Becoming a tech lead at a top fintech company
Bryan Tung was not what you’d call a star student. He barely scraped through university and Computer Science wasn’t even his major. Yet he managed to work himself up into a highly sought after software engineer - at one point, he had four offers in hand! - and now serves as Tech Lead at one of the world’s top startups.
How self-learning opened unexpected doors
By his own admission, Bryan was a chill dude who just coasted along in school. As someone who “hated studying and homework”, he naturally gravitated towards subjects that required minimal memorizing, like maths. “Although I wasn’t studious, I did pay attention in class and did fairly well without mugging the books, which makes other people want to slap me!” he says with a laugh.
Taking a cue from high school, he pursued Applied Mathematics at National Sun Yat-Sen University. To his chagrin, the Taiwanese curriculum was on a whole different level of difficulty.
“A lot of times, the professor will say you’ve already learnt this from high school so you should know this,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, I didn’t. As the sole Malaysian in the class, I realised the Taiwanese’ fundamentals in Maths is way more advanced than us. I even wondered if I chose the wrong course!”
There was an upside to the struggle. “Computer science/software development is born from mathematics so they share the fundamental logical thought process. My Maths major inculcated these strong fundamentals in me, which helped me excel as a software developer later.”
At university, Bryan took an elective class in C programming. Little did he know that it would spark a lifelong passion that would set the course for his future career. “I took up a part-time job at the university where I did web development for the library system. I learned by myself and from seniors. Later, a university professor asked me to help him write iOS apps. He just gave me his Macbook and said you can use it to subscribe to iOS development podcasts. This way, I began experimenting with writing simple apps and managed to create a product for my professor. Although my major was Maths, I spent most of my time studying programming simply because it was fun!”
Interestingly, this part-time gig landed Bryan his first job as a software developer.
“I looked for an internship position while still in university and sent out a lot of resumes to companies. As a big fan of music, I was particularly keen to join Positive Grid, a startup that develops music software and makes their own music hardware like amplifiers for guitars.”
Happily, Bryan landed an interview and was immediately offered an internship. The software development skills he had picked up on the side was exactly what Positive Grid needed. He also scored brownie points elsewhere: because of his own enthusiasm for the company, he did a lot of background research, which impressed his future employer. “The interview went so well they didn’t even look at my marks!” he says.
Working remotely & burning out
Bryan did so well that upon graduation, Positive Grid immediately converted his internship to a permanent position as an iOS developer and front-end engineer for mobile and desktop audio plugin software.
In Bryan’s words, it was his dream job. “I was passionate about the industry. The people were nice. I could present my own ideas.” As a bonus, his first job was mostly remote. Back then, working from home was still uncommon, so “everybody was so envious and telling me, it seems like you don’t have to work!”
Things changed when his working visa couldn’t get renewed and he had to move back to Gopeng, Perak. He now worked 100% from home, which triggered a whole set of issues he didn’t foresee.
The social isolation was depressing. “The first year I was still in Taiwan, my colleagues and I still had weekly gatherings to meet face to face. But after I came back to Malaysia, there was zero physical interaction. Once a year, I went back to have Chinese New Year reunion with my colleagues, that’s it.”
Ironically, he found himself working even longer hours because he had no discipline. “When I was walking, eating, etc., I was thinking about work all the time. I was constantly working without me realising because there were no clear cut boundaries of when I was resting or working. Four years down the road, I realised the lifestyle was messing up my head.”
Bryan considered getting a shared office in his third year but back then, that kind of facility was not very common in Malaysia. After more than four years of doing the remote working grind, he had enough.
He resigned without a job in hand - he was that burnt out.
For three months, Bryan didn't bother looking for employment. “My previous job paid me in USD and at one point, the conversion suddenly jumped up 4 times, so I got a salary bump out of nowhere! Since I didn’t have a car or house, and my only financial commitment was the monthly allowance for my parents, I could survive for some time without a job.”
Finding his next opportunity
By the second month, Bryan started updating his LinkedIn profile because he “was too free”. Suddenly he began getting inundated with phone calls. Out of the many who contacted him, Shaun Looi caught his attention.
“Headhunters typically would present me with a job description in the first interaction and ask me if I was interested. If there was no fit, after one or two tries, the headhunters would move on.
