Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Ru Hong

Seah Ru Hong will be receiving his Master of Computing in Computer Science degree this July. The thing he enjoys most about being a student here is the immense relief of completing a particularly difficult assignment. He’s an ‘East-side’ guy and loves the convenience of the East-West MRT line, when it’s actually working. He also did his Bachelor’s degree with us from 2003 to 2007, and can claim to have been a student of both the IS and CS departments.

What do you do now?
I co-founded my company QQstayQQstay is a website that helps people find reliable property agents through customer reviews. I’m the only software engineer on the team and I developed the website. 
For many, property is the biggest purchase of a lifetime and you want to entrust this important deal to someone reliable. Advertisements of property agents are very common, and yet, finding a reliable property agent is not as easy as it should be. Very often, we rely on our friends’ recommendations to engage a property agent. What if we can bring those recommendations online? Hence, we created QQstay, a community where people can share reviews of property agents in Singapore. 
We believe that customer reviews can also help property agents. Positive reviews attract more customers and constructive feedback help agents to level up their service. It is a win-win situation. No one can deny the influence of online reviews on purchase decisions. Nowadays, we don’t book an overseas vacation until we have read a TripAdvisor review. We want to bring the same effect to the property agent profession. 
Currently, I am working to add other service providers to the QQstay community, such as renovation contractors, electricians and plumbers.

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date? 
I was the regional winner of the Google Cloud Developer Challenge 2013. It was during this time when I started to learn website development on the Google Cloud Platform. The Google Cloud Platform is powerful, easy to setup and affordable. When our QQstay website was in the prototype stage, I did not have to pay a single cent for using Google’s cloud. That’s because the Google Cloud Platform is free to use so long as your application lives within its basic resource quotas. There are no limited time trials. That’s ideal for entrepreneurs like me who need to quickly iterate on prototyping, without having to worry about splurging on experiments. 
I reinvested the prize money of US$20,000 into my start-up QQstay. Google also disbursed an additional grant of US$18,000 to SoC as I was representing the school.

What was your academic path before coming to NUS Computing?
I enrolled in NUS through the ‘A’ levels route. SoC was my first choice even though I did not read ‘A’ level Computing. I was very curious about computers and the Internet as I spend a lot of time on these media (still do).  

Which NUS Computing faculty members made impressions on you? 
Several teaching staff have impressed me with their patience and dedication. Particularly, I want to thank Mr Aaron Tan, Prof Chua Tat Seng, Prof Yu Haifeng, Prof Ng Teck Khim, Prof Chan Chee Yong, Prof Heng Cheng Suang and Prof Tan Kian Lee. Last but not least, I want to thank Dr. Sharon Tan for her referral to help me gain admission to the MComp programme.
I also want to thank the school committee that decided to teach Java to freshmen many years ago. The Java programming language has been my steady workhorse throughout my career and I still use Java extensively at work now. The Java ecosystem is so mature that I can always find a tool I need without having to reinvent the wheel. 

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I got my Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems (E-commerce) but I pursued a Master’s degree in Computer Science. Moving to a more technical career is off the beaten track in Singapore. But I was determined to pursue a technical career out of passion, even though sometimes I feel like I am swimming against the tide. I hope that, one day, engineering and management would be equally viable career paths in Singapore, just like the top software houses in the US. 
I must confess that I was one of those ‘kiasu’ students when I was an undergrad. I was obsessed with my grades, so I felt insecure when I entered SoC with zero programming background. I remembered that I totally flunked an interview for a vacation job because I did not know how to create a database table in Microsoft Access! Thanks to SoC’s dedicated teaching team, not only did my confidence in programming grow but I fell in love with it. Even though I find the technical parts interesting, I hesitated to risk my grades by reading more Computer Science modules, which have a reputation of being really hard.   
So when I came back to do my Master’s, I gave myself a new goal; and that is to learn as much as I can. I wanted to take all the interesting modules, no matter how intimidating they may seem. The course requires 10 modules, out of which at least 5 must be in Computer Science. I took 9 CS modules. I have very humble grades but I’m satisfied with what I have learnt.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not studying or working?
To satisfy my own curiosity, I like to do data visualizations in my spare time. I have a side project SG Charts that showcases public data ranging from salary, COE prices to dengue clusters. Recently I read two great books that I would like to share with everyone: Peter Siebel’s Coders At Work and Brad Stone’s The Everything Store. 

