Young Australians share how they built careers in the middle of COVID pandemic

 In Home News Section, Uncategorized

Seiji Armstrong is on a mission to make the internet safer — a task that’s never been more daunting than during the pandemic.

“Whenever there’s a global event, abusers out there become opportunistic, and they’ll take advantage of information channels and propagate misinformation,” he said.

“We have to be able to detect a lot of different types of abuse that might happen on the internet.”

That’s fuelled his work with Google, developing machine-learning algorithms to pick up on online abuse or content that violates policies.

Mr Armstrong is one of the recipients of the 2021 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians Awards, an initiative of the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit. The ABC is a media partner.

He’s half-Japanese and half-Australian — he was born in Australia but moved to Japan when he was three, learning Japanese as his first language.

When he came back to Australia at age eight, he couldn’t speak English at first, and he was bullied at primary school.

“There was always a feeling of not quite fitting in where I was,” he said.

“There’s always low-key racism and a reminder that, ‘Yeah, you’re cool, but you’re not quite 100 per cent Australian’.”

Physics, he said, became an obsession — and a way for him to “show the world that I belonged”.

“I always had to prove myself to people. Or at least I felt like I did,” he said.

He once would have described making the switch from quantum physics to being a cyber security expert as a “happy coincidence”.

“But the more I think about it, my upbringing and things that I experienced kind of motivated me … to be in a place where I could do something meaningful,” he told the ABC.

“You turn on the news and the world is burning down. What am I doing in a lab, in the dark, playing with laser beams, trying to make a quantum computer?”

With lockdowns pushing more people online and using the internet in new ways, he said there’s a need to develop new protections quickly.

He’s finding solutions to some of the problems exacerbated by the pandemic, just like some other Asian-Australian Leadership award winners, who are carving out space to thrive online.

‘I attacked the internet to bring joy to people’

Diana Nguyen struck comedy gold in the unlikeliest of places — LinkedIn.

When live festivals and stand-up were cancelled at the start of the pandemic, the Melbourne actor and comedian had to re-think how she would perform.

She launched Snortcast — a podcast where she interviews fellow comedians about their craft.

“I really attacked the internet to bring joy to people,” she said.

Making Australia’s Vietnamese community more visible — and celebrating her heritage — has been an ongoing project for Nguyen.

That includes finding new audiences in the US and Vietnam for her 2019 web series Phi and Me — the first Australian-Vietnamese family comedy show — on LinkedIn and TikTok.

The heart of the story — about first-generation Australian kids whose parents have risked so much and fled the trauma of war — not only resonated, but could also be funny, she found.

“We wanted to celebrate the humour in it, we didn’t want to just show all struggle, but we wanted to show the lovely, beautiful love story between a mother and her daughter,” she said.

For a comedian who thrived on live performances, “success” also had to be redefined.

“To be honest, it was a lot of self-healing. I’m usually an extrovert, but I really learned how to be an introvert during lockdown last year,” she said.

“My life depended on ‘live’ — I’m a live theatre performer.

“And so that was a really interesting period for me, that I needed a pandemic to stop the machine of doing [constant] shows.”

‘Perfection is never something you achieve the first time around’

For entrepreneur Jeanette Kar Yee Cheah, CEO and founder of education technology company Hacker Exchange (HEX), it’s all about looking at the future of work.

She said creativity is essential during a time of pandemic — as well as the ability to quickly adapt to new technology — adding that disruption could give birth to innovation.

“What I’m seeing in people who continue to be successful is the ability to rapidly assess the situation and do scenario planning and pivot,” she said.

“The barriers to entry to starting a tech company have never been lower. You don’t need to know how to code, you don’t need to know how to write a business plan in order to become a great tech entrepreneur right now.

“So it’s really a great opportunity for anyone who wants to step up and try something.”

She said based on her own upbringing, Asian Australians were often taught to be high achievers — but that shouldn’t stop people from having a go.

“We’re coached and socialised into being perfectionists quite often,” she said.

“And that’s definitely a mindset I had to lose as an entrepreneur … because perfection is never something you achieve the first time around.”

The pandemic hasn’t stopped her from running an online global challenge on how to protect human rights in a “post-truth world”, or organising an intensive hackathon, where participants are encouraged to find ways to increase happiness for a segment of the community.

HEX’s next focus is a program designed to be a kind of professional gap year.

Ms Cheah said she saw a need for it, with the traditional overseas gap year off the cards due to travel restrictions, and young people not wanting to spend several thousand dollars on a course when they did not know what they wanted to do in the current environment.

“At a time when people are fearful, and when things are changing so fast, it’s absolutely the time … to create new businesses, new solutions,” she said.

“There’s a certain part of people’s psyche right now where they’re open to new things.”

‘This is about relationship building’

Stanley Wang became a principal in mid-2020 at Melbourne’s Abbotsford Primary School, the home to the oldest Chinese-English bilingual program.

A back-of-the-envelope estimate from experts suggests only around 130 Australians without Chinese heritage can speak Mandarin.

That’s something Mr Wang is hoping to change — both through his school, and in an online conversation club he started earlier this year.

“Learning any language has the cognitive benefits, the intercultural understanding,” he said, adding it can help students challenge assumptions and broaden their perspectives.

Travel for his students to their sister city in China has been put on hold due to the pandemic, but they’ve learned to make the most of it.

“We have actually leveraged the opportunity to do a lot more small-scale but frequent dosages of online interaction between students from our school and other Chinese-speaking regions,” he said.

“That has been very powerful for the students because they are not just preparing for that one-off burst of excitement, but actually seeing that this is about relationship building, too.”

For students who feel like the pandemic has thwarted their ambitions or hit pause on their learning, he has some advice.

“I look at it almost like building your own capacity to function in another country or another culture,” he said.

“Despite the fact that this experience may not be ideal, and it requires a lot of resilience, I think it will pay off in the long run,” he said.

Seiji Armstrong, Diana Nguyen, Jeanette Kar Yee Cheah and Stanley Wang are 2021 recipients of the 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians Awards, an initiative of the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit.

(Original ABC Article)