Q&A with Winston Tsao, Technology Manager: On His Passion for Computers & Why He’ll Never Again Wear Anything Metal

When did you know you wanted to work with computers?

I always knew, since I was 15 – I woke up one day and thought, “this is it, this is what I want to do in one form or another.” I started working on computers at home, playing with programming in computer labs at school, started a computer club. Then naively I thought, “I’ve learned everything I need to learn about programming in general,” so I went to college to major in computer engineering, figuring a marriage between software and hardware would be the next challenge for me. After college I thought naively, “I know everything about electronics and computing,” then I entered the workforce and realized how little I’ve known. My first job was working at Zenith on computer monitors. At the time, desktop publishing monitors were all the rage. After a couple of years, I was transferred to the cable TV division and worked on one of the first on-screen TV programming guides. That was my first User Interface development.

When Netscape went public, it became clear to me that the Internet would be the future. I quit my Zenith job and worked for smaller agencies that worked with larger organizations. Over the years, I’ve helped many Fortune 500 companies converting their videos, brochures and annual reports to web sites, animated Flash presentations and mobile applications.

When I worked at Zenith, computer monitors at the time were all Cathode Ray Tubes or CRTs. CRTs are high-voltage vacuum tubes that “draw” the screen using magnetized electrons.  Because these tubes use very high voltage, they remain charged for a long time even after disconnected.  I used to wear a chain around my neck. One time I was examining a bare CRT closely, and the chain swung out and touched the anode. Before I realized what had happened, I was electrocuted for 5 whole seconds. That’s when I decided no more metals on me.  It is dangerous to wear metal while working in high voltage.

So tell us about your typical day now, as Technology Manager at Symmetri.

Every day, the goal is the same: do what it takes to develop the websites that meet all expectations – the clients’ and ours – without going over schedule or budget or getting stuck in any technical roadblocks.

Sometimes it means preventing potential issues by managing expectations, sometimes it means jumping in to do HTML or copy & paste content. Sometimes it means picking the right solution for a challenge or developing a program that automates the process. As the team grows in capabilities, it is important to find inefficiencies, increase system scalability, reduce downtime and other things that are good for both clients and us.

What if you couldn’t work on computers? What career would you have?

Wow. First of all, that would suck. But I would probably be an architect. I was into architecture, floor plans and construction before I got into computers and realized that I can “build” something virtually.

We hear your twin daughters are YouTube sensations. True?

Yes, well, sort of. Like many proud parents, we have relatives in different states and countries, and before we started using Facebook, we put some videos of the girls on YouTube. Since I’m an Internet geek, I thought, “Let’s buy some ads as an experiment to see if we can get traffic.” We got lots of nice comments, and one of our videos now has almost 500,000 views.  One email stood out:  it came from a casting director of a then new TV show called “Modern Family” who was looking for twins for the show. The girls were only nine-months-old then, and we didn’t want to get into the whole thing, but we did learn that YouTube viewers loves babies and prefer to watch laughing babies instead of singing babies.