The work of an engineer is not typically perceived as being as glamourous or exciting as that of an investment banker, but the job is in fact full of fascinating facets that laymen do not know about.
Ken Shum, senior engineer I at Hong Kong Broadband Network Limited (HKBN) confirms this. Mr Shum started his career in the telecommunications industry in 1997 when he completed his diploma in computing studies at The Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education Shatin (formerly Shatin Technical Institute). Beginning as an operator on the early stages of the voice system at City Telecom (HK) Limited (CTI), the parent company of HKBN, Mr Shum has developed with the group and in his current position he is responsible for maintaining the stability of HKBN's fixed telecom network.
"CTI first appealed to me because it was a fresh and bright company with a clear vision. Although it has changed in many ways since then, that first impression has remained with me throughout the years," he says.
HKBN has more than 640,000 subscribers and operates the largest metro Ethernet network in the world. The company prides itself on providing every user with efficient and reliable Internet access, which means the technical staff must be vigilant at all times.
Mr Shum works a five-day week but is on call for the rest of the time, ready for action at a moment's notice. He is often called upon out of regular working hours for advice and instructions whenever an incident such as a power outage occurs.
"It can be stressful but this is part of the challenge. It feels great when we solve problems promptly and fix the system without causing any inconvenience to our customers. Keeping the service reliable while knowing that so many people depend on us for their Internet connection is the best source of job satisfaction," he says.
Mr Shum's daily routine includes monitoring the work of his team and carrying out case studies and statistical analyses with the aim of enhancing services. While much of his work is focused within the network engineering department, he stresses the need for engineers to have more generic skills such as communication and teamwork that facilitate cross-departmental cooperation.
"Contrary to the belief that engineers only deal with computers, a significant part of the work is interacting with different groups of people," Mr Shum explains. "For instance, we often liaise with the customer service team and exchange ideas for improving our overall service standards."
Evolution in the telecommunications industry is second to none with phenomenal transformations from the IDD system to dial up Internet access to the present gigabit passive optical network (GPON) that is the base of HKBN's broadband service.
To keep in tune with these changes, engineers must be willing to learn continuously. Mr Shum studied part-time to receive his bachelor's degree in 2003. He is also a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and is working on becoming a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), both widely recognised qualifications within the industry.
CTI supports its staff in their lifelong learning and actively encourages talent development. The group has its own learning department to cater for learning needs of teams and individuals through in-house training programmes, activities and subsidies for external courses.
The company offers its staff various forms of assistance for personal advancement. The technical teams, for example, are encouraged to obtain professional certificates and the company provides the full reimbursement of associated examination fees. It also has a job rotation scheme among different departments to promote skills diversity and to broaden career development for individuals.
"The company invests a great deal of effort into fostering talent," Mr Shum says. "It offers structured career paths, an exciting work environment and we are rewarded fairly based on our performance with promotion assessments twice a year. With all of that it's easy to keep motivation high."