For Jerry Lau, joining Hawaii Information Service in 1991 was literally like joining family.
The computer and network specialist was a college student when he first worked the company, teaching Realtors how to use a label-printing program that his uncle, Dayton Chan, had developed. When his uncle decided to move to the mainland, Jerry was given the opportunity to take over his position at HIS.
And while he’s a huge fan of computers and technology today, it wasn’t an easy decision back then.
“I had to choose between working with a supermarket or with technology,” he recalls.
At the time, Jerry had already put in five years at Safeway. After starting in the parking lot pushing carts and bagging groceries as a courtesy clerk, then cashier, surviving six months on the night shift. He had a union job with pretty good pay and seniority.
He knew joining HIS would mean starting over. It would also mean that he’d have to step up his schooling to get up to speed on the computer field. But he decided to go for it, working at HIS while attending Kapiolani Community College, then UH Manoa, part-time.
“The company provided me a great opportunity to be able to work and go to school at the same time,” he says. “It took a long time, but I did get my Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems.”
Jerry’s journey starts in China, where he was born and lived until he was eight years old. After spending a couple of years in Hong Kong, he and his family finally immigrated to Hawaii in 1981. His mother was the last of seven siblings to arrive in the islands. They landed at a government housing project in Kalihi, and Jerry was placed in the second grade, where he was several years older than the other kids.
But he caught up fast. He soon jumped from the second grade to the fifth grade. And as the second oldest of four sons, Jerry started working as soon as he could to help support his family. He started as a newspaper boy in Liliha at age 11. And before his supermarket gig, he worked pumping gas and wiping down cars at McKinley Car Wash.
Like many geeks, Jerry reminisces about how much technology has changed. When he started at HIS, customer support calls involved helping people connect to the system with an acoustic coupler modem, or getting a Texas Instruments or Panasonic terminal to work. Monitors were black and white, data was stored on 9-track reel-to-reel tapes, and the small photos in MLS books were digitized by taking pictures of each page with a special camera.
Converting REsearch from a text-based application to a web-facing one (served via the then-new TCP/IP standard) was a game changer. And things only sped up from there.
Today he oversees the maintenance of all in-house computers and servers, which handle everything from email to customer websites, IDX and RETS services, and maps. To minimize impact on customers, he’ll often be on duty late at night or over the weekend to install updates.
“I like computers… and I wouldn’t have been here 21 years if I didn’t,” he says. “There’s still so much stuff I want to learn about computers, and that will never end.”
Jerry also managed customer support for a time, which he says was a valuable learning experience, honing his communications skills and becoming a more patient person.
“One thing that I really like about being a customer support person is that it make me happy when I am able to help customers resolve their issues,” he says. “I still handle the technical and system and network side, so I am still able to help customers in some ways, which still makes me happy.”
Jerry says that he used to collect stamps. He used to go to the gym. He used to swim. But all that changed with his job, and when he started his own family.
“Before I knew my wife, I’d spend my money on equipment just to keep up with technology stuff — Palm Pilots, new printers, computer upgrades,” he says.
But then he did meet his wife, a nurse, when he started driving her home each week after church fellowship. She had come to Hawaii only a few years earlier, and had joined the church to meet new friends and to learn English. They married five years later, and now have a son and daughter.
These days, outside of the office, Jerry’s life revolves around his kids. Trips to the computer store have given way to trips to the beach, or Chuck E. Cheese. If he has any free time, he surfs the web for the latest tech news, or indulges in Chinese movies and TV shows, from martial arts action flicks to soap operas.
Jerry still gets a little exercise at work, though. His coworkers know to clear the aisle when he’s in a hurry, as he’s known for breaking into a run when things get busy.
“I need to get things done, so, I have to go faster,” he explains.
You can encourage Jerry to get his exercise outside of the office by emailing him at email@example.com or calling (808) 748-8776. Did you miss our earlier profiles? Learn about Novena Saludares and Gay Rapisora now. Next month we’ll introduce you to Victor, our director of network operations.