Embedded software developers work to maximize the convenience of product
users by arranging and combining symbols that are simply illegible to the untrained eye.
As you might expect from someone doing this kind of work, Kim Yoon-ki admits,
“For about half the month I end up working overtime.” But he also shares his plans to
realize a long-held dream 10 years from now.
The IT developers we see in TV dramas or films are usually portrayed like magicians. Peering into a black screen, they frantically type away at the keyboard and then suddenly, the screen changes and top-secret information appears. For laypeople who know nothing of the processes involved in program design, it’s a mysterious and amazing sight. Sometimes it even seems as though people with such skills are living in a different world.
In reality, however, IT developers come across quite differently. Eight years into the job, Kim Yoon-ki begins by calmly saying that his everyday life is “no different from that of your average office worker.” He works from nine to six, with an hour’s break for lunch from eleven thirty to twelve thirty. There are times when he can leave work at six on the dot and others when he ends up staying late.
Coffee Maketh the Software Developer
The first thing Kim does when he gets to work is to have a cup of coffee with his colleagues. He calls these coworkers his “brothers.” As soon as one of them sends word via the company’s instant messenger, the brothers all gather in front of the coffee shop on the ground floor of their building. While they wait for their coffee, they chat about this and that. The short gathering lasts about five to ten minutes at most, but for Kim it’s a precious moment that marks the start of each day.
“There are three or four brothers who entered the company at the same time as I did. Sometimes they don’t come to the office but go straight to outside assignments from home, so we make a point of meeting whenever we can to encourage each other. I’m the youngest of the brothers. Talking through my problems with big brother who is three years older, or discussing things I’m curious about, really helps me in my work,” he says.
In the IT field they like to joke that “coffee maketh the software developer.” As soon as they get to work they have a cup to get their senses together, then another to keep them awake while working, and then another later on to focus a disheveled mind and regain concentration. In this way, IT developers drink coffee the way most of us drink water.
The Iron Rule of Overtime
Kim’s weapons are a desktop PC loaded with a 12-core processor, a 32 inch UHD monitor, and an old keyboard that hasn’t been replaced once since he began his job. With these tools he goes about his work as if going to battle. He is an embedded software developer. Embedded software is the kind of software found in home appliances like TVs and refrigerators that carries out specific functions. It is essential for devices connected in the Internet of Things.
But when he introduces himself to other people, Kim simply says he is “a developer.” If he starts talking about his work in detail, the explanations just get longer and longer, and people who are unfamiliar with this field keep asking him all sorts of questions. There’s no way of knowing when those conversations will finally come to an end, and it’s exhausting. Having experienced this a few times, Kim now keeps his self-introduction to a minimum.
There are also some occasions where meeting new people results in embarrassment: “If I say I’m an IT developer, some people come back with things like ‘You must be great at video games!’ or ‘I’ve got a virus on my PC, do you think you could fix it?’”
“Just as there are all kinds of different ball games, including basketball, football and baseball, it’s the same with IT development. There are a range of different areas — the web, embedded software, servers,” Kim explains. “You wouldn’t expect a pro basketball player to be great at baseball, would you? I specialize in just one particular area. I can’t be an expert in everything, so I can’t bear it when people ask questions as though it’s all the same thing.”
IT development is a bit like writing a novel. It’s not a task you can complete by just working hard all day. You have to check whether what you did the day before operates as it should, and if for some reason it doesn’t, you have to identify the problem and fix it. This process is repeated over and over again. In the way different stories and plotlines come together to form one plausible narrative as a novel, every thread has to be in order for a program to work. If you can’t solve a problem encountered in the work you have already done, then you can’t make any further progress, and you end up working late day after day until you manage to get things untangled.
Kim works late about half of every month. “I have my own iron rule for when I’m working overtime,” he says. “I have coworkers who sleep for a couple of hours in the office to save the time it takes to get home and back, but no matter how late I end up working, I have to go home to sleep. That way I can come back again to start fresh. It’s how I get the motivation to work another day.”
With his office located in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, and his home in Incheon, it’s not a short commute, but Kim continues to adhere to this rule.
The Secret to Happiness at Work
Kim likes the sounds of his colleagues talking to each other, the tick of the clock, and the quiet that sometimes falls on the office. He says it helps him concentrate. However, once a period of deep concentration passes, there comes the “jinxed time,” when no matter what you do things just don’t fall into place. As an escape at such times, Kim searches the Internet for this and that and the day passes in a flash.
“In developing you go through a process called the ‘build.’ Once you’ve worked out your software in a language the computer can understand, it’s a process of verifying whether the computer can properly process that content. This stage takes much longer than you would imagine. So as a developer, my best weapon and friend is my high performance computer, because it minimizes the time I have to wait in boredom,” Kim says.
Even when it comes to love there are dull mo- ments, so work is not going to be any different. Like anyone else, Kim sometimes gets tired of his routine and the repetitive tasks he has to perform. The secret to not giving up is to find enjoyment in the task of development itself. And it’s crucial to have hobbies and activities to help you relax and recharge.
“There are developers who are only interested in computers and so they completely immerse themselves in their work, but many others enjoy various pastimes and rich cultural lives. Most developers are highly curious people and they end up taking up all kinds of hobbies. The same goes for me,” he says.
Kim has a dream. He wants to become
an interdisciplinary developer who combines IT and
the arts. Rather than leaving his current work behind,
he wants to use the skills he has acquired as the
foundation for an even better kind of work.
Kim Yoon-ki (sitting down, facing the camera at right) and his embedded software development team gather for a meeting. Software is embedded in items like household appliances, enabling the performance of certain functions.
Whenever Kim has the time he reads. A book he particularly enjoyed recently was Mihaly Csiks- zentmihalyi’s “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.” On weekends he catches up on the latest developments in his field and watches movies. He also joined the guitar group at his office and gives occasional concerts. In the past he also liked to run and would complete a four kilometer jog before returning home from work. He has taken part in two full-length amateur marathons, and completed both.
“Enjoying pastimes is actually a way for me to get more enjoyment out of my work. It’s my secret to working happily,” he says.
Of course there are developers in quite different circumstances. Many suffer from depression due to the stress levels of the work they do. It’s a job where the office lights stay on all night, and eating and sleeping at the office can quickly become routine. Fortunately, Kim enjoys his work and feels a sense of achievement. He even has time to pursue the joys of life.
Kim has a dream. He wants to become an interdisciplinary developer who combines IT and the arts. Rather than leaving his current work behind, he wants to use the skills he has acquired as the foundation for an even better kind of work.
“About 10 years from now I want to open a gallery. Something like a craft workshop for IT developers,” he says. “I want to progress from being a developer who creates things with codes to become an engineer who designs and produces things that are more tangible. I’m not sure when it will be, but it’s a dream I really want to achieve.”