How This Man Went From Getting Fired To Setting Up His Own Photography Academy In Malaysia

"It was a good company, but I wasn't cut out to be a chemist."

Cover image via Andrew Boey

People usually find themselves in a scary place when they get fired, but not for this Malaysian. For him, getting fired was like finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

It was the mid '90s.

Andrew Boey had just graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). He went on to secure a job as a chemist after he was headhunted by a Singaporean industrial-chemical company.

It was said that the field that had the most prospect at that time was Chemistry, which would probably mean that building a career in this field is the most logical thing to do.

However, Andrew was yearning for excitement and he couldn't find it at his workplace.

"White coats in florescent-lit labs with only two co-workers in the whole company: surely not glamorous and expected to be boring," the now 46-year-old said.

The thing is, Andrew has never wanted to become a chemist despite passing his exams with flying colours

Image via Andrew Boey

Even before he decided on the course of study for his higher education, Andrew was certain that he did not have much interest in chemistry but that didn't stop him from pursuing something that he had no passion for.

In his own words, there was "lack of choice".

"You must know, I studied in an era where there was no private university. If you don’t do well in your Form 6 or fall neatly into the ‘quota system's required grades’ you would have wasted two years of doing your lower and upper Form 6. My parents frequently reminded me that they can never afford to send me overseas for my tertiary education. I finished Form 6 and gotten 64 points out of 80," he explained.

"I have always wanted to study Computer Sciences or Business Management, but I was naturally talented in arts and painting," he added.

"Back then, the universities' requirements were 68 and 64 respectively for Computer Science and Business Management degrees. So, I chose Chemistry instead. It is not something I particularly like, but something I know I can do very well academically."

With the limited choices he had, Andrew did his best. However, barely two years into his job, the Penang-born was unceremoniously fired.

Andrew's job at that time was mainly to go from one boiler room to another to test for water samples. He would have repeated chemical analysis on water samples every single day.

He said that it was a "mind numbing" process.

"When I got promoted and travelled less, I decided to open a little computer store selling computer peripherals. However, the company that I worked for had a 'no own business or we fire you' employment policy."

"A promotion-seeking fellow manager got wind of my business and reported me to the CEO and swiftly did me the favour of terminating my boring career there."

"It was a good company, but I wasn't cut out to be a chemist," Andrew said.

Most people would find it demotivating and shameful to lose their job, but Andrew took it rather positively. He decided to start afresh.

"I converted the computer business into a network infrastructure company and web design or digital advertising. At the same time, I started my part-time studies in USM," he said.

On the academic side, Andrew went on to get a Master's degree in Information Technology (IT) and even did a year of PhD in Computing, which he didn't complete since he was mostly based in Kuala Lumpur while the university is in Penang.

During this period of time, he also managed his IT businesses but eventually, he found himself exiting all the businesses he founded to venture fully into photography in the mid-2000s due to the dot-com bubble burst. He wanted to venture into something way less technical.

Image via Andrew Boey

It wasn't easy convincing the people close to him that he was sure of what he was doing. After all, he was taking a completely different path from what he was doing previously.

"My family was not too agreeable with my switches. However, they had not much choice, knowing that I was bored with Chemistry."

"I still remember my mum said this when I went into IT, 'Study Chemistry, but open computer business! What do you know about Computing?' Hence, that was why I went back to do my master's degree in IT at USM," he recalled.

The nagging perception that arts-related studies and work have "no future" goes way back and Andrew has had a fair share of experience with the prejudice.

"Most families deem arts-related studies or works has no future because if you were to go to any universities, the intake acceptance for many arts courses is way less demanding as compared to Science or Engineering courses. Hence why, even my own family, had painted a picture in my young mind back when I was studying that I would want to excel in the Science-streams for better-paying careers in the future."

"Never in my mind would I dare to tell my mum, "No, mum, I don't want to study Science courses, let me go study Arts, and major in Photography in USM.'"

Even when people cast doubts, Andrew was willing to take that step of faith and his efforts paid off today

Image via Andrew Boey

Andrew had taken the risk to venture into photography at a time when the industry was changing rapidly as it was transitioning from film to digital. However, he had an advantage since he was good with film and his strong knowledge in computing made post-processing in the digital era a breeze.

Together with his wife, they went on to set up a photography academy called Nikonian Academy (known as Beyond Photography now), providing photography courses and professional services.

More than 20 years into the business today, the power couple have worked with various well-known local and international brands including Maybank, Fortune Magazine, TAG Heuer, Maxis, Measat, and Sime Darby to name a few.

"Competition back then, when I started were low. Now, with digital photography in the hands of everyone, the LCD screens at the back of the camera make beginners feel that they are immediate professional photographers! But thank god, they barely last more than a year."

Image via Andrew Boey

Although he had spent years studying something he thought was good for himself, eventually Andrew came to terms and discovered his true passion for photography. It was only after he got fired that he began to seriously explore his options.

"I absolutely love what I am doing very much, and my clients love my works too. It doesn't even feel like a job because it is so fun, and my friends can testify to this."

"This is my calling and to be honest, I am even better at this subject (photography), simply because I love it."

Living in the city ain’t a piece of cake but it could also be exciting and adventurous. How are you coping? How are you making the best out of things? Do you have a story or experience to share?

SUBMIT YOUR STORY NOW, or work on it and send it soon. Share a personal experience, your story as an urban city-dweller in Malaysia, whether it’s yours or from someone you know, email [email protected] or FB message us.

We’ll get in touch with you for your story to be featured on SAYS!

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Previously on Malaysian City Life #47, Mohd Ashraff Khan shared about a woman he met at a petrol station who didn't even have the money to buy a cup of instant noodles:

You may be interested in: