The first interviewee of Women at Work is Hyojin Kim, a mark-up engineer. She started her career as a designer and is working as a mark-up engineer at a startup in Korea.
Hello, Hyojin. Thank you for being my first interviewee. Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Hello, I’m Hyojin Kim. I have been working as a mark-up engineer for the past 15 years. Thank you for choosing me as the first interviewee.
For the people who don’t know, can you tell me about a job of mark-up engineer?
When someone asks me about a mark-up engineer, I explain with the analogy of the process of building a house. Let’s say a website is a house; designers design the blueprint. Then, mark-up engineers build the structures for the house based on the blueprint. Mark-up engineers develop a plan into a structure. Then, other engineers put facilities like electricity and water supply and make the house function as a residence.
To sum up, mark-up engineers predict the structure of a website, document the designer’s outcome, and build the basic structure of a website. Both designing and developing takes a lot of time, but when mark-up gets on the way, it saves time. In my current company, it often happens that frontend and backend engineers take only a few hours to work on the function that I spend a few days to build the structure.
It seems it is essential to balance between designing and developing. How did you become a mark-up engineer?
I started my career as a designer. In the early days of the web, many designers did both design and mark-up, and I was one of them. Design and mark-up came apart as the web standard became popular, and that was the time when I shifted into a mark-up engineer completely.
So, did you major in design at school?
I studied design in high school and studied computer science in college. I didn’t feel like focusing on an engineering career, and design felt too hard for me. Building a structure suited better for me than starting from scratch. The web standard started to be universal at that time, so it was natural for me to choose to focus on the mark-up. First, I extended the hours working on mark-up at the company that I was a designer, and I solely became a mark-up engineer as I moved to another company.
What are the qualities that are needed to be a mark-up engineer?
I think a meticulous person who can look at a big-picture is the right person for a mark-up engineer. When I worked as a manager, the fastidious colleagues were good at the job. If they can consider ahead about the problems that they will encounter and do the job precisely, they can deal with unexpected changes or any additional revisions very well.
Also, this applies to all engineers: the people who feel bothered doing repetitive tasks become competent engineers. They continuously think about ways to reduce repetitive tasks and make them automatic and uncomplicated.
How was your managerial job?
At my last company, I was a manager of the mark-up team. I was the first mark-up engineer in the company, and the team got larger, at most eight mark-up engineers. So I naturally became the manager, but it was difficult. I became a manager because I was the most experienced and oldest, but managing teammates didn’t feel like the kind of job that I like. At that time, I realized I wanted to stay as an individual contributor rather than a manager.
It is common to become a manager as you have more experiences, but I think it’s not right. The team needs an expert in managing, or at least, there should be training programs for managers. The promotion as managers due to their age and work experience, without any managerial experience, is harmful to themselves, teammates, and the company.
I agree with that. Managing experience is different from the work experience, so I also think managers need training.
Then, what should one do to become a better mark-up engineer?
One should study fundamental theories in HTML and CSS. Also, since mobile devices are essential nowadays, one should have relevant skills. The new versions come out continuously, and the latest techniques are continually emerging, so it would be good to have an adaptive nature. However, I think since everything changes so fast these days, it applies to everyone, even if you are not an engineer.
When was the time when you were proud of your work?
When I worked at the subsidiary company of the biggest search engine company in Korea, I was proud that I was building the service that almost every Korean uses. Frankly, when I saw my co-workers use it, I was blase. I saw them every day, so it did not feel special because they are part of the company. However, when I saw someone that I don’t know uses the service I built, I felt proud that people use my product conveniently.
Oh, I heard that’s why b2b companies send their employees to the client companies to let them see how people use their service. I think when you see the people using the product well, you become more attached to the product.
Is there any difficulty as a mark-up engineer?
People think that mark-up has a low barrier as a career. Some people say that it is an easy job that every engineer can do. Also, we sometimes feel excluded as some engineers say that we are not engineers. But mark-up alone is sophisticated, and there are many things to learn.
I was lucky enough to meet a lot of good colleagues. Both designers and engineers that I have worked with told me that what I do is necessary and I can be proud of my job. Furthermore, since I am in the tech industry, which is more open-minded and diverse than others, I also haven’t felt much discomfort as a woman before I became a mother.
But there are some difficulties as a mom. I feel a lot of pressure.
What has changed since you became a mother?
