The future is here

  • By The Straits Times
  • Posted 2 years ago
  • Reading Time : a few minutes

We’re just getting started and we need more bright people to take up engineering and make the future even more amazing, says Google software engineer Andrew McGlinchey

By Grace Ma

With his interest in mathematics. the arts and languages, Mr Andrew McGlinchey found that one way to marry these subjects into his career is to work with computers.

“With computers you can do anything. They can help you compose. edit. analyse. play or distribute music. They can manage dictionaries, translate and recognise speech." says Mr McGlinchey, the head of Google South-east Asia's product management team.

“Software and the Internet are applicable to just about every industry or field. It's amazing to see how much of a benefit new technologies has to people in their everyday lives."

The 38-year-old Canadian software engineer feels as passionate about his work today as he was when he started out in his career 14 years ago. In fact. Mr McGlinchey cannot think of any downsides to his job and wants to dispel the myth that engineering is boring.

“Studying engineering lets you play with cool toys, invent amazing things. and work with interesting minds." he says. “It doesn't stop you from also getting involved in business, people management, communications, and all the other things that make a job into a career."

He is no boring tech geek himself. Besides being a podcast fan, he practises yoga and together with his wife, they often go freediving in Tioman and Batam.

Mr McGlinchey graduated with a degree in cognitive science and artificial intelligence as well as a major in computer science - “plenty of maths and computers but also studied linguistics. psychology and even philosophy" - from the University of Toronto.

He then started as a software developer at Nortel Networks. where he had previously interned as an undergraduate.

Later, he jumped onto the Internet bandwagon and joined an “incubator" that helped start-ups set up their operations before moving into an actual start-up
 that was working on natural language processing.

When the bubble burst. he was hired by Microsoft in Washington. in the United States. Then a job opening in muvee caught his eye and he moved halfway across the globe to be part of the Singapore startup that produces automated video-editing software.

A year later, Google opened its South-east Asia office in Singapore and Mr McGlinchey became its product manager. He now works with other engineering teams around the world to make Google's products better for South-east Asia as well as emerging markets worldwide.

“Product managers are usually engineers who work with teams of software development engineers. We figure out what the software product needs to do and help design the user interface." says Mr McGlinchey.

“Then we organise the work and the team. keep track of progress, solve problems along the way. follow up on bugs. and launch it. We are also the members of the engineering team who work most closely with all the other parts of the company, like marketing, legal, or business development."

Each day brings something different to the work plate. On a typical day. for example. Mr McGlinchey goes through user feedback on a recently-launched service before bringing the bugs and the features to his software engineering team to work on. He also discusses details of a new mobile phone-based project with an engineering team from Bangalore and holds video conference meetings with the Google teams in Europe and the US.

Working in a multinational and multicultural environment brings different creative perspectives to the table. It also has its challenges.

He says: “Sometimes it's a bit of a hassle getting up very early or staying up very late to talk by video conference with remote colleagues. But. on the other hand. getting to travel to places like Shanghai, Bangkok, Silicon Valley, or Zurich, is cool. The most remote place I've been for work so far is Lagos in Nigeria."

What most excites Mr McGlinchey is the speed at which his industry churns out new innovations. “Every year, in fact every month, there's some amazing new innovation."

He has worked on regional Google products that are available only in certain parts of the world. This includes a service that allows people to ask questions. which can then be answered by others. The service is available in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and in other parts of the world, but not in the developed countries.

He is particularly happy with the transit layer feature his team developed for Singapore on Google Maps. It allows the user to check what bus to take to a certain destination and the quickest MRT route.

“l love glancing over at somebody's iPhone and spotting them using a service l helped to launch!"

Mr McGlinchey says that there are still many possibilities in technological development.

He explains: “Three big things come together in the software industry: mobile devices. computers and data centres continue getting more powerful: Internet connectivity is available almost everywhere: and more and more data around the world is becoming available digitally.

“All these come together to form endless possibilities. such as phones that can translate written signs through their cameras. people communicating for business or friendship or helping each other all over the world. and the analysis and understanding of genome structures. country economies and the Earth.

“We're just getting started. and we need more bright people to take up engineering and make the future even more amazing."

Wanted: Self-starters

Search engine giant Google is always looking for “Smart. fresh graduates who are bright. educated self-starters" to work as software engineers in its offices around the world. says Mr Andrew McGlinchey. There are many interesting areas an engineer in Google can work on. For example. there are the data centres. new user-interface for Android phones. face-detection software. voice recognition or translation. or statistica analysis of ad auction systems. He adds: “Almost all of our top executives come from engineering backgrounds and people with engineering studies take up many of the jobs that touch both business and technology. like business development or sales strategy." For product management. Mr McGlinchey says the candidate should ideally be technically savvy and entrepreneurial besides being a good communicator and creative. He advises those who want a career in software engineering to learn the fundamentals first and then follow one's interest. Knowing how to work in a team and good communication skills are also important. “Learn to learn. and always keep up to date. Any particular skill or technology will probably get outdated fairly quickly. The technology you use during your working career may not even have existed when you were in university."

This article was originally published on The Straits Times