- PhD Student in Operation, Information and Decisions at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
- Dual Degree Program of Technology & Management (Class of 2021)
- BEng in Computer Science and BBA in General Business Management
It is a privilege to study at Dual Degree Program, such a strong UG program in an institution like HKUST!
Hi everyone, my name is Berry, and I am a class of 2021 graduate from the dual degree program (COGBM). I am currently pursuing my PhD study in Information Systems at the Wharton School. In this short article, I want to share with you some of my thoughts on dealing with one of the most important questions you may face in university - How to decide what to do after graduation? For Duel Degree Program students, a.k.a dualers, this question can be especially difficult since training in engineering and business just gives us endless career possibilities. The abundant options sometimes make it hard to pick one while giving up the others. Thinking back on my journey, the experience I went through to find out my career direction is far from optimal. This article is thus more as an answer to “What would I do differently if I can start over again for my undergraduate study?”
The first step of making any important decision is to understand what the available options are we can choose. We don’t want to dive into an option from day 1, reach the dead-end after a long while, and realize that there’s no time for other cool things. The easiest way to get started on searching the available options is to check the choice of career of DDP Alumni. It provides a rather complete list on the potential career directions you can go to (well, you can include other options in the list as well such as being an actor). Given these options, the next step is to conduct an initial round of screening. There are two methods I highly recommend: (1) read the story of the most accomplished persons in the field and (2) talk with DDP Alumni.
The first method is useful to help you understand the upper limit of what you can achieve in a profession. If you feel excited and inspired from the achievements made by the most accomplished people in the field, it is more likely that you will feel motivated and happy in the job. My interest in business research was largely discovered from this method. Since watching Steve Jobs’ speech in LANG1002, I was intrigued by the story of these impactful entrepreneurs. I still remembered the excitement I had when reading the biography of Sam Walton (founder of Walmart), Thomas Watson Jr. from IBM and more contemporary ones such as the founding story of Tencent and Alibaba. But later reading of economists’ writing makes me more interested in the theoretical aspect of economy. I was amazed by the sharp interpretation and critique on the economy from Adam Smith and Karl Marx. I can imagine how satisfied I would be if I could write any piece of writing like this. These readings open my door to become a business researcher.
This process can also help you eliminate options. For example, I used to spend a day reading about the story of Linus Torvalds, the creator and main developer of Linux Kernel, which is running on all Android phones and a big portion of servers nowadays. A student aspiring to be a successful developer should feel very excited about Linus’ achievement. However, I was not feeling a strong excitement, though I can fully appreciate the importance and impact of his work. This is a strong signal that being a software developer may not be a suitable option for me. Reading about Warren Buffet, JP Morgan, and George Soros can also be helpful since Hong Kong is such a great place to work in the financial industry. But if you feel unmoved by their achievements, it may be true that finance is not your perfect fit.
The second method is to talk to DDP Alumni, or any other connection you have who work in the profession. Compared to the first method, talking to real people can help you understand the day in and day out of the job, and what it feels to be in the profession at present time. DDP has many Alumni sharing events which help me immensely in understanding different career options. Using consulting as an example, during my years of study our Alumni Harry GU (MEGBM class of 2018) gave several sharing on his life as a consultant to DDP students, which has built up my initial impression on consulting. I understand that dualers are all highly packed with course work and extracurricular activities, but I think this type of Alumni sharing should be given higher priority on your schedule since it can provide transformative opportunities to your university life and future career. I realized this point quite late during my UG study and I hope that you can grab these opportunities better than I did.
With these two methods, you can ideally shortlist 2~4 options that you want to try in your university life. You now have some understanding on the upper limit of the achievements that can be made in the profession and feel somewhat excited about it. You also have a sense of what composed the daily work of the job and have built some connections with Alumni working in the industry. Now it is the time to take a deep dive into these options!
The key objective of this phase is to bridge the gap between knowing and actually doing the job. These are quite different things. Getting to do the job can give you a much better sense of what it really feels like and whether you like it or not. This involves more time commitment so you cannot cover a range as wide as the first option.
In terms of how to do this, I guess most of you would know that you can do internships, part-time jobs or join relevant student clubs etc. So instead, I would strengthen one point that I realized its importance only after graduating from DDP: you can try things, but more optimally, try them very very hard. My personal observation is that dualers can get interested in lots of things and have a hard time to balance the time investment on them. For myself, my reaction to the problem is to give a slight try on each of them at the same time. Ultimately, it seems that I have done a lot of things, but nothing substantial has been achieved.
If you are interested in entrepreneurship, go found one yourself, even take a gap semester if you think it is promising. If you are interested in software development, start side projects and work on them diligently; join the open-source community and interact with the best developers across the globe. If you are interested in becoming a social media star, start posting something every day on Instagram; try out different forms even if it’s doing a live streaming in Tsim Sha Tsui. The whole idea is to pursue the depth and take more risks. The extra depth and risk you take is what makes the journey memorable, and more practically, what differentiates you from other people in your career. One of my biggest regrets in university is that I never found a startup by myself when I was very interested in entrepreneurship. Instead, I was just working for a startup as a part-time employee and quit after a while. I truly hope that you can be more aggressive in your university life than I did and leave no regrets.
After trying the shortlisted options very very hard, you may eliminate some of them based on whether you enjoy it or not and whether you have the relevant skills. Now it is time to make that final call and land your first job after graduation. You should be at a very good position on pursuing the 1-2 options left with all the understanding and the experience accumulated throughout the years. For myself, I was left with consulting and business research in my final year of study. It can be hard to pick one at this time. The strategy I took is to apply for both treks and let people in the field decide which one is more suitable for me. With all the prior work, this final phase should be rather natural, though it may still involve lots of uncertainty.
These are only my personal thoughts on the career exploration process, and they are by no means the optimal. I also highly recommend you read the blog post from Gary Ma (COGBM class of 2021) who has had a very rewarding and admirable career exploration process. Definitely reach out to any DDP alumni whenever you have concerns about your university life. We are all here to help!
Though we may all have different answers to the question on career exploration, one aspect which is likely to be the same is the importance of the people who help you and make you who you are today. I am truly grateful for Prof. Betty Lin and Prof. Chi Ming Chan who made DDP a warm and inclusive family supporting students to discover who they are. I am thankful to Prof. Kai-Lung HUI who led me into the wonderful world of business research and Prof. Tat Koon Koh who has been a friend and mentor that gave me so much support along the way. The mentors and peers who have gone through the journey with us are what ultimately make the journey a valuable one.
Finally, many of us may not realize that it is a privilege for us to study in such a strong program like DDP in an institution like HKUST. When we are making career decisions, we are privileged to imagine the highest achievements in the profession and feel it is possible for us to pursue that. We are privileged to be surrounded by mentors with wisdom who can lead us in this complex world. On the contrary, a much larger portion of people in the world are faced with much more restrictions, still working for their next bite. Please make the most of this privilege that has been given to us, make it worth for ourselves and the people in the society that make this possible for us.