I think both my previous company and the current one are one of the good companies for mothers. Unlike many companies in Korea, my companies allow people to work from home and work shorter hours. When I was in my previous company, I live too far away from work, and I couldn’t leave my son at daycare for a long time because he was too young. So I asked my manager for allowing me to work from home and go to the office once a week. It was efficient because I didn’t spend time to commute. But I had a massive pressure in my mind to show people when I was working. So after a month of exhaustiveness, I started to manage my work time. It got better as my colleagues helped each other to work efficiently. I’m also lucky now because I have flexible hours and vacations.
How about the friends around you?
So many of my friends don’t have good chances like me. You know, when a child is sick, one of the parents has to take the child to the hospital, and it’s usually the mother. On these kind of occasions, they need to take a day off urgently. Taking a vacation is inevitable, but some co-workers and bosses mind it. Also, as most daycares start at 9 am, and many companies start at 9 am, it is so difficult for parents to drop off the child and go to work on time, which makes parents uneasy to work.
Right. I heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” and I think that includes not only getting direct help but also creating an environment around them so that caregivers can happily raise their children.
What is your goal as an engineer?
I want to be a persistent engineer who can work even if I get older. I am in my late thirties now, but when I was thirty, I was not sure that I could work until I become forties. But as the years passed, I could see the women who are older than me still work. Now, I can see many female engineers who are in their forties. So I want to be like them. Also, I wish the women who are younger than me see me and think that they can do the same as they get older, and even if they have babies. The people who are coding with gray hair look fabulous. But I have rarely seen middle-aged female engineers yet, so I want to be one of them.
That is the purpose of this interview!
Of course, it depends on what people want to see. Young people may want to see a single female engineer, or they may want to listen to the story of a female engineer who is steadily working and raising her children at the same time.
I recently watched an episode about the process of lowering women’s salaries in the Netflix documentary called Explained. It said that women who are single and have no children get 96% of the salary that men make. I still wondered where that 4% difference came from, but I was sad that women who had children received 60% of men.
First of all, I think it is essential to get rid of social prejudice. I don’t feel there are many things that an individual can do. I have seen people who chose to raise their kids over persevering their careers, but most of the cases it’s not their will.
I hope they endure somehow even if their career stops in the middle. I wish mothers could choose for their own happiness. To take care of her children and family, a mother needs to be happy. It’s necessary to be happy together.
Then, what is your dream as an individual Hyojin Kim?
I wish I could continue to work as an engineer and work out as I do now. I love my child and my family, but I think I can love others more as I do what I love. Ultimately, my goal is to be a happy old lady.
Furthermore, I want to keep helping other people. I have been donating to the issues that I think are important even if I can’t do it myself. I have been sponsoring children in overseas, domestic support for the children who were left alone after birth, and animal support groups as I have cats. Of course, it’s beneficial to volunteer myself, but I want to help people who can do better than me as I have limited time.
I think donation is one of the great ways to express my value!
What can you say if you sum up your story altogether?
I am a “working mom who works out.” My hobby is to work out, and it can’t be excluded from my life. So I believe “working mom who works out” is the best phrases for me. There is one time that I feel sorry that I’m not a man: that is when I think I can lift more weight and do more exercises. I like working out so much that I choose to work out rather than eat lunch. I have a simple lunch and go to the gym.
Oh yes, you are famous for loving work out! It’s so cool to see you exercising consistently.
If you meet yourself from five years ago, do you have anything to tell yourself?
Five years ago, I was right before my pregnancy. It was the time that I quit the big company and about to go in the small startup. I visited New York alone for a month, but I was anxious about joining a small company. So I want to tell myself not to be scared and say it’s going to be much better than I thought. I never thought it would work out well at that time.
How was your trip alone?
It was terrific. After marriage, it’s not easy to think that you can travel alone for a long time or far away. But it became my energy to endure my hard times. I think even if a married couple likes different things, they will have a happier marriage when then accept it and support each other. I liked a trip with my son, just the two of us, and I want my husband to have the same chance to do it. Or I will travel alone again. It’s a lot easier when you already have done it.
I will try it too!
Now the last question. Do you have any questions for the next interviewee?
I wonder what she thinks about marriage and birth. I got married early, but my younger sister is not interested in getting married. So I wonder what other women think. Also, I want to ask whether she is happy to be a woman.
After my first interview with Hyojin, it became clearer why I started this interview. I hope more women will be able to believe in their choices and move forward steadily. If you have any questions for Hyojin, please leave a comment or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).