How Louis Phang went from Bank Reject to Software Supernova
Louis Phang is what you’d call a rock star in the industry. In his current capacity as Principal Front End Engineer at Paynet, he is one of the highest paid talents in a hot market.
You’d never guess that just ten years ago, he was rejected by a bank for not owning a degree.
How did he get to this point? He shares his journey with TRIIIO.
“I had a sense that digital would be a hot industry.”
As a teenager, Louis spent lot of time on Youtube. Watching tech leads expound on the emerging internet boom ignited his desire to get into the industry. “Maybe those Youtubers hardsell and I fell for it,” he laughs. “Back then, tech leads focused more on introducing the latest technology, rather than talk about their lifestyle. They brought up questions like: what is the forecast? What do you do with the tech? How much you can earn from it? Maybe during that time, I was attracted to the salary these people were earning, haha!”
For someone of his ambitions, the ideal path for Louis would have been in multimedia.
Due to financial constraints, he did not have the luxury to pursue the course of his choice and ended up doing Advertising & Design in One Academy. He has no regrets: “I still apply a lot of the basic learnings and principles from Advertising & Design in my daily work.”
“If I’m not good enough for a job, I will do my own studies to bring myself up to speed.”
After graduating with a diploma, a startup hired him as an inhouse designer. As his employer was a small outfit with limited resources, Louis was roped in to build the company website despite being a noob.
While his first job exposed him to rudimentary web development languages like HTML, CSS, etc, it was his next employer Netccentric Ltd that accelerated his learning curve.
He was hired as a creative designer, which broadly involves handling most of the social media content. This ranged from maintaining and improving the internal website's user interface and experience, to supporting the IT department with designs and front-end coding to preparing social media marketing tools to preparing web/application UI mockups.
He explains, “The internet boom was happening so the company needed lots of internal products, mostly web applications. Since they knew I have a bit of web applications experience and they lacked human resource, I got to work on the project and explore other areas.”
Louis did not let his lack of technical knowledge deter him.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to do my best. If I’m not good enough for a job, I will do my own study during my spare time.”
Starbucks became Louis' second home. “I think Google did a very good job. While browsing, it bombarded me with ads for courses, videos about web development which was picking up and other things that would interest a budding developer.”
With these experiences under his belt, it wasn’t long before he was headhunted by recruiters on the lookout for talented developers.
He ended up accepting a job as a Front-end Developer at Kotcode PLT, which “dared to offer him a web developer position” and he “dared to accept it.”
“Be prepared to work hard”
Of course, with great power (and paychecks) come great responsibilities.
It was no walk in the park. He recalls that as sole web developer, he averaged 12 hour days, seven days a week, for the first six months to come up with their first product!
“A bank rejected me because I didn’t have a degree.”
Louis may be in an enviable position now, but that wasn’t always the case.
There was one time he interviewed to be a designer in a bank. “They told me that they like my portfolio but I didn’t have a degree so they couldn’t hire me.”
They did not even look at the stacks of certificates that Louis earned during his self-study!
Explaining why he went the self-study route, he says, “Malaysian universities actually don’t have specific courses to teach web application courses - what’s being taught is old technology.”
This is why he had to turn to the internet to acquire his knowledge.
“Nowadays people are more fortunate because there are a lot of MOCC like Udemy, Treehouse, Front End Master, etc which are dedicated to technology. During my time, I had to scour the internet and Youtube.”
One person’s loss is another’s gain: fortunately, his skills were not lost on other employers who looked beyond his paper qualifications. In his current job at Paynet, which he secured through TRIIIO, he gets to restructure internal and external portal to be more manageable in micro front-end architecture. His responsibilities include standardising design system in One Stop Portal, integratingCI/CD to automate linting and deployment pipeline, and creating project boilerplates to standardise front-end project code's hygiene and rules.
Every day brings new challenges but he loves every minute of it.
“Having something new to learn keeps me motivated.”
One of the most highly-cited reasons for software developers to leave their jobs is “there is nothing more for me to learn.”
Louis subscribes to this philosophy too. “You cannot stay at one place and stop growing. When you stay in your comfort zone, it is dangerous.”
In the early stage of his career, his desire to build a website from scratch fuelled his motivation to learn and upskill. He notes, “In the old days, Java Script was only for websites, but it evolved into a language that can do back end and database or what we call a full stack language.”
Looking back, he describes himself as a sponge, absorbing everything. With the benefit of hindsight, he is aware that not everything he learned was useful.
Speaking to Louis, you’ll find that he is extremely critical about himself. “When I finish learning one thing, I want to learn something new. "
“I am always pushing my boundaries.”
Louis describes his philosophy as a designer/developer thusly: “When I have achieved something, I always think about how I can achieve the same results in a simpler way. If the things you do cannot be extended/expanded to other people, it might not be a good thing. We don’t want to live in an era where we only contain the knowledge to ourselves.
“Maybe in the past people feel they want to keep their kungfu to themselves but the thinking has changed. We feel that what we do can be shared and learned by other people. All the big companies like Google and Facebook have come up with frameworks that make [sharing] easier and easier to adopt.”
“As developers, it is our responsibility to make our work more maintainable and futureproof, to make our coding easier and easier for our new colleagues who come in to pick up and inherit.”
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.