Quick-fire! Most annoying word? 
When people ask you to “revert” to emails

Guilty pleasures?
I have only just discovered the Game of Thrones books and I recently finished A Clash of Kings. I can’t resist a good tiramisu, which is hard to find in Singapore!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Brandon Chew, who is by this Editor’s estimation, a fashion-conscious young man, thinks Korean sweatpants are the best fashion trend and that Crocs are the worst. His pet peeve is when towel-free people leave sweat all over gym equipment benches after working out. For fun, he likes to indulge in a good, high-level game of DOTA2, read a book or travel. He also dreams of schools where little rabbits are allowed to do nothing but run all day. Brandon has just completed his third year of our Computer Science programme.

Brandon with Dendi at The International 4, Seattle, USA.

Describe your SoC experience. 
[I enjoy] meeting like-minded people and being able to build value-adding products rather than solving meaningless coding problems. [What I find most challenging is] doing coding assignments/modules which I have absolutely no interest/aptitude. *Ahem* CS1231 CS3230. [What I find most interesting, however, is] disruptive innovation.

Which faculty made impressions on you?
Aaron - regular Facebook musings always keeps my brain working 
Steven Halim - likes to make his modules competitive, which ups the difficulty one notch. Achievement unlocked if you get an A for his modules. Nevertheless, very passionate about whatever he's teaching.

Is there anything you would have done differently during your time here?
I definitely wouldn't have traded the first 2 years where I basically went yolo with school. Totally didn't study, failed a lot of modules while doing professional gaming. It made me fearless of failure and I had a lot of unforgettable experiences. The people I met during those 2 years also changed my life. 
I would've started my entrepreneurial journey earlier. I love disruptive innovation and I hope I can change the world with the ideas I have in mind.

What do you think makes your student experience different than that of any other student?
I played Dota 2 professionally. I'm proud about taking the path less travelled.

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date?
Being able to travel around the world to play Dota 2 professionally has got to be the most challenging yet rewarding experience I've had to date. Nothing beats doing what you love and are good at. I chose to pursue it because I'm no respecter of rules and the Singapore education system is one of them. I've been playing Dota for 13 years now. I started in Dota 1 where I just played a lot and got to know the Singapore community. Teamed up with a few dudes and played a few tournaments. For those who know the scene, we always placed behind Scythe.SG and XtC which was a big enough feat back then. I took a hiatus because of army but when I came back I found the same few people I played with and the rest is history. I've been to places I wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to go to without Dota. Sure we had to work really hard with daily training sessions which could last into the wee hours of the night, for up to 5 years, but it was all worth it. 
[One of the highlights was] my experience as a spectator at TI5 (The International 5). I was fortunate to have a friend playing in MVP.Phoenix so I basically got everything free minus the air ticket. Sitting in the VIP booth was amazing. Free flow drinks and buffet. Awesome panoramic view of Key Arena. Soaking in an atmosphere of diehard Dota 2 fans. The entire experience is just too amazing. After party was amazinger talking to basically all the personalities and players and getting to know their stories, too bad it was short-lived because I was stupid enough to schedule my flight at 2am that night. I will continue to go to TIs probably till the day I die and hopefully participate in one myself :D

What did you want to be when you were younger? Is that still an interest of yours?
So let me put it this way. What do you think of this life? Go to school get good grades, get into university. Graduate and become a doctor/banker/lawyer. Earn money, get married have kids, watch them grow up, retire and die peacefully. Is that a life worth living? To me, no, that's boring as heck. This quote says it all: 
"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive." - Oriah Mountain Dreamer

