Fall in love with the thing you are doing

Oscar working at his desk

Grow together. Win together.

“Most mornings when I come in, I sit down and check Comet’s reporting dashboard. You can see the numbers of devices growing each day. I think, ‘Wow, this is so cool!’ Comet is a small giant! We are on a massive growth trajectory. I get to contribute to the growth. That’s a remarkable feeling,” confides Oscar Zhou, one of Comet’s Software Developers.

“I think for the whole development team, we have the same feeling, ‘Wow! Wow, wow.’ It’s quite lucky to be with the company at this foundational stage. For example, at Microsoft, their software is very successful. But as a developer, you can’t catch up because there are decades of code there, you’re just a small part. At Comet, I still have the chance to get an overall understanding of Comet’s code, the logic, and the code flow. I have the chance to work with multiple operating systems, front end and back end technology, web application and desktop application – all in a single job! It’s hard to find a project that covers so many things. This is a chance to improve my skills and open my eyes. I want to grow with Comet.”

 

Making your own luck.

It wasn’t always a given that technology would be such a large part of Oscar’s life. He grew up in FengCheng, a remote town in north-eastern China. The country was just opening to the world economy. Home computers were not yet commonplace. Instead, his first exposure to technology was through a hobby group in elementary school. He learned simple commands in Logo, an educational programming language, on a DOS operating system.

“You have to understand I didn’t know any English. In China, we use a character-based writing system. At that age, I had only learned the English alphabet. I would type R-I-G-H-T. But I didn’t know that meant ‘right’. Instead, I memorized commands.”

Oscar was the first person among his extended family to attend to university. His mom asked him, ‘What do you want to major in? Do you want to be a doctor? A teacher? Do you want to join the military?’

“I was focused on providing a better life for my family. We had never owned a computer. At that time, I didn’t know what computer science was. But since I was a little more familiar with computers compared to my classmates, I chose computer science as my major.” Software and tech were booming in China. It seemed like a sure route to a lucrative career.

It was. After graduating university, Oscar moved to a city near Beijing for a software job and lived in the dormitory on the company’s campus. “I worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week. In China, you can’t leave before your manager finishes work. I was a junior, a newbie, so I needed to follow the norms. I learned a lot, but I wasn’t happy.”

After 12 months, Oscar took a job offer closer to home, hoping to find more fulfillment. But little changed. “I thought life is just like that. Just keep working and improving. Get a better salary, marry, have a baby…” Until a chance encounter changed the trajectory of his life.

 

A seed grew in my heart.

One day, the company owner, a Taiwanese businessman living in America, took his employees out for dinner. Oscar happened to sit next to him. They struck up a conversation and Oscar learned the businessman first went overseas in his late twenties. “At that moment I thought, ‘Ahh! Okay, I still have a chance!’ A seed grew in my heart.”

“At first, I wasn’t sure because it was such a big decision to upend my life. Before this, I had never met anyone who lived overseas. This was a completely unknown realm for everyone in my life – my parents, my friends. I mulled the idea over for a couple of months. But once the idea took root, I kept thinking about it. I decided it was a challenge I wanted to face.”

When Oscar told his parents, they were taken aback. They asked him, what do you need to do to achieve this dream? “English was the first difficulty I needed to face.” His dad told him, ‘Okay, if you can pass the English exam, we will support your decision.’

“I was so moved. They supported me unconditionally. The love, the family love, nothing can compare with that.” Normally people will keep working and study English on the side. “But for me, I wanted to have total focus on my goal. I didn’t want to have an excuse when it got hard. So, I resigned my job. I cut off my way back. I thought, ‘Okay, now I only have one way, I must go forward.’”

Oscar spent the next 13 months living alone, teaching himself English online. “That was the most difficult time of my life. I didn’t have anyone to talk to. My friends knew my decision, so when they went out, they didn’t call me. I wanted zero distractions. I just wanted to make it. It was torture.” After several attempts, Oscar passed the English exam with a score that would ensure his acceptance into an international master’s program. His motto: never give up.

Oscar boarded a plane to New Zealand to commence a one-year master’s program in Computer Science. “I clearly remember when I got off the plane, the first thing I did was take a deep breath. In 2016, when I left China, the air pollution had become quite bad. In New Zealand, I felt like I was breathing pure oxygen. It was amazing.”

 

Fall in love with the thing you are doing.

At the beginning of 2020, Oscar joined the Comet team. His energy is infectious; consistently positive and upbeat. “This is the happiest I have been in a job. This is a really great environment.”

His secret? “If you want to be good, you have to fall in love with the thing you are doing. I feel a sense of achievement when I solve bugs and develop new features. It’s about the recognition from our customers, their satisfaction with our product.”

“One of the reasons I’m really happy here is because I have role models within the development team. It’s a stroke of luck to meet a mentor who is not just knowledge, but generous with their time and learnings. Mason, our CTO, is sooo knowledgeable. It’s amazing. It’s not easy to find that. In most companies, a CTO isn’t necessarily available to the developers. One of Comet’s advantages is I can talk directly to the leadership team because we are a smaller company with a flat hierarchy structure.”

“As a team, we are a close circle. There is a matching feeling, a synergy between us. I have experienced lots of teams, but our team is quite different to be honest. Everyone has a personality and a unique contribution. We all give the most energy we can to push Comet forward together.”

 

Advice to developers beginning their careers.

  1. Get your hands dirty programming. There are lots of practice websites where you can practice your code. If you don’t understand something, don’t give up! Read it a second time, read it a third time. Never give up.
  2. Be patient when you are trying to solve bugs. If you begin feeling frustrated because you can’t solve the problem, go outside, have a walk. Take a break. When you relax, the solution will pop up. ‘Wow, so easy!’ When you are anxious and rushed, you won’t be able to solve the problem. Be patient with yourself.
  3. Writing summaries is a good way to improve. When you solve a problem, write it down. Keep it somewhere. Then later you can go back over it several times. There is an information ocean, we can’t learn everything at once. Learn and improve through repetition.

Oscar muses, “Life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. It’s about how long can you be consistent. It’s not about how fast can you do something for a short time. When I was little, I didn’t know that someday I would become a software developer. I didn’t even know what a software developer was. And after I become a software developer, I didn’t know I could work overseas. I didn’t know that I could sit beside you, speaking English. Life is filled with lots of unknowns. We keep exploring. The journey has just started.”