What do you do if your country doesn’t offer your desired STEM course?
Hoa Thi Yen Mai, a software engineer at Avaya. Image: Avaya

What do you do if your country doesn’t offer your desired STEM course?

28 Jun 2018421 Views

We spoke to Hoa Thi Yen Mai, a software engineer at Avaya, about moving from her home country of Vietnam to pursue her dream of studying STEM.

When Avaya software engineer Hoa Thi Yen Mai was getting her start in her career, she was faced with a bit of a dilemma.

From a young age, she displayed a wide-eyed curiosity about the stars and galaxies above her, and demonstrated extreme innovativeness when she would make her own toys out of the materials available to her. These two qualities made her an ideal candidate to wade into the challenging, surprising and fascinating world of STEM.

So, what was the problem? Well, her home country of Vietnam didn’t have any courses in her desired field when she was looking to pursue her studies after high school.

This led her to go abroad to study and eventually brought her to the doorstep of Avaya’s Galway offices, where she has found her career as a software engineer to be just as engaging and varied as she ever could have dreamed.

What drew you to this career area?

When I was a child, I liked to do research about the universe, galaxy, sun, moon and stars. I liked looking at the blue sky and had a dream that I could fly high and far like a bird to visit new lands all over the world.

After high school, I looked for a university course in this area. However, at this time, Vietnam did not have such a course, so I decided to study in University of Science (information technology [IT] major) so that I could do research and development in the area of IT.

What’s the best thing about working in this area?

After I graduated, I started working at Avaya as a QA software engineer. I could work and research on technology – that is what I like to do. It is great when you can do what you like to do.

What’s the most exciting development you’ve witnessed in your sector since you started working in it?

I am very interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning. It’s amazing a robot can talk and answer your questions, that the human brain created such things is incredible. My wish is that we develop these areas for peaceful purposes only. I plan to get more involved in these areas as my career progresses.

What aspect of your job did you struggle/have you struggled to get to grips with?

When I first worked with the software, it was like a black box and I struggled with this concept. However, over time I began to study the log files and other low-level system outputs that enabled me to get to a much greater understanding of how systems worked.

I was happy that I had developed skills to better understand how computer systems operated. This led to a greater understanding of how software is architected, built and supported in the field. I work hard to continually research these areas to future hone my skills.

What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to face in your career, and how did you overcome it?

One of the most challenging things in my career was learning how to troubleshoot computer systems. Sometimes, the software gets ‘stuck’ and you need to troubleshoot to understand what needs to be done to get it to work again.

I still remember spending more than two days troubleshooting a particularly challenging customer field issue. Failure was not an option. It was one of the hardest and yet most rewarding problems I have solved in my career to date.

I look back and can see that I overcame it with my diligence, experience and skills I have learned during my career.

If you had the power to change anything within the STEM sector, what would that be?

STEM is an amazing educational area to encourage people into, especially children. I’d say to better develop it, we should consider it as a permanent subject in Irish schools.

Globally, we should look to connect schools around the world to develop a global school-based STEM ecosystem. We need to look at ways to bring it to people who are not fortunate enough to be able to attend school.

Which of your personality traits makes you best suited to your job and this sector?

I like researching and developing technologies, thus IT is a great area for me to work in. It brings me back to my childhood again, a time when I did not have toys, so I would make them myself out of fruits, tree leaves, bamboo etc.

To be honest, it is so much more rewarding to make toys than buy them. This is a great experience to bring to the IT sector, where inventiveness and a ‘build it from scratch’ mindset is a very valuable trait in understanding technology.

Is there something in your personal life that helps you/has helped you in your job?

My mother was very focused on the education for her children. My brother and sister both studied, went to universities and now have strong careers, which is great. I myself really liked studying from a very young age and I studied hard, especially maths. I am proud of my family and myself.

How do you make connections with others in the STEM community?

Through my friends and colleagues that I work with. I have a little daughter, she is nearly three years old and I am encouraging her with some STEM activities. I will look for the two of us to join local STEM activities.

Has mentorship or coaching been important in your career?

I am lucky that I have worked with people from different countries and cultures. I learn great things from them – technology, working style and cultural differences in life. It’s great to have people who can give advice whenever needed and on many subject areas.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in your area?

If you have a background in IT, it is convenient; if you don’t, you can start to study from now. It is never too late to start something new. Try your best and don’t be afraid when it gets difficult and challenging – it will only make you stronger. Fundamentally, everything is always moving and changing. Stay calm, catch up, adapt and move forward stronger.

Want to work at Avaya? Check out the Avaya careers page for current vacancies.

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