Giving Future Leaders A Head Start
The HeadStart@HKUST (HeadStart) program partners with local and global companies to offer early workplace immersion and career development to first and second year students. This year, the program brought together BBA General Management alumnus Arthur Chan, chief operating officer of leading big data company Vpon, and Sun Bin Mun, a data science and technology student from South Korea.
Why did you choose to participate in the HeadStart program?
Arthur: When the University approached me asking Vpon to join HeadStart, I jumped at the chance! The program is unique because it offers a mentorship in addition to an internship. Vpon is a young company: it's only 10 years old and the average age of our team is 32. Interns offer us valuable insights into the market - we need the youth perspective to get ahead in our business.
Sun: I didn't have a clear idea about what career to pursue. At first, I wanted to study physics, but after trying various courses, including math and computer science, I became really interested in data science. Luckily, the University had started a new major: Data Science and Technology. I applied to HeadStart to understand how the data analytics industry works, and if it's actually something I want to pursue. The program offers fellowships and mentorships across different fields, such as business and finance, so it's a great way to see what's out there.
What did the internship involve?
Arthur: At Vpon, we have a hiring committee for internships. This year, we interviewed 20 to 30 candidates from local universities and hired four, all from different backgrounds. We allocated them to our marketing and campaign management departments according to their interests. While they are with us, we treat them the same as our full-time staff. We give them a mix of tasks, both small and large, and they have the freedom to motivate themselves and discover what's important to focus on. We want to give them a real taste of what working in a company is like.
Sun: Each department has two mentors that take care of us and answer our questions. We have daily, weekly, and monthly goals and a variety of tasks, like research and data reports, plus presentations for the larger projects. We also have to come up with an app as a side project, which is fun! The schedule is flexible, so I have a bit of free time to learn other skills, like HTML, CSS, and web applications.
What did you gain from the internship experience?
Arthur: Personally, I like working with young people. Our company has grown used to certain ways of working, and young interns disrupt that with new ideas, helping us keep in touch with the real world. Also, because Vpon has offices in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore - and soon Thailand and Korea - we need a diverse mix of people in our teams to understand our markets better. Sun has taught us a lot about the Korean culture, and his English is very good, so our team can practice their language skills with him daily.
Sun: Working at Vpon has taught me how to interact and communicate with people in a business setting. I learned everything from how to write a business email to how to apply a data tool to solve a problem, and how to visualize data so clients can understand it. I gained both soft skills and hard skills and feel a lot more confident about my future career. I know data science is what I want to do, and I'm going to take courses in entrepreneurship, business, and finance so I can apply data science tools to provide solutions for different industries. This internship has inspired me to start my own business one day!
Would you recommend others to join HeadStart?
Arthur: Definitely. Mentoring students is a rewarding experience for me, as I can offer them advice on how to make the most of their time at university, and what employers are really looking for. It feels great to contribute to their future in that way. The internship offers a valuable opportunity for companies to get a fresh perspective and learn from the new generation. It's not about cost-effective labour, it's about bridging the gap between students and professionals, so we can learn from each other.
Sun: It's a valuable program. I find the executive talks very meaningful. Hearing CEOs from both large companies and small start-ups share about how they overcame challenges and failures is very inspiring. And the fellowship events are great opportunities to meet new people from different backgrounds. In addition to business skills, I have gained a much wider understanding of the world and how to succeed in the industry, thanks to HeadStart.