Photo: Jerry Fengwei Zhang.

Zhang nominated for start-up, popular podcast, desire to help people

At the third annual Evoke Canada Developer 30 Under 30 Award earlier this month, fourth-year University of Ottawa software engineering student Jerry Fengwei Zhang was chosen as one of 30 developers under 30 making their mark in Canada today.

The 30 Under 30 Award overall honours Zhang’s career up-to-date, which includes a successful HR start-up called BubbleHR, a Chinese-language podcast that talks about North American technology paradigm changes and consumer electronics for a Chinese audience, and frequent contributions to open-source coding on GitHub, a platform where developers can upload open source code for others to use.

This is Zhang’s second year nominated and his first year on the list. He described making the list as incredible but also bringing with it some responsibilities, since he feels the pressure to live up to the reasons he was nominated.   

“Maybe this is a way for me to nominate more people next year and get this award even bigger. I think I have a mission to spread this thing now. After I got this recognition I feel more of a responsibility because you’re representing a part of this list, you have to be responsible for what you do, and you have to take actions to show that you can actually do all these things that the award highlights,” Zhang said.  

Zhang sees his software designs as having a larger purpose and a part to play in making the world a better place. Though he admits it sounds like a Silicon Valley catchphrase, his intentions are genuine.

“This is why I wanted to develop software, to help people achieve something. It sounds cliché, it sounds like the Silicon Valley ‘Make the world a better place,’ but that’s true, that’s exactly what I wanted to do, which is make tools that help people live and work better,” Zhang said.

Zhang came to Canada from China when he was 17 to study abroad. Coming from a mixed family and a city with many different ethnic groups, Zhang found Canada to be a perfect fit. When it came time to apply to university, the U of O’s CO-OP program persuaded him to accept an offer here.

Zhang first became interested in software when he received an iPod Shuffle as a gift and wanted to understand how it worked. From there, he started following tech news and that eventually led him to coding. One of the first programming languages he tried to learn was Apple’s Swift, and he now frequently works with HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and other front-end, user-experience codes.

“It is the front-face of the internet,” said Zhang. “It was amazing to me that I could write something up and instantly view it on the browser.”  

His start-up, BubbleHR, is a human resource information system parsing and organizing resumes and presenting them to recruiters. It was designed so that recruiters could tailor their interviews to the interviewee to ask more customized and meaningful questions, something that Zhang, who described himself as a “frequent interviewee” feels not enough companies are doing.

“I prepare for my interview, so should the recruiter. If you both prepared, you can bring the conversation to a new level. What I personally wanted to achieve with this product was to provide more confidence to the candidate and to the recruiter by providing more information,” he said.  

His popular podcast is geared towards a Chinese audience and focuses on Western consumer tech, product design, and paradigm changes.

“I wanted to bring the North American tech perspective to somewhere different,” Zhang said. I wanted to deliver the ideology, the things that are trendy, the things that are good to another part of the world.”

In his academic career, Zhang credited a second-year engineering management course and courses about the engineering profession as helping push his own career along. In the management course particularly, Zhang learned entrepreneurial skills and business management skills that he couldn’t learn on his own as easily as new code, and which helped him start the business and podcast that led to his nomination.

“I feel like I’m still living in a dream right now talking about this,” Zhang said.