Ever since living in a remote village in Fiji with limited access to a telephone and no internet, Michelle Howie has been passionate about helping people connect. Now the engineering student is living her passion working for Telstra in Hong Kong as an intern under the Government’s New Colombo Plan program. Michelle shares her experiences from her time in Hong Kong.
Living in Korea as a university exchange student, studying for my final exams, I was frantically searching for work experience to round out my international journey. I initially coveted a R&D role in a tech lab somewhere, but when I saw that Telstra had an office in Hong Kong, the hub of Asia, I knew that’s where I needed to be. As an aspiring communications engineer, I knew that this Australian household name would be the launch pad into my global telecoms career.
I’m studying a Bachelor of Electronics and Communications Engineering at the University of South Australia. I, like most Aussie students, never even considered studying in Asia. That was until I was awarded a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, an Australian Government initiative which sent me to Korea for a semester at a world class engineering institute.
The only thing I knew about Korea back then was Samsung and Gangnam Style. After living with a local family and studying Korean as well as taekwondo and karaoke, I had a much deeper engagement with the country and its people. I loved living in Korea, with its exciting combination of innovation and tradition, and wasn’t ready to go home.
I then applied for five months of work experience at Telstra in Hong Kong. Fortunately the team here are big supporters of the New Colombo Plan program, which gives Australian students the chance to live, learn and engage in the Asia Pacific region. Before I got to Hong Kong I had never realized the size of Telstra’s footprint outside of Australia – I bet you didn’t know Telstra operates around 30% of Asia’s international lit submarine cable capacity and has over 650 people in Hong Kong!
I am currently working in Network Services, which is responsible for operating Telstra’s vast network of subsea cable systems, satellite broadcasting, product delivery and customer connectivity.
As an undergraduate with limited technical experience, I have been focusing on understanding the telecoms business and slowly getting into different areas of the technical unit.
My initial work with field services was exciting as I got the opportunity to work from Telstra’s cable landing stations, data centres and points-of-presence across Hong Kong. I have helped perform cable patching migrations, respond to equipment alarms, and even called a boat off the coast of Singapore that was dropping its anchor too close for comfort to our subsea cable underneath them.
I then branched out into satellites and media, which has involved helping maintain Telstra’s global media network systems, calculating link budgets and signal path loss for potential sales. I worked closely with the Global Media Switch team in the Stanley Earth station perched on the tip of a peninsula overlooking the South China Sea, helping to develop their network topology diagram and manage customer data. The only way I was able to do all this without interrupting a multitude of TV programs broadcasting across the Asia-Pacific that run over our infrastructure, was thanks to the support of the Telstra team who have been very generous with their time and support.
I have also had opportunity to put the role of engineering in a larger context of everything that is required to provide services to our customers, including working with colleagues in Legal, Finance and Customer Service. This has been really important for me as it has demonstrated how, as an aspiring engineer, I need to understand how my role fits into the broader picture of what the company is trying to achieve.
As a female engineer I have also really enjoyed the inclusive work environment Telstra has established in Hong Kong, where I have been collaborating with people from different disciplines and backgrounds.
I love the multiculturalism and convenience of working in Hong Kong. Surrounded by 24 hour Michelin star dumplings and street-side noodles, with the subway coming every few minutes. I struggled to adapt to this crowded lifestyle at first, but just outside the chaotic city life I can lose myself amidst breath-taking scenery! An incredible contrast to life in Adelaide.
The New Colombo Plan has given me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undertake a journey of growth and discovery. I would encourage all ambitious Australian students to apply for this Scholarship. Get a kick start on your career, broaden your mind and experience the wonders of the Asia Pacific! Moving to countries that I knew next to nothing about was always going to be a challenge but I have adapted and learned to love every local quirk, finding my place as a global citizen.
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