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I'm a huge rebel with a strong personality. But at the same time I'm a devout Christian. Don't know whether that will surprise people. Haha

What are your future plans?
Go back to Dota 2 after university. Do a startup. Currently looking to kickstart one of my projects called GymRats. It’s basically a Hungrygowhere/TripAdvisor for gyms and fitness centres in Singapore but with a lot more to it. You can check it out at

Thursday, 29 October 2015


Trust Colin Tan’s responses to break the eight-question mould. He says he’s extremely free spirited and can sometimes fire off wildly inappropriate things, but he doesn’t mean any harm. One of his pet peeves, however, might result in someone being harmed one day, because he finds it very hard not to punch people in the back of the head when they walk around with their heads down looking at their mobile phones – but he says that ‘as civilised individuals, we must try our best not to’. If there were only three things he could eat for the rest of his life, it would be cold fish ball noodles (explained later), durians and satay. He reckons that Singapore’s best kept secret is the satay shop across the road from his house.

Colin, as commander of the Achaemenid guards.

Where did you grow up?
I was born in a cow-shed (Kandang Kerbau) in a small sunny grungy seaport island called Singapore, which, according to legend, comes from the phrase “Singh Kapo!”, which means “Mr. Singh confiscated my stuff!”. True story. I spent a little bit of time in the Arabian deserts fulfilling my own dreams of being Lawrence of Arabia (minus the discomforts of riding camels all day long, and add in the creature comforts of the biggest most ornate malls you’ve ever seen). Think of it as Lawrence of Arabia with drinks by the beach.
But yeah most of my 25 years of existence was in Singh Kapo.

Describe your work and its significance.
I’m a typical boy, so I love anything that has flashing lights and beeps. Major brownie points if it flies, so naturally I found my love in drones. They’re big, loud, have flashing lights and they fly! How much cooler can you get than that?
Right…many drones! So I’m working on a cheap way to coordinate large clusters of big, loud, flashy, flying machines.

What effect do you think your field will have on the world in the next decade?
Lots. Surveillance, making money, transport, making money, making the world a better place, making money, world peace, making money. And making money.

Describe your SoC experience. 
As a student, [I enjoyed having] uber-cool profs like A/P Leong Hon Wai, who taught me (via his infamous Cattywampus lecture) that I should never trust anyone. Least of all professors. I carry on that tradition with my students, who have learnt that professors can “convince” you of anything.
As a staff member, in all seriousness, I love SoC! It’s the awesomest workplace in the world with colleagues who care about what they do and about giving their best to the students. It’s no wonder we’re #1. :D
Colleagues aside, management is extremely supportive, especially when it comes to coolest ways to teach our students. Watch out for a drone class coming in January 2017!

What do you find most challenging/interesting?
Definitely starting up a new class all on your own, with absolutely no idea where to begin. It’s fun but stressful because there’s no reference point, and students will hate you if you screw it up! Also teaching is like marriage; no one notices when you’re doing a great job, but mess up and there’s going to be tons of complaints in your feedback.
But I take all that in my stride. Ultimately if we care about our students, karma will take care of us. :)

Who made impressions on you?
Students: My awesome CS3216 teaching team! They’re brilliant, extremely dedicated people who endure no end of abuse from me but yet deliver all my marks accurately and on time! In particular Tay Yang Shun, who is helping me pro-bono this semester. Seriously how much awesome-r can you get than that?
Staff: Where do I begin? Damith, Gary, Yuen Jien, Steven, Ben, Lifeng, Sun Teck, Aaron and a ton of other colleagues who are extremely dedicated to ensuring that their students get the best in their education. And of course Prof. Leong Hon WaiCattywampus.

