CTO Journey: How he went from contract worker to CTO by age 28
Becoming CTO at 28 is a mean feat by any measure. But we confess, what Zack Loo achieved at 14 might have impressed us even more.
After "messing up" a computer his father bought for him, Zack taught himself how to fix it from the internet - and went on to start hardware repair services for his classmates!
"As my family’s sole breadwinner with three children, my father's job as a mechanic was just enough to make ends meet. I did not want to impose on him any further, so I was determined to fix my own mess."
The experience instilled a habit of lifelong learning. Knowing that he intended to pursue a career in tech, he mastered Python on his own even before entering college.
At KBU College where he studied IT, Zack would approach his teachers for part-time jobs. "I helped them build a management system - which looks terrible in hindsight! - but exploring something you do not know helps you find out about its challenges and what you want to achieve at the end of the day."
"Goals are important," he asserts.
It’s ok to fail when you’re young
This mission-oriented trait served him well in his first job in ASUS Malaysia after graduation.
As a contract worker, one of his first assignments was to build a claims system to be deployed nationwide within three months. It was a daunting task for anyone, let alone a fresh graduate with no senior to guide him.
Zack was unfazed. “I just took it as an opportunity to build things. I wasn't so sure about the platform and the codebase, but my thinking was, I don't get paid a lot so I have nothing to lose. If after trying, I fail, I can always try again, because I'm still young."
The project went well. More importantly, he learned the invaluable lesson of soliciting feedback from stakeholders and users.
User experience is the most important aspect of any app. “Rather than just creating the app and making judgement calls, the first thing I do is to solicit feedback from the stakeholders to fully understand their usage patterns and what the ecosystem and environment will be. Understanding what the workflow is will make the app really user friendly and minimise any user issues later on.
Becoming an all-rounder
Following ASUS, he joined property developer MKH Berhad as a Senior Software Engineer. It was an exciting period full of new learning curves. This is where he honed his competency as an all-rounder.
Being open-minded, he was able to expand his role and skills significantly at MKH Berhad. Besides building solution applications, he got to oversee some of the IT infrastructure which involved hardware, which he learnt a lot from - such as firewall protection, virtualization, and spec’ing the servers.
“My experience gave me exposure to infrastructure, which is experience not usually available to software developers. I was exposed to what the corporation needs: mobile and professional apps, corporate mission critical software like CRM, ERP, operating systems and so on. Working directly with vendors also exposed me to how the business works.”
Gaining corporate experience
As someone keenly interested in developing himself, Zack’s subsequent career moves were focused on acquiring corporate experience. His third job represented a big change in his career path.
"My main job was not coding anymore, but business analytics. I moved fully into business consultation, using what I learned during my days in system integration software. CDG built my critical thinking and helped me gain exposure to investor behaviour and market movement - things I would not have acquired in the typical developer trajectory."
"As a startup, it’s even more critical to build business sense into all our solutions, so we do a lot of brainstorming before actually building something,” Zack points out. “We try to reduce silly mistakes, because as a startup, we are lean and cannot afford mistakes. In our industry, there will always be situations where the market is not ready or willing to pay for a solution, or we mis-spec customer requirements. Detailed discussions, and a proper set of rules and procedures help to minimise such issues."
In the software development projects that he is involved in, he has always made it a habit to incorporate detailed comments. "As a leader, I make it a standard practice for team members to insert comments systematically between the code lines itself as well as a minor brief on how it works where necessary. That way, if new developers take over the project, they know what they are looking at."
This discipline is important in software design, because it “always involves integrating other people's work,” he says. Understanding how another developer built it is just as important as leaving it for others later on.
Aligning with mission and values
As Zack matured and his personal goals became more defined, he realised the importance of working with people who aligned with his mission and values. “I then co-founded Juda Universe with the director-founder of MKH, who had a tremendous vision. He always encourages all of us to push the limit of what is possible. I knew I wanted to work with a leader like that."
What started off as a small division in MKH has now, under Zack’s leadership, spun off into a standalone startup, which focuses on VR/AR Web3 solutions that enable brands and retailers to set up a 3D digital platform on their website to serve experiential experiences and create a new virtual sales channel.
"My team members are mostly young Gen Z or Y who, like me, have never touched a solution like this. I would describe them as a team of talented people who share the same goal - to challenge themselves in a new frontier."
We can sense exciting days ahead - something Zack definitely looks forward to.
Then and now - tech industry
Given the amount of experience that Zack has packed into 28 years, we naturally want to know: what are the biggest changes that he observes in the tech world today?
"The huge array of tools at our disposal today. With API, we do not need to build a lot of features and can scale much faster, cheaper, and efficiently. Previously, let's say you want to build a model, just to preview a 3D model, we’d have to spend six months building the viewer, and that’s just so that we can add in the function. Nowadays, with API, the integration takes only 3 weeks. These tools make our life easier, scale faster and more efficiently, and let us focus on building core features instead of small details.”
Zack shares two personal philosophies that would benefit young developers looking to climb the career ladder.
One, make learning a habit.
“Everyday after I wake up, I will read through some tech websites or listen to podcasts. There are tons of resources out there and the good thing is, with new tools available today, you can simplify the process by personalising a lot of things and using keywords.”
And two, don’t be afraid to take risks.
“You have nothing to lose especially if you are young. There are plenty of chances to accept losses. Always work towards what you want. Your dedication and passion have to come together. You cannot have dedication without passion. Or passion without dedication. Then you can make impactful things for the community.”
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