Interview Series with HLMA Winners – HLMA Empowers Winners for Career Success

Mathematics research can give young people a major head start in their careers by igniting boundless creativity while nurturing abstract thinking abilities and analytical excellence. Founded in 2004, Hang Lung Mathematics Awards (HLMA) has helped shape and steer the career paths of many of the young participants through a commitment to fostering a learning environment that stimulates the interest and creativity of secondary school students in mathematics research and identifying promising young mathematics talents in Hong Kong.

In this interview, Connections speaks to Toby Ng and Darren Wan — two members of a four-student team from S.K.H. Tsang Shiu Tim Secondary School that won the Bronze Award at 2008 HLMA. They reveal how the experience of joining the competition as Form 5 students has continued to have a positive impact on their university studies, as well as their career choices and advancements, thereby bringing them memorable and rewarding results.

C: Connections
N: Toby Ng
W: Darren Wan

C: Since you’ve both chosen a career in the financial industry, please tell us a little about your current roles and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

N: I’m currently working for J.P. Morgan as the Vice President of CIB Equity Technology. My main duty is to design applications related to non-derivative instruments for risk calculations and other purposes.

W: I’m currently working as an insurance actuary at AIA. My job mainly entails pricing insurance products, calculating the claims reserves for the insurer and refining actuarial models.

C: HLMA provides secondary school students an early exposure and hands-on experience with mathematics research. How has this unique experience shaped your personal development since then?

N: My experience with HLMA sparked my interest in mathematics research and informed my decision to major in mathematics and information engineering at the university. My current role also requires me to apply mathematical thinking to writing transaction-related programs, particularly in unraveling the logic behind financial transactions. Additionally, I communicate with different teams and users to understand their needs during program development. Having a solid foundation in mathematics and training in abstract thinking since secondary school has made it easier for me to grasp financial concepts at work and translate the users’ needs into practical solutions. As a result, I’m able to excel in my job.

W: To become a certified actuary, I had to pass a series of professional examinations that involved computational and mathematical concepts. Now, as an actuary, I find myself processing large amounts of data and performing calculations on a daily basis. This is why having strong numeracy and analytical skills is vital. Participating in HLMA and the experience of engaging in project-based mathematics research and discussions has contributed immensely to my career advancement by reinforcing my mathematical know-how and mindset.

C: What advice would you give to younger people who aspire to your current professions?

N: First of all, never neglect the importance of academic training. Secondly, increase your exposure to different fields of work and take the opportunity to gain insights into the inner workings of the business world, expanding your horizons and growing your social network. Another key factor is learning how to translate complex and abstract jargon into plain, easy-to-understand language. This allows you to eloquently communicate your thoughts and ideas to people from diverse backgrounds.

W: For a younger person aspiring to be an actuary, the number one priority, in my opinion, is to build a solid foundation in mathematics. Then, work your way up by developing your business acumen in the insurance and financial sectors. You may even want to dip your toes into other areas of study, such as economics or psychology, to gain a better understanding of customer behavioral patterns.

C: Looking back at your childhood, who or what inspired your interest in mathematics?

N: When I was young, my parents used to buy me books on recreational mathematics as a form of leisure reading, because they knew I liked numbers more than words. This gave me chances to acquire little tidbits of mathematical knowledge beyond the school curriculum and deepened my interest in the subject.

W: As a child, I vividly remember that I was passionate about different types of chess games and brain teasers, one of them being Four in a Row. I believe these games were what opened my mind to abstract thinking and inspired my interest in mathematics.

C: You went to the same secondary school and participated in HLMA as a team with two of your schoolmates. Were there any memorable moments from that experience? How was your teamwork demonstrated during the competition?

N: As we were still in secondary school at the time, HLMA gave us an exceptional platform to present our ideas and research to university professors; it was almost like having a painting judged and criticized by art experts. HLMA also gave me the opportunity to engage with the mathematics research conducted by my peers, which was truly an eye-opening experience for me.

When we were competing as a team, the four of us each had our own areas of expertise. This allowed us to complement one another as we were working together to produce the report, which ultimately led to better results.

W: Similarly, the most memorable part for me was participating in the oral defense with my teammates at the Hang Lung office, after we were selected as the finalists. For someone who was still in secondary school at the time, setting foot in an office tower in Central and speaking in front of renowned university professors was an experience as exciting as it was nerve-wracking.

Fortunately, we were competing as a team in which each member had a distinct role to play and was better versed in some areas than the others. As a result, each team member was assigned a different part of the oral defense. This division of roles not only enabled us to better focus on our respective parts, but also facilitated teamwork.

C: Last but not least, as someone who has participated in HLMA, what advice would you give to this year’s competing students?

N: I’d advise everyone to enjoy the process as much as possible. Personally, I think it’s important to take pleasure in the whole experience of conducting research, reflecting on problems, and finding a solution, rather than focusing too heavily on the competitive aspect.

W: I agree 100%! I’d also encourage everyone to enjoy the process, regardless of the outcome. Unlike most mathematics competitions in Hong Kong, which take place in the form of examinations to solve a set amount of mathematical problems within a limited timeframe, HLMA is a research-based competition and the only one of its kind in Hong Kong (at the time). The opportunity to participate in this competition is invaluable in itself.

In addition, the process of mathematics research and discussions allows students to not only hone their analytical skills, but also learn to articulate abstract mathematical concepts. These skills will prove incredibly useful in their future careers across a wide range of fields.

Toby’s and Darren’s experiences as HLMA winners serve as living proof that the competition does more than nurturing students’ mathematical thinking. It also unlocks their potential, giving them the confidence and abilities to spread their wings and soar into a flourishing future.