Software Engineer

Physics was one of Kathy Luo’s favourite subjects at high school. “I enjoyed maths as well,” she says, “but had a genuine interest in physics.”

Career: Software Engineer, Air New Zealand.
Programme: Bachelor of Technology (First Class Honours) majoring in Optoelectronics, Master of Science (First Class Honours) majoring in Physics.

When making a decision about tertiary study, Kathy chose to enrol in a Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Optoelectronics*, after hearing a presentation by Dr John Harvey about his research in laser physics and the job opportunities in the growing Photonics industry.

“My fourth year of study, which was my honours year, included a research project in the field of temporal cavity solitons,” Kathy says.“This was really my first taste of what it was like to be a ‘real’ scientist and try to find answers to questions that haven’t been asked before.“

I lucked out with the research group I landed in, my supervisor (Dr Stuart Murdoch) was fantastic and I loved being at the leading edge of science.”

It was this honours research project - along with her enjoyment of the close-knit Physics community - which inspired Kathy to stay on and complete a Master of Science in Physics the following year.

“The Physics department is quite small in comparison to many departments at the University, and I particularly liked the small classes and small labs,” she says.

“My lecturers and lab tutors were really approachable and genuinely wanted to help their students succeed. It was easy to make friends with the postgraduate students who acted as mentors. I felt really well supported through my whole degree.”

Kathy also appreciated being the recipient of three scholarships while she was at the University of Auckland:

  • Two Summer research scholarships of $5000 | “The money was nice, but I found the scholarship really beneficial for my personal development. I also gained research experience and was exposed to new concepts and a totally different mindset than doing coursework.”
  • The University of Auckland MSc scholarship, which paid for her full tuition plus a $9000 stipend | “The stipend portion of this scholarship made a big difference to my quality of life during my MSc year, as it meant I could spend more time on my work and less time worrying about money.”

Studying physics taught Kathy to think and learn quickly in a logical and analytical way.

“It is really the best skill you can take into any industry,” she says. “With this, I was able to pivot from Physics into the world of Software Engineering pretty painlessly.”

Her first job after graduating was with Vodafone New Zealand.

“I was originally hired to work on something related to their optics network. Life is crazy and unpredictable sometimes, and I found myself loving my placement in their digital department as a software engineer.

“I ended up staying in the digital space for the rest of my time at Vodafone and I’m now working as a software engineer at Air New Zealand.”

Kathy loves her current job because it challenges her on a daily basis.

“I work in a relatively big team and my job involves coding [obviously], lots of collaboration with my team members, and talking to our customers, the cabin crew, to understand what they need.

“I appreciate having plenty of room to be creative. It sounds strange, but coding is a lot like Lego - there are always lots of different ways you can build something and I rarely have to do anything that is tedious or repetitive.”

Her best advice to students thinking of studying Physics? “Do it!”

*The programme is now a BSc(Hons) Photonics