Engineering a clearer future with Lenskart Singapore's Engineering Lead, Gibson Tang

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Gibson Tang was the first Engineering hire for Lenskart’s Singapore Tech Team. With close to 20 years of experience, he knows exactly what it takes to succeed in the tech space.

In this interview, Gibson shared with us some valuable insights such as his tips on climbing the ladder, what he looks for in an ideal candidate, and even the biggest ‘oops’ moment in his career!

*parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.

Engineering a clearer future with Lenskart's Engineering Lead, Gibson Tang

What did it feel like to be the first Engineering hire for Lenskart’s Singapore tech team?

Scary, yet exciting as I was given a blank slate to work with for the Singapore tech team. But even so, I had to ensure that it is aligned with Lenskart’s overall values and culture.

What is the working and engineering culture like at Lenskart?

We prize the values of transparency, cooperation and collegiality. The Lenskart tech team in Singapore is still young, so we operate like a startup where we work fast and are biased to action, but yet we hold ourselves to high standards. We always share information and tips among ourselves so that we can each grow and improve as a tech person in Lenskart.

We saw that Lenskart is looking to expand its engineering team, what do you look for in your ideal candidate?

We look for attitude and coachability. We hire people who demonstrate a high aptitude for learning as skills can be taught, but attitude can’t be. So being eager to learn and having a sense of proactiveness and cooperativeness would be our top requirements.

With close to 20 years of experience in the tech industry, what tips do you have for engineers who want to climb up the ladder?

Always keep learning. This applies not just to technical skills, but also other skills such as people management, time management and communication. As you move up the ladder. You will need other adjacent skill sets as you will be interacting with other high level stakeholders who are not technically inclined and handling more non technical tasks such as writing, conducting meetings etc.

To perform well, I believe that one should also work under a good boss as a good boss will push you and look out for your best interests and grow you to the next level.

When hiring for talent, what is your favourite question to ask the interviewee?

In your past jobs or individual projects, can you give an example of a difficult task that you encountered and how you fixed it and also another example of a difficult task which you failed to fix and what did you do after that?

These two questions will help me gauge their problem solving skills as software engineering is not just coding, but sometimes you need to think out of the box.

It also shows me whether they value learning from failure and experience. In our line of work, there will be failures, but learning from those failures will set them up for future success.

What is an underrated skill for Software Engineers to have? 

Communication skills. Software development has progressed far beyond the stage where a talented programmer can just sit at his table and churn out rockstar quality code. Software development now involves teams of people and communication skills are very underrated, but it is crucial for developers to have this skill as it will help them when it comes to working with bigger teams and stakeholders

What is the greatest oops moment in your career?

Early in my career, I accidentally deleted all the customer order information when I ran the wrong query as I originally wanted to delete it from the pre-production database.

But luckily, I always have a habit of backing up all important production data before running any delete or update statements. So I immediately restored the production database and no customer noticed the next morning.

What is the difference between being in consultation (Azukisoft) v.s. Product-based (Lenskart, DishDash) companies?

In consultancy companies, I had a wide exposure to various types of projects in different verticals such as CRM, education, health tech etc and that exposed me to different tech requirements and knowledge for different projects

For product based companies, I had the opportunity to do a deep dive into that vertical. For example, I have been involved in e-commerce startups for quite a few years, so I have learned a lot about the technical stack for e-commerce and also related modules such as product development, and data analytics for e-commerce platforms

Follow up question: What kind of people would suit the above mentioned companies better?

Startups have a different culture from big MNCs and even within different size startups, the type of people it attracts will be different. People who gravitate to big startups such as GoJek or Grab have a different mindset from those who prefer small 20 man size startups. 

From what I know, engineers who prefer to work in small startups are comfortable with chaos and uncertainty as a small startup operates in a flux where company directions, tech stack etc is always subject to change and these people love being the pioneers and setting the direction. 

For bigger startups, the engineers would thrive in an environment where there is more structure, certainty and processes and less unknown factors. Ultimately, the engineer has to know themselves in order to decide what type of startup they prefer to join.

You're known for giving back to the community and contributing back to open source projects. What is the motivation behind this?

At the start of my career, I had the opportunity to interact with developers and people in the developer community and it has been a great learning experience exchanging ideas and views. At this point in time, I would love to pay it forward and help other developers in any way possible and also contribute to open source projects as I have been a user of a lot of open source code and framework over the years.

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How has the Singapore / SEA tech landscape changed over the past 2 decades in terms of quality and talents?

When I started my career in 2003, software developers were scarce and most were working for companies such as NCS, banks or small SMEs and the startup scene barely existed back then

But a couple of years after that, we saw some VCs forming and investing in startups in Singapore, and the universities started programs such as NOC which exposed their students to the startup culture in other countries. This instilled a different mindset in the younger generation of tech developers that Singapore can be a viable base to build your own startup. 

Government policies have also been put in place to help grow startups and help them expand to other countries through the help of various agencies such as ESG(Enterprise SG) and funding schemes. 

I am happy to see that the Singapore startup scene is now blooming, but it still has some way to go before we are at a level comparable to Silicon Valley(SV) where entrepreneurs who have made it big pay it forward by investing in new startups

But with the future growth and exits of startups in Singapore, I am confident that this will turn into a flywheel where each generation of startup entrepreneur pays it forward to bring our startup scene to new heights

How do you think it will change in the next 10 years?

Singapore will not be the ultimate startup scene in 10 years time. What I mean is that although Singapore has a mature consumer market. Ultimately, we are still limited by population size

So what I foresee is that a lot of startups will still be set up in Singapore as we have good differentiating factors such as infrastructure, political stability, rule of law etc

However, the startups that are here will have the global mindset from the get go as SEA itself will be a much bigger market and as the size of the middle class grows in countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia etc. They will have a different set of needs which startups based in Singapore with a global and agile mindset will be well positioned to capture

Software developers who have experience managing teams across multiple geographical regions and exposure to multi region markets will be more valued in future and startups that are more asset light such as SAAS startups will be better poised for this as software scales more easily across countries and borders.

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