I walk into the meeting room to find Zhi Yang fiddling with a tab lined with rows of tasks, tagged with numbers that appeared as foreign as the code that filled another tab. He senses my confusion, and wastes no time in getting me acquainted with a JIRA Kanban board and its industry functionalities. Before long, he opens another tab with another board, but this time with a far more enticing title: Food Hunt. The conversation trickles towards the gastronomic sights and sounds in the area, and before long it flows.
Zhi Yang, or Tenzy as he is affectionately known, is a NUS-alumni Software Engineer who develops on Shopee’s PC and mobile website interface. Web development, however, is just one of Tenzy’s many passions. His myriad of interests may appear disjointed, but is tied together with an easygoing personality. All these coupled with an innate assuredness and discipline, which shows as we chat about Muay Thai, drones, and chasing tech trends.
Read on to find out more about Tenzy, the man who flows and flexes.
Perry: Hi Tenzy! What are all these tags on your screen?
Tenzy: Oh, these? This right here is a Kanban board! It’s one way in which developers keep track of our day-to-day tasks. These tabs here each represent a Jira ticket, a request for a particular feature to be developed. An example would be the ability to see Shopee flash sales in advance, or a function that allows end users to set reminders for when said flash sale starts. Each Jira ticket is a small part of a grand master plan, usually drawn up by product managers looking to bring about a new wave of functionality to the Shopee website or app.
On the topic of boards, there are other ways by which we keep track of our progress. For example, we set specific milestones that are to be reached within a specified time period, before completing tasks that bring us closer to this milestone. These are called Agile Sprints. At the end of the Sprint, we come together and discuss what went well and what went wrong, before setting the parameters for the next Sprint.
P: Sounds like a great way to get things organized! Do you use this on a personal basis as well?
T: Our team does – we have many uses for boards, as well as many misuses! (laughs) We have a separate Trello board to track locations for a weekly Food Hunt. We have a foodie community that meets up at a new location every week to eat good food together. The board helps with telling us where we’ve been, how the food was, and where we’re going next. Our next stop is Ghim Moh!
P: That’s an ingenious way of using your work-related skills! Have you been doing Software Engineering for a long time now?
T: Not exactly! I graduated from university with a Computer Science degree, and my area of focus was mostly related to AI (Artificial Intelligence). I only learned about Shopee after a recruitment fair, where they invited me to an interview. I agreed out of curiosity, but was intrigued by the challenges posed during the interview – let’s just say they weren’t the run-of-the-mill tests and questions! The intensity of it all sparked something within me, and I decided to give Shopee a shot. I’ve been here ever since, and it’s been great.
P: Curiosity may have killed the cat, but you’ve made a career out of it! Has this curiosity gotten you elsewhere as well?
T: I’ve learnt and experienced many things because of this curiosity, actually! I’ve dabbled in various martial arts since I was a teenager, and later picked up various other pastimes during my time in university and Shopee. It’s been fun. In fact, I’ve just hosted a Muay Thai class a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Shopee Wellness programme. The second session is currently in the works!
P: Woah, neat! I heard from our colleagues that they really enjoyed themselves in your Muay Thai class. What other martial arts disciplines are you proficient in?
T: My first exposure to martial arts was with Kendo, which I’ve practiced for 7 years. I first started back in my polytechnic days, but I wasn’t very good at it until university, where I obtained my black belt status and just kept going. Fun fact: contrary to popular belief, having a black belt doesn’t make you a master of the craft – it simply means you’re qualified to train without supervision!
P: Being a black belt must have just been the start for you then!
T: Yes, it’s been a long journey since then! I’ve represented my university club, NUS Kendo Kai, in inter-club tournaments with pretty good results – individual 2nd, and Team Champions for 2 consecutive years! My sensei asked me to try out for the national team, but I decided not to because of the commitment levels expected.
P: How did Muay Thai come into the picture after?
Muay Thai was a later addition to my repertoire. There’s a Muay Thai gym I hit one or twice a week for conditioning and technique classes, which have allowed me to pick up the discipline at a steady pace that adapts to my schedule. The classes start at 7am though, so be prepared to be up and at them really early in the day!
P: I’m tempted to join you for a session, but the hours might be a huge issue for me! (laughs) Has there been an issue with switching between the two disciplines?
T: Kendo and Muay Thai are two very different forms. Kendo is more two-dimensional, and exponents usually duel in a straight line, with minimal diagonal action (which I exploited early on). There’s a priority on getting close quickly and striking the opponent first. Muay Thai, however, requires more stability, which calls for a different stance and a greater focus on maximizing reach during spars. The foundations of the two are evidently very different, and this has made juggling both rather difficult. I’ve actually dropped Kendo recently in favour of Muay Thai due to this!
