As part of the Asia Pacific Week of Code, 21-27 April 2014, we are highlighting YouthSpark stars in Asia Pacific who have learned to code and have found success in school, competitions and career by understanding this language. We hope their stories will inspire you. What are you waiting for? Learn to speak Code now. #WeSpeakCode
Name: Siwon Choi
Country: South Korea
Occupation: Chief Executive Officer, Zoyi
Siwon Choi’s journey to being the CEO of his own company is nothing short of tumultuous. After his father, the family breadwinner, was diagnosed with cancer, Siwon headed to the capital city Seoul alone at 17 years old in search of financial opportunities. There he eventually co-founded an online gaming company, but learnt many painful lessons along the way after being defrauded by others. While still a computer science undergraduate at Inha University, he travelled to Egypt and Poland for software competitions, and presented his research at international forums.
Can you tell us how you got started in coding?
My father recommended I learn to code when I was in elementary school. Just a few months later, he asked if I could help revamp his video store system. For that task, I spent three years—six of my vacation breaks—working on the project, and it finally paid off by helping the store earn a profit of US$30,000 (30 million won) in just two months.
What are some coding projects that you have done?
My company is currently focusing on Walk Insights, a data-mining solution that tracks retail-store behaviour and is aimed at helping retailers improve their businesses. The programme detects Wi-Fi signals in Wi-Fi enabled devices to measure visit length, frequency and capture rate. When I was an undergraduate, I was part of the team that won the top prize in the Next Generation Web Award category at the Imagine Cup 2010 Worldwide Finals in Poland. The concept was to promote and encourage acts of kindness through social media. For that, I helped write open-source web applications on the Microsoft Web Platform.
Imagine Cup must have been an incredible experience for you. What were some lessons that you gained from it?
Imagine Cup taught me a few things. Firstly, it helped affirm my skills and abilities. It’s as if someone patted on my shoulder and said, “You can do it.” I gained more confidence, knowing that I may succeed as long as I am well-prepared and have a good idea.
The competition reinforced my belief in teamwork and the power of synergy. Winning teams don’t bank their chances on just one person’s talent. Team members tap on each other’s strength and potential, and the team works together as one. Through Imagine Cup, I realized the importance of good collaboration between teammates and the realization sparked the beginning of my entrepreneurship. In fact, I’m in a company that I co-founded with a friend who had participated in the same competitions as I did in Egypt and Poland.
Lastly, there’s a distinct difference between good intentions and a solid business idea. While my team’s work was well-received, it was not commercially viable. Businesses depend on the needs of customers. Would it still be music if there is no audience? The answer is, “No”.
The YouthSpark WeSpeakCode campaign aims to encourage young people to learn code. If you were to speak to the younger generation, what kind of advice would you give them (on coding)? Is there a specific programme you would recommend for them?
Coding helps people to think more logically and systematically, and it also gives them the technical skills to build websites and applications.
When it comes to a problem, coding is only one part of the solution. Knowing a variety of programming languages is less important than the ability to identify and to effectively approach a problem. I notice that techies focus too much on technology. Innovative thinking would be more helpful for the younger generation to solve problems; the ones with a competitive edge over the rest are those with a knack for tackling problems with the most efficient and effective approach.
I’m inspired by… Imagine Cup to run my own business. In addition to giving me critical insights into programming projects, it has inspired me to make the world a better place using technology.