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Jacky Wong | Entrepreneur and AI Engineer

Culturestride Culturestride Sep 21, 2020 · 5 mins read
Jacky Wong | Entrepreneur and AI Engineer
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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself

I currently work on open-source deep learning software, AI research, running a small business providing data science consulting and providing data science services to a few teams like WooliesX. Previously professionally, I worked at a data science consulting startup called Gronade that specialises in chatbots and customer service automation and worked at a few other corporates (PwC, Westpac, NDIA). In the little spare time I have, I play a few games and try my best to stay physically active.

What are your life and career ambitions?

To do work that is wide-impacting work that’s important to me that I enjoy. I want to work with good people to solve difficult, wide-impacting problems that also challenge me. Huge bonus if these are data science problems and are part of building interesting products. To achieve this, I work with a startup to build open-source technology (my Github) that is similar to Google’s search engine/TikTok’s recommendation engine with the aim of democratising it. I read research papers that interest me in the field of deep learning that also help with my work.

What does your culture mean to you and why are you learning your mother tongue?

To me, culture defines my values in life. Any person with Chinese culture will tell you there is usually a focus on a few things - namely honor, money and job security. I think I lost all of these when I told my mum I wanted to work for a startup for a year and turned down corporate offers. But I think people adapt and cultures have to adapt as well and understanding why they value these things is important.

Learning Mandarin and Cantonese helps me communicate better with my mum- which is important to me. I want to be able to better explain what I do to her because things get very complicated very quickly (especially when you are working in the machine learning/software engineering field). I can’t read papers at the moment but I’m happy to still be able to talk to a lot of Chinese data scientists and practice using the language. I am also pretty interested in understanding AI research written in Chinese as they produce a lot of interesting software.

What has been the most important factor in achieving the success you’ve had?

It’s hard to pinpoint one but I think re-defining what success meant to me was the most important factor. I used to define success as the amount of money I earned and number of friends that I had. I now define success as doing what you love to do, not being afraid of sticking it out and number of friends that I can have an honest conversation with. If you’re doing something you’re not excited by - it might be time to change career paths. This means:

  • Not being afraid to try something you might enjoy
  • Figuring out how to be authentic (which I think is really hard because people tend to ostracize you when you stick out)
  • Figuring out what you value
  • Sharing with others what you enjoy and finding others who share similar habits

I think figuring out passion is sort of difficult - it requires being good at something, being recognised for something and having enough momentum and drive to continue learning. For someone with an addiction to gamifying life like me, you might have to get better at something by winning competitions, figuring out which metrics defined your success (be it money/followers on instagram/influence - whatever was important to me) and finding ways to be recognised for the hard work I put in.

What is one piece of advice you’d share to anyone who wants to become more like you?

Something I came to understand was that people learn different things at different speeds with different teachers. I find myself ahead of the curve in some and painfully behind in others. This means that there are certain systems (e.g. university education, organisational) that may fail you and not capture your hard work/results properly. If you are not successful in a specific system and you believe in yourself, then the system is the one that failed, not you. Either find another system or figure out a way to fix the system. Most systems generally need patches anyway. To give an example- most young people try too hard to join corporates when they graduate, try join a hard-working startup instead where your energy, desire to learn and drive will be rewarded.

You may not always be surrounded by the right people. Don’t be afraid to find the right friends, let go of people who don’t have your best intentions at heart and start figuring out how society works for yourself. When you start to understand that, you will learn that conventional wisdoms like “big companies are safe” aren’t the most accurate. What makes them safe? Is it that anyone who works at those companies is safe? Or is it just the top execs? Or maybe it’s because losing you is more expensive than having you. Understanding things at a first principle level (e.g. why corporates have titles) helps with your development-and this is even more important as you start a career in corporates, there is a need to understand politics at first principle and understand things like leverage.


This article is an entry into Culturestride’s “Cross Borders” Article Series highlighting inspirational young people who are exploring international culture, language and opportunities.

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