P: Every sportsman has his hero – who’s yours?
T: One fighter I admire is Vasyl Lomachenko, an amateur-turned-pro boxer who overcame all odds. He started his career as an amateur in Olympic boxing, which was frowned upon by the industry then due to its rules – Olympic boxing only lasts 3 rounds, compared to pro boxing’s 12. When he made the decision to go pro, no one expected him to succeed, but he won championships in two different weight classes in only 7 bouts, smashing records. I also think his technique has revolutionized boxing, which he doesn’t get enough credit for.
I’m also a fan of Manny Pacquiao – who isn’t? (laughs) His versatility, winning championships in eight different weight classes, is undisputed. I’m also a fan of Mike Tyson and his weaving style of boxing, even though we’ll probably never get to see it again.
P: Wow, you do boxing too?
T: Nah, I don’t partake in the sport. It’s just that I really like how the limitations of boxing regulations truly allow a fighter’s skills to stand out. I admire the sportsmen, which explains why my role models mostly come from boxing backgrounds.
My love for boxing does show up in my Muay Thai sparring sessions though. People often ask me if I’ve boxed previously – I just hope it’s because my punches are good, and not because my other skills are terrible! (laughs)
P: You’ve plenty of sporting pursuits. Given your work, do you have any industry-related hobbies?
T: I’m glad you asked! I’ve been involved with drone-flying since 2014, when people in the USA first starting taking notice of drones and their various functions. I’ve a couple of them at home: a commercial-grade piece from DJI, and a quad-copter that I built from the ground up with scraps and borrowed pieces.
I was so interested in the craft that it caught the eye of a professor in university, who hired me as a teaching assistant for drone-building and flight classes. The classes were reserved for summer exchange students, so being chosen to guide them was an eye-opening experience.
P: Drones are really taking off now in Singapore – is there something about them that people don’t usually know about?
T: Yes – the fact that they are actually quite dangerous! (laughs) Anything that spins fast enough to make something fly should be treated with respect and caution, and some students in the drone-flying classes had to learn that the hard way. Cuts and scratches are commonplace when flying drones, especially those without in-built stabilizers – those take serious time and effort to master. However, the struggles do add to the experience, and makes it that much more satisfying when you learn to establish control over a drone.
P: I’d call you a jack of all trades, but that wouldn’t do your achievements justice! Is there a chief motivation behind mastering so many skills?
T: (laughs) That’s flattering. I usually like to jump on the latest tech, hoping to learn something new. This might be slightly unusual compared to my developer friends though, as they usually exercise way more discipline, both in mastering a mature program language or in their hobbies. It’s probably the reason why I chose to do Front-End Development – the tech behind it changes and matures much faster compared to other functions.
I wouldn’t say that there’s a chief motivation behind my various experiences – I’m just willing to try anything that comes my way, and pick it up if it interests me. A recent pursuit would be rock-climbing. A colleague in my department just started a Shopee rock-climbing interest group, so I’ve been trying that out as well! A friend I met during my Army days once said this to me: “随缘” (go with the flow). My life has been guided by this mantra since, and I guess I’ve made something out of it.
P: The flow has carried you to Shopee – what do you make of it so far?
T: Shopee is a company that’s more than willing to nurture its employees. My team, especially, is very open on all fronts and receptive to criticism and change. As Shopee is still very young, its capabilities depend mostly on its people. In that regard, there’s plenty of potential to be found here.
Aside from this, we’re generally very passionate people working towards dreams we sincerely wish to achieve. We encourage each other to go for it too. The Shopee Wellness Muay Thai workshop I mentioned? I’ve toyed with the idea of conducting one for a long time, but was hesitant given my relative lack of experience. My friends have, however, been encouraging, and the company has given me its full support. It’s this readiness to give people a chance to shine that I really enjoy.
P: Do you have any words of advice for budding Developers out there?
T: During the introductory briefing of Shopee’s Mentorship Programme, a senior warned us against overthinking a particular decision. I’d like to pass her advice on: don’t worry too much – if you like it, go for it. This applies to pretty much anything: studies, passions, or just life in general. Life is short – worrying just makes it shorter!
Thank you for sharing your passions with us, Tenzy! To our readers out there: If you think you can top Tenzy’s laundry list of talents, we’d love to meet you. Let’s get acquainted here!