What was the craziest thing that you did during your time here? 
So many stories! Giving first aid to an unconscious girl in the toilet (there were other staff present around me), catching and detaining a mentally unstable individual until campus security and the police arrived, getting sliced by a drone propeller, having a drone crash while delivering a project to a customer, getting stalked by a student for a bit, having another student refuse to leave my office until I agreed to pass him for something (despite the fact he had absolutely no clue about the subject matter),  suicidal students, another student whose father was shouting at her so much that I was trying to calm him down..
Many other stories... being a prof is kinda exciting.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your time as a student?
Taken mathematics much more seriously. I am very math challenged. Also taking design concepts more seriously. I’m a pretty good back-end coder, but, while I have decent design and colour matching skills, I can’t code front-ends to save my life. 

What is the one thing you would change about NUS?
Have more schools be as awesome as SoC. No, seriously. Students tell me how they love the friendly, informal atmosphere here, where profs are often more like senior friends.

What do you think makes your experience here different than anyone else’s?
I’m blessed with the ability to convince people of just about anything. Especially about knowing something I really don’t know anything about. That makes life much easier.

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date?
I’m extremely proud of my CS3216 Software Development for Digital Markets class. :) Every year I get the best students in the school, put them through the wringer, and make them even better than when they started. 
Actually [before running CS3216] I was pursuing something else, and I asked Ben Leong for advice, and he said “Hey why don’t you take over CS3216?” And I was like “Oh ok”.
I never got that something else done, but I inherited what is probably the most legendary class in the whole of NUS. :)
Running this class takes very thick skin, which fortunately I have. The bulk of the lectures are delivered by guest speakers, covering topics from project management, to communication, to sales and marketing. It’s not your typical technical class.
This also means I constantly have to approach people I don’t know but who have interesting backgrounds, and convince them to give up 2-3 hours of their time on a Monday night (and sometimes other nights as well) to come give a talk to my students.
The thing I’ve learnt though is that people are amazingly helpful. I’ve never been rejected before. :)
[I am lucky I have an] awesome Teaching Assistant, Chin Su Yuen, who also runs her own company called Momocentral, specialising in outsourcing coding and designing jobs. 

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
I wanted to be a pilot! In fact after my PhD I applied to SIA to become a cadet pilot. After hearing nothing except for the sound of crickets, I applied for a teaching appointment here in SoC, and here I am!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Hmm that’s a tough one. I sometimes spend my free time coding up my own iOS apps, or writing software for my drones.. but the beauty of my job is that I can count that as work!
Aside from being a geek… I love a good single malt and a great Cuban or Nicaraguan cigar. Hakushu + Cohiba Corona Especial. You can’t get better than that.

Quick-Fire: What’s your signature dish?
I make a pretty good ayam buah keluak! Also pork rib curry, beer pork ribs, and quite a few other things. I can cook almost any cuisine except Chinese. Chinese food is _hard_ with its elaborate ingredients and seasonings.
I mean.. take the famous sweet-sour pork. The sauce is made up of tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, pineapples, onions and peppers.. and because Chinese flavours are relatively delicate, you have to balance everything well. With Indian or Peranakan/Malay cuisine, you can just spice everything to death. But not with Chinese cuisine.
Vietnamese cuisine is very simple, but so delicious!

Best movie you’ve seen this year?
Don’t remember any good movies this year, but the best movie I’ve _ever_ watched in my life is Cloud Atlas. It’s a huge story spanning 500 years showing how one’s actions today can affect the fates and destinies of thousands of people, hundreds of years down the road.
“Death, life, birth. Future, present, past. Everything is connected"

Worst fear?
Hair in the bathroom drain grating. >.<

Guilty pleasures?
I absolutely love cold noodles. No, not soba, but normal fish ball noodles or wanton noodles. I’d buy a packet early in the morning, leave it until it’s nice and cold (which, in my office, is about 23 degrees C), and guzzle it down! When I tell anyone that they’d go “Ewww that’s disgusting!”
But it’s seriously good.
I also have an unhealthy obsession with African cuisine, though I’ve never tried it. But ugali with peanut stew? How can that not be good?

