Chhun Ly describes himself as “just an average dude off the street,” but you would never guess that by talking to him about what he does for work.
“I probably have one of the coolest jobs on the planet,” he says with a grin.
As a Full Quality Inspection Supervisor at Intuitive for the da Vinci Surgical System, Chhun spends a major portion of his day inspecting and testing the system and running simulated surgery procedures—which he says is “a lot like playing a million-dollar video game.” His absolutely favorite part of the job, however, is getting to see other people, especially medical professionals, try out the system themselves.
“It always feels really good when surgeons and hospital directors come in and get to see up close what da Vinci can do,” he explains. “Their minds are absolutely blown. It’s really a lot of fun.”
A surprising career path
Chhun’s background is not what you might expect. Early in his career, he worked a few jobs in different fields while he was exploring what path he wanted to take, but everything came to a halt during the economic downturn of 2008. Just three months away from the birth of his firstborn child, he began looking for a new position, but companies across the Bay Area were laying off employees, not hiring.
That is, except for one, a vendor he had worked with through one of his previous employers. “I saw Intuitive was hiring,” he recounts. “Hiring like wild, actually, and I thought, ‘Hey, I know that company!’”
With no college degree at the time and zero experience in robotics, Chhun wasn’t overly confident in his prospects, but he gave it a try. His application, too, included a complex assembly test that he was certain he’d failed.
“But then they told me I actually did a lot better than most people—and then they asked me if I wanted to see the robot,” he says, mirroring the same excitement he felt that day. “Are you kidding me? Of course I want to see it! When else is someone going to invite you to play with a medical robot?’”
From there, Chhun started with basic assembly in his first position at the company, moving over the years up to testing, debugging and troubleshooting, and then eventually to being the one who gets to drive the system itself. “That was my dream from that first interview,” he laughs.
Making balance possible
Looking back at the more than 13 years he’s been with the company, Chhun says that he just feels incredibly fortunate. As someone who’s naturally inquisitive and likes to try new things, he believes that Intuitive has been an ideal place to grow and develop.
“They really invest in employees as much as they invest in the business,” he says. “When I’ve expressed interest in learning anything, it's been met with just so much support. There have always been so many people willing to teach me things and advance my career. And I still feel that way.”
And now that Chhun has more or less found his calling, he’s also working toward getting a college degree, with the support of his managers and Intuitive’s employee tuition reimbursement.
“Every single manager pushes you to get out there and just learn and grow, so now I'm starting to pursue my education again,” he says. “I just finished my AA down the street at Mission College—and now it's time to go take some classes at San José State University.”
“It's a little harder now that I'm all grown and I've got kids, but I can balance it all because of the opportunities I’ve gotten from Intuitive,” he continues.
More than just the job
Thinking about others who might be in the same position he was when he started at Intuitive, Chhun’s advice is to consider more than just the paycheck a job provides.
“I think a lot of companies say they have this same kind of philosophy, but actions speak louder than words,” Chhun says about the focus on growth and development he sees at Intuitive. “When you look back, you're going to realize that, although you may have made the same money working at a different job, what you gain is so much greater at a company that invests in you.”
“I really, truly couldn’t image working anywhere else.”