Career Advice Working Women

Lady surveyor makes waves

The combination of office and outdoor work is a key source of job satisfaction for Pang Mei-ho, a senior surveyor with the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) who specialises in marine surveying.

“My work takes me to places most other Hong Kong people rarely visit,” says Pang, whose collection of iPad photographs would be the envy of many professional photographers. “I feel lucky that I see Hong Kong in different weather conditions and from many different perspectives.”

Pang is the first female to hold a senior surveying position at the CEDD. Her duties take her from the rocky shores of outlying islands to the busy navigation channels of Victoria Harbour.

Every three months, for instance, Pang and her colleagues visit Waglan Island to inspect tidal-observation and recording gauges, which are under the management of the Marine Department.

“Unlike other CEDD departments, where responsibilities are usually divided into districts, we work anywhere in Hong Kong waters where we are needed,” Pang says.

In the past, her skills have been called upon to track down shipping containers washed overboard during typhoons. “At times like this, my work is rewarding because I am involved with keeping the shipping lanes safe,” she says.

More frequently, however, Pang’s work involves conducting surveys that enable engineers to build breakwaters, seawalls, piers and other marine constructions. Marine surveys are also required to implement dredging and reclamation projects.

Pang joined the CEDD in 1984 after completing Form Five and continued her professional studies at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University while working in the department.

She has experienced many changes since first boarding a vessel to work at sea. “On some projects, it used to take as many as seven sampans and a surveyor on land to take our measurements,” she says. In today’s technology-assisted world, Pang relies on sophisticated sonar equipment, which can produce accurate underwater maps and pictures.

New technology also means there are fresh skills to learn. “The CEDD is very good at providing in-house or third-party training programmes relevant to our work,” she says. Pang herself has completed various technology and soft-skills training programmes.

In addition to technical skills, Pang says she needs to pay close attention to planning, leadership and communication. “When you spend time on a small boat with colleagues and boat operators, you need to have good communication skills to co-ordinate projects,” she says.

“We spend a lot of time at sea, so not only is clear communication and teamwork necessary to do our jobs and for the experience to be rewarding, it is also necessary for safety reasons,” she adds.

But even with the best planning there is still the odd hairy moment, such as the time when a two-metre wave of wake from a passing ship tossed sensitive equipment around. “Luckily a colleague caught our computer in her lap as it shot off the table,” Pang says.

On land, Pang spends time in the office producing computer-generated drawings, maps and underwater pictures that engineers work from. She also helps to co-ordinate and participate in exchange visits to the mainland.

Believing in the idiom “variety is the spice of life”, Pang says her work complements her career aspirations and fits comfortably with her family life. “Unless we are dealing with an emergency or time-sensitive project, we usually work normal office hours,” she says.

When her daughter was younger, working regular hours meant Pang and her engineer husband could spend time helping their daughter with her homework together. “Spending as much time with my family has always been very important,” Pang says.

These days, even though Pang’s 15-year-old daughter attends a school near the historic city of Bath, in England, mother and daughter still speak every day by phone. “Sometimes we talk for more than an hour. We always have so much to talk about, and not just about school work,” Pang says, adding that she is more of an encouraging mum than a “tiger mother”.

In common with her approach to her work, Pang says maintaining a balance between work and family time is a matter of careful planning. “We try to arrange our holidays to coincide with our daughter’s school holidays when she returns to Hong Kong.”

Away from work, Pang says her family enjoys spending time together either in Hong Kong or travelling to places such as Thailand. Cooking together is also another family passion. At weekends she sometimes takes family and friends to the out-of-the-way places she has discovered in the course of her work.

“I believe if you enjoy your work, it also gives you the energy and enthusiasm for the events in your family life,” Pang says.