Meet Siu Soạn, Front-end developer

Siu Mei Soan

Name: Siu Mei Soan
Title: Front-end developer
Education: Bachelor Graphic and Digital Media at AP University Antwerp, Bachelor Biomedical Laboratory Technology

Movie(s): Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
Tv show(s): Modern Family

Personal fun fact: I love cats!

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m a second-generation Chinese immigrant, born in a household of blue-collar workers. Due to the hard work of my family, I was able to be the first child to receive higher education. During my teenage years, the goal was to start a career in science, and I managed to graduate as a medical lab technician in my early twenties.

While I look back on my time in the lab with great fondness (I actually still have my old lab coat and medical books!), there was a cloud of unhappiness glooming over me, in which I was experiencing some kind of quarter-life crisis. The unhappiness actually started in my late teens, as I felt lost and didn’t know what to do with my life. For multiple years, my heart was yearning to work in the creative field, but instead of listening to my intuition and emotions, I took the logical path and focused on a career that would be financially safer.

With some encouragement of my friends, family and lab professors, I decided to take a leap of faith and switch careers. From 2015 until 2019, my time went into getting a bachelor’s degree in Graphic and Digital Media. The hard work has paid off, and I got a job as a Junior Front-end Developer! My jump from medical to tech has been the best decision of my life so far, as I’m happier than ever before!

Changing careers can be scary, especially if you follow logic over heart. What would you recommend to people who are currently on the verge of making a similar career change?

You will need some perseverance and faith in yourself that you will be able to meet your goal. Be realistic with your expectations: when you first start out coding, you probably don’t have enough knowledge and experience to make very fancy and complex stuff.

The most important thing is to keep working on your skills, even if they are just experiments or prototypes. Find opportunities to apply those skills and expand your network: internships, hackathons, contests, projects that you can do with friends or family,…

What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?

I’m a Junior Front-end Developer at Survey Anyplace who used to go to work in the office, but this has changed due to the pandemic and I’m operating 100% remotely for the time being.

My team works agile and we keep in touch with each other by doing a daily standup. The tasks assigned to me are multifaceted: it’s a mix of design, front-end development and contact with clients. While I’m already familiar with our workflow, I still have a lot to discover in our application, so I’m learning while I work on fixes and improvements.

My contact with clients is also quite interesting as I get insight in their wants and needs, and learn to think of creative solutions. This is quite valuable for product development, as we want to keep our customers happy and maintain good user experience. Besides the daily standups and the weekly team meetings, there’s not really a routine and I like that…a variety of tasks keeps my brain stimulated.

What’s currently your favourite thing about front-end development?

Starting with a design/mockup and translating it into code. I also like the problem solving part of development: you have to understand the concept and think out a plan on how to tackle the challenge. In ideal situations, I prefer to be part of the design process as well, it feels quite fulfilling to be able to come up with an idea and to make it work.

What is something you struggled with and made you think, this could be done in a much simpler way?

It’s possible to bump into a library that doesn’t have enough documentation/resources. If I need to know something that’s not documented, I basically get stuck, unless I figure it out after spending an extra amount of time. I have learned to look into the extent of documentation before picking a library, or immediately find an alternative when I feel the library is not working out like I anticipated.

How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?

I have been playing video games since I was a young child, thanks to my brothers! Despite the fact that I have less time to play as an adult, I still have the same amount of love for my hobby. I can still remember the early days when I played on the original Game Boy, PlayStation and Nintendo 64. My main platform is PlayStation 4, but I occasionally game on PC as well.

Siu playing a VR game called 'Keep talking and nobody explodes'
A picture of Smallworld, the board game

As of 2018, I’m also a board game enthusiast. I actually prefer board games over video games, because you can meet people in person and enjoy their company.

Playing a board game with someone is my go-to solution to avoid feeling socially awkward, as I’m not very good at small talk.

What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?

I actually started with an interest in graphic design, which expanded into digital/tech. Throughout puberty, I didn’t have any clue how the creative industry works, but I dreamed of having some kind of job in that field. I was already taking the first steps to become a (digital) designer: I drew on paper, but also digitally with a Wacom tablet in GIMP, and learned a few basic stuff in Photoshop and Illustrator. There was even a phase when I really liked to draw vehicles, and I experimented with 3D modeling cars in Google SketchUp. Even though my secondary education was focused on science and mathematics, I still had a creative outlet with school projects that required creativity instead of brains.

Fast forward to 2015, when I began studying Graphic and Digital Media, I had the gut feeling that the digital world was going to get an important role in our society. My first web development courses (learning HTML, CSS and JS), were so much fun, that it sparked a fire in me to continue that route.

If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?

I remember that I was very worried to make a career switch, it was jumping into the unknown and I was scared to fail. At the start of my design studies, I felt inferior to the other students, because I didn’t have any prior education related to the field…even though I have spent a decent amount of hours in my spare time drawing and designing, my low self esteem didn’t allow me to count those hours as experience. To this day, I’m still experiencing issues with my self-image, in the form of imposter syndrome, but this feeling of inferiority is starting to subside as time goes on.

I would tell my younger self to stop worrying too much, because things will find its way.
Love for and an interest in the field are the foundations to build a fulfilling career (and life), but you also need dedication and perseverance as well. The tech landscape is ever changing, so lifelong learning will be ‘part of the job’. Keep discovering new things, find opportunities to apply your skill and knowledge, push yourself to become better and you will grow exponentially.

Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?

To be honest, I actually don’t know any female inspirational sources in tech. The names that come to my mind are male, like Chris Coyier. There are however female graphic designers and illustrators in my favorites list: Malika Favre and Alice Lee.

Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?

I enjoy following courses on Udemy, and I always wait until a sale so they don’t cost too much (about 11-12 euros per training). On top of that, it’s nice to be able to work on them without any time pressure. To see what others are capable of making, I like to take a look at CodePen Spark and Awwwards.

What have you changed your mind about? Is there a book/podcast you associate with it? (Question from Christina

Last year, I followed an introductory talk to chaos engineering, which was quite enlightening to me. I would like to do more research about it, and eventually implement its principles in my own projects (it would actually also be quite beneficial for my job!) . The mindset behind chaos engineering is to proactively solve issues by testing a product and finding weak spots. One thing that definitely stuck with me, is to make sure you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket, otherwise your project is dependent on just one other company or product, and that can lead to major issues if the dependency is experiencing an outage (for example: Google services back in December 2020).

What made you join the women.code(be) meetups?

To expand my network by meeting other fellow female developers, while also learning from their knowledge and experience – just hitting two birds with one stone!

How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?

Giving them opportunities to explore tech and meeting fellow women, like workshops, training courses, conferences, internships and job positions. While age is just a number, I believe that sparking someone’s interests at a young age can have a lot of impact, you never know when we have a female genius on our hands!

This month we are celebrating International Women’s Day, do you have a special message that you want to contribute to this?

Shoot for the stars, aim for the moon!

We hope you enjoyed Siu Mei Soan's story, feel free to share this article with your network. ❤️

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