that works on solutions that enable Zendesk customers to better serve their own clients’ needs.
On a day-to-day basis, Kay Hwee helps to implement new features and work on tickets that are related to reliability in order to ensure an uninterrupted customer experience. This includes working with other teams all over the world, since Zendesk is committed to a digital-first workplace policy. Discussions usually happen via Slack or Zoom meetings. Kay Hwee’s team also has daily stand-up meetings on top of their standard Scrum processes to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Additionally, the team has adopted a “champion system,” whereby one team member oversees a certain aspect of the workflow. “Having such a system in place trains me to really take ownership of my work, and it gives me a chance to lead one aspect of our work. Over time, this will help me be a better engineer,” Kay Hwee says. In his former role as the reliability champion, Kay Hwee helped to anticipate and prevent any service interruptions. More recently, he has taken over as the team’s security champion, which entails being on top of vulnerabilities within Zendesk’s services, rolling out timely patches, and promptly managing any risks that surface.
Having previously only worked on offline projects, moving to SaaS projects at Zendesk was a big switch for Kay Hwee. “The context and development environment is really different, as I have to work with code that interacts between multiple machines on the cloud,” he says. “I overcame this by proactively reading up on observability best practices. Over time, this enabled me to appreciate all the telemetry that our services produce. It also helped me better understand how to correlate logs across services and machines, and use these tools to debug and pinpoint any issues that we might be working on.” Kay Hwee is also thankful for the strong foundations in C/C++ programing that he learned during this time at DigiPen (Singapore). This knowledge has helped him to easily transition to using Java, which is the language that he works on most of the time.
Now that he’s a full-time software engineer at Zendesk, Kay Hwee looks forward to building upon the domain knowledge surrounding his team’s services. He stays updated on the best practices within the industry through online learning resources like hackEDU and hopes to be able to drive and lead more projects in the future. “Zendesk has a broad range of solutions, and there is a lot of opportunity to build even more customer-enriching features by leveraging on interactions between our many solutions,” he says. “Hopefully, I can continue to grow and be involved in the architectural decision making process so that I can help to develop more innovations.”