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
i) Adolf Hitler (no seriously… what the hell was he thinking?)
ii) Jesus (He’s God. How much cooler can you get?)
iii)  Elon Musk (Charming brilliant man!)

What would be your ‘dream’ Halloween costume?
I'd go with happy clown in full clown getup and huge shoes wielding a honker in one hand and a huge axe in the other. The idea is to hack someone to a couple of pieces, honk a few times and run away gleefully laughing. That would be legen...wait for it...dary. Legendary!

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email

Friday, 28 August 2015


Girisha Durrel De Silva is in his fifth year of our Computer Science PhD programme. He loves model railroading but has not been able to indulge in his hobby here in Singapore. He also watches cheesy reality shows even though he knows that most of them are scripted. Being from a cricket obsessed nation, like all the other kids, he wanted to be national cricket player, but then he grew up and realized it wasn’t his forte. Like other cyclists we’ve interviewed here, he hopes that our campus could be made more cycle-friendly. Girisha’s ultimate dinner guests would be former Top Gear UK presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. He’s currently planning on a career in the teaching track of academia. 

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Kandy is considered a sacred city and is well known around the world as it is home to the temple of the Tooth Relic which houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. Kandy is also a popular tourist destination among the foreigners and the locals living in other parts of the island because of the cool climate, thickly forested hills and many historic landmarks. 
During my childhood, my city used to be more laid back in nature. For example, most of the shops would close by 6 pm and most bus services would stop by 7 pm :). So people used to spend more time with their families and enjoy the finer things in life :) I did all my schooling in Kandy and moved to the capital to pursue my degree at the University of Colombo.

Why are you doing a PhD?
I have played around with computers since I was very young and I have always been fascinated about all things related to computing. My eagerness to learn about computing made me pursue a degree in computing. Midway through my degree I got to work on a small scale research project in my university and that experience really made me think that research is what I want to do in future and here I am pursuing a PhD at NUS.

Describe your research and its significance.
Mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous and people are moving from the traditional desktops to mobile devices to carry out their day to day computing tasks. For better performance, limited bandwidth and battery capacity of mobile devices need to be addressed by better power and bandwidth management techniques. 
State-of-the-art mobile devices in the market are equipped with multiple communication interfaces such as cellular, WiFi and bluetooth radio. Each interface has different power, radio and data rate characteristics. In brief, my research concentrates on exploring the diversities provided by these interfaces to improve the performance of a mobile device in terms of power consumption and data rates. 
In few years, almost everything in the world will be connected to the Internet and as a result, networking in general is going to impact our lives even more than today. Therefore, solutions to most of the interesting problems being researched by the networking community today, will be applied by people on a day to day basis in the next decade.

Describe your SoC experience.
[I enjoy] doing research work with professors who are world class in their research fields. The suggestions, criticisms and the guidance they provide help us to improve our work and follow the right direction. [The most challenging part is] coming up with a research problem which is both interesting and practical.
I work closely with two professors, namely: Prof. Chan Mun Choon who is my adviser and also Prof. Wei Tsang Ooi who is my co-adviser. Both professors are very kind and are always willing to help me in my research work through effective guidance. If someone wants a definition for hard work then they should see how my professors work :). Out of the courses I attended I really enjoyed attending Prof. Chang Ee-Chien’s course as he kept us entertained throughout the class with his witty jokes while delivering the lecture content. During my first semester at NUS I attended a course conducted by Prof. Tulika Mitra. I needed to make up for my low scores during mid-term and had to clear a lot of queries related to the first half of the course content. In spite of her busy schedule, she was kind enough to give me an appointment in which she patiently answered all my queries. 
I also used to be a tutor for an introductory networking module for Undergraduate students at SoC. It was a great experience to work with a bunch of very talented students.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
My grandfather is from Hubei, China. That makes me part Chinese :)

Worst design?
Internet Explorer. LoL.