“With Shaun, the process was flipped. The first thing he did was get to know me, what I did before, my hobbies, interests etc. - he tried to understand me. Then he asked where I saw myself in the future and where I thought I fit in. Only after doing a full profile check did he do his own homework to find suitable roles for me, and he called me personally to explain them in detail. This process exposed me to several opportunities instead of only one. Before Shaun, I didn’t know that a recruiter could give me that kind of full service. TRIIIO really opened my eyes!”
Eventually, it boiled down to four job offers: two from TRIIIO and two other headhunters. He picked Strands - a company presented by TRIIIO - because of its competitive package, promising prospects (Strands is a global leader in the red-hot FinTech industry) and what Bryan calls the “vibe check”.
What the heck is a vibe check?
There’s a ton of online explanations for vibe check, but in Bryan’s context, a rough definition would be “doing a mental assessment to gauge whether you would get along with another person, or whether you’d fit into a place.”
From his interview process with Strands, he got the sense that the company culture would be a “steady and chill place”, which was very important to Bryan. “Usually the hiring manager is going to work with you. If he didn’t pass the vibe check, or echo my humour, it would be a torturous job. If I'm saying something funny and he gives me a straight face... Awkward!”
Cultural fit, soft skills, or simply the ability to get along with others in the same team - whatever you call it - more and more employers are putting greater weightage on soft skills in tech recruitment. Bryan says, “If you’re someone who’s very hard to work with, then you are not suitable for us. Communication is a two way street. I try to understand you, you try to understand me. If the connection works, maybe we can continue and work together.”
What got him so far?
Bryan may be a humble guy who calls himself a “chill dude”, but if you look at his history, one thing is clear: he has never shied away from the opportunity to step up, even when the challenges were daunting.
That natural hunger for self-improvement served him well in university, when his part-time dabblings in software engineering won him a dream job before he even graduated.
He brought this same attitude to Strands. When he joined five years ago, it was just starting up its KL office. And like any lean startup, the pressure could be intense. “When we don’t have the resources from one spot, we will borrow from other teams. There’s a strict timeline and a person can work multiple projects at the same time, so the person can get drowned. What I do is gather client’s doubts, queries, and try to analyse them myself. If I cannot get the answer, I will email my HQ in Barcelona and ask for help.”
Bryan started as a mid-level front-end software engineer but when two of their backend engineers left during the Movement Control Period, he had to take over their responsibilities as well. Undaunted, he spent extra time to upskill himself. “I had always wanted to learn about the back-end anyway, so I’m happy to learn it. I try to make sense out of it myself because I love to study how things work and bring good processes into work.
An opportunity presented itself when there was an opening for Tech Lead in 2021. “Our country head Rayner presented two options - do I want to be a Project Manager or a Tech Lead? I would definitely go for Tech Lead because I want to stay technical, instead of a management guy. I’m still very interested in all the technologies going on.”
And his Linkedin tagline attests to this passion for technology: “<Love to code, code with love />”
These days, software engineering is one of the hottest job markets. “Everyone wants to be a software engineer!” he says with a laugh. “But not everyone has the correct mindset or attitude to be one.”
“I joined a Facebook group called Developer Kaki where I see a lot of freshies expressing their fears and doubts. Should I join this company? I joined this company and don’t know what I am doing. I’m so lost!
“Reading all this, I feel like they are missing out in communication, both before and after joining the company. When you work for a company, you are working with other people to achieve the company’s mission. Anything you are not sure about, just ask. If you just guess, you might be guessing wrong. If you need help, ask for help. When we hire you, we don’t hope that you fail. If we hire you and don’t help you to succeed, we are wasting time and money. By doing this interview with TRIIIO, I hope our stories can reach out to them and help them succeed in their chosen path.”
“I love to do mentoring because when I teach, I learn. I may be a quiet introvert outside, but I like doing interviews like this. That’s because we have a common purpose: ultimately, we want to be useful and contribute value - that’s what drives us.”
Interested to work at Strands? Check out some opportunities here!
TRIIIO is a Malaysian recruitment firm focused on partnering with companies to find and recruit top talent and build their Software Engineering teams. For more information on how we can help you recruit Software Engineers in this candidate tight market, visit our service page. Techdesk.my is a curated job board lovingly created by us at TRIIIO Recruitment to make your job search easier! Visit Techdesk.my and start searching for Software Engineering jobs today!