Favourite sports team?
The Sri Lankan cricket team and the English Rugby Team

Pet peeve?
Seeing unread emails, messages etc. At least take time to mark all of them read :D

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email

Tuesday, 28 July 2015


If there was one thing from an NUS canteen stall that Mohammad Mobashir could eat for the rest of his life, it would be the peanut butter waffles with an extra scoop of peanut butter (from The Terrace’s drink stall). He must have a thing for peanuts because he also thinks that the best hawker food in Singapore is the satay with peanut sauce that he gets from a stall at Lau Pa Sat. Fake English accents peeve him, but just give him some bubble wrap to pop (guiltily gleefully) and he’ll be all right. Mobashir also enjoys the satisfaction of being able to ‘tick off’ all the countries he’s travelled to and would like travel around the world in the future.

In his lab. (Photo credit: Nimantha Baranasuriya)

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kolkata (Calcutta) which is referred to as the “City of Joy" in India. It is one of those cities which would embrace you and leave you with a bit of it in your heart. I’ve read somewhere and totally agree that if you want a clean city go to Delhi, if you want a city full of rich and famous people go to Mumbai, if you want a tech-savvy city go to Bangalore but if you want a city with a soul you can’t look beyond any other city other than Kolkata.

In Kerala (Photo credit: Nimantha Baranasuriya)

What are you studying at SoC?
I’m in the third year of my PhD in Computer Science. My research interest lies in the confluence of Wireless Sensor Networks and the Internet of Things (IoT). I aim to build communication protocols which would perform well in an environment consisting of numerous devices generating a lot of interference for each other. Hopefully when the IoT hype meets the Tech Reality, people might find my work useful. 
I can classify myself as a Full Stack Developer, a person who looks into the research and development of the different layers of the networking protocol suite for Internet of Things. With more and more technologies coming into existence ranging from ZigBee to Bluetooth to WiFi, a common communication paradigm would be necessary. I hope I would be able to fill this void. 

Describe your SoC experience.
SoC has given me a platform to play multiple roles during my stay here from being a student to an independent researcher to a tutor. I have been gifted with a blend of a motivating supervisor, helpful colleagues and curious students. 
The most challenging thing [I’ve faced here] was to adapt my eating habits. No, it is not that I have started eating particularly healthy meals like McDonalds (pun intended). Instead the change has been in my eating timings where the dinner ends around 6 in the evening. Surprisingly that was the time I used to finish eating my evening snacks back in India :P.
One improvisation to the campus according to me should be adding a lot of foosball tables. I seem to have acquired an addiction for it during my internship at Microsoft Research and somehow I'm finding it hard to overcome it :(. 
Besides doing research I manage to take some time out to travel to different countries. I love travelling and wished that my career had been oriented towards a profession which demanded travelling :(. Luckily as a graduate student we get to travel for conferences and I'm trying my best to make the most out of it! 

In Dubai

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
I wanted to become a cartoonist. I'm still interested in it but as a hobbyist instead of a profession. I enjoy sketching cartoon characters whenever I take time out of PhD and perhaps that's the reason why I enjoy movies like "Madagascar" instead of "My Fair Lady".

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Something that surprises a lot of my friends is that I have not watched even a single episode of Friends or Big Bang Theory or the many other television series which are rated above 9 in IMDB and is bread and butter to all my friends. Trust me that I had to look into IMDB right now to get the list of popular TV series to answer this question :P.

What advice would you give a prospective PG student?
Keep calm and research hard. More importantly, stay away from discussion leading to "When are you graduating?" and profiles of fellow PhD candidates publishing like a machine. One thing that I have learnt from PhD is to accept "rejects" sportingly. Be it from a prospective girlfriend or a top rank conference. If we work hard enough we are definitely going to get what we dream for.

In Abu Dhabi

Quick-Fire. Worst fear?
Locked in a room with a dog. Even the tiniest Chihuahua scares the @#$@ out of me :-/

Three items you'd want if you were stranded on a deserted island for eternity?
1. Some bubble wrap
2. My Timberlands shoes
3. And of course decent supply of water 

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Khyathi, literally.

Class of 2014 Information Systems alumna Khyathi Nirmal Kumar hails from Chennai, a city in the South-Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Most people would be surprised to learn that she’s an introvert, and only 22 years old. If there was one thing from an NUS canteen stall that she could eat for the rest of her life, it would be The Terrace’s Western stall’s eggless brownies. She hates piercings of any kind and the incorrect usage of the word ‘literally’ [Ed: I hate to break it to ya Khyathi but they’ve accepted that ‘incorrect’ usage so technically it’s no longer wrong – I know, I know it’s the end of civilisation]. If there was one thing she would change about SoC, it would be to have modules with more emphasis on practical, real-life projects and experiences, especially for less technical courses like IS. When she’s not working and broke, she enjoys sleeping and binge watching TV shows. When she’s not working and flush, she loves travelling. Khyathi’s three ultimate dinner party guests would be Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and one of her own bosses, Prantik Mazumdar

Khyathi about to do some adventure parasailing on one of her travels abroad

What do you do now? 
I currently work as a Senior Consultant, Search and Social Media, at a Singapore-based digital agency called Happy Marketer. I handle clients from the Education and Technology verticals. My main responsibilities include client management, strategy and project management. I've always been fascinated with creativity and marketing requires creativity to be used to solve business challenges. I find this mix very interesting and this made me apply to agencies to do internships when I was studying.
Happy Marketer is a digital agency founded by NUS SoC alumni Rachit Dayal, who is also an NOC alumni. We help businesses innovate and grow their business through Digital. Some of our services include Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Paid Advertising and Web Analytics. The company turns seven this June and has grown at an amazing pace since its inception in 2009. It is now one of the leading independent agencies in the region. 
I am currently in the process of transitioning to a new role at Happy Marketer. This role involves managing branding, PR, internal marketing, award submissions, industry research for Happy Marketer as well as charting out the strategy for all our existing clients, pitch planning for new clients and lastly defining processes and benchmarks which we as a company should live up to in-order to stay ahead of competition.
I have loved working at HM since I started interning here 3 years ago. I've been in the company since we were just 4-5 people in a tiny office, and I am here now when we are 30+ people strong. I've been through the entire journey with the team and even though I did not start the company, it feels like my baby!

So, I am really excited and thrilled about this role because it is my one big chance to shape the brand, to shape the work that we deliver and to assist on a strategic level, and really give something back to the company.
Marketing has always been crucial [in business], it’s just the way it's delivered or executed that changes every decade. As boundaries and limitations keep reducing, the amount of clutter around us increases every day. Hence, as marketers, we hope to be able to help brands connect with their customers and stand out of the clutter by being "future ready". 

Describe your SoC experience.
I loved 2 things the most - the diverse classes and the CCAs. I met some of my closest friends in SoC who I still stay in touch with. I loved hanging out with them on campus, camping at SoC, working late nights or even just slacking to take a break. As for the CCAs, I was the Vice Chair of the NUS Student Chapter of the ACM. I've always been passionate about organizing events and running this club for over 2 years was one of the most memorable things for me as a SoC-ian. My team organized multiple events that were useful for techies. One of my favourite events was Developer Weekend which was the largest student-run hackathon at the time. Being a part of this club taught me a lot about leadership, expanded my network as I used to reach out to companies for corporate sponsorships and gave me a lot of experience with marketing. It was like my own little project. Another very interesting initiative by NUS ACM was Code for Cause (CFC). CFC was set-up to help social enterprises or NGOs that need technical help, be it building a website or an app or even something trivial. My team worked with 2-3 enterprises and built products that helped these companies. Sadly, the club is not very functional at the moment from what I hear, but those 2 years got us a lot of recognition in NUS.

Khyathi receiving the Student Achievement Award for Code for Cause

The most challenging thing for me was to balance work and school. I used to intern or work part-time pretty much every semester and it was good fun balancing school, work and my personal life. Even while studying, I was working with Happy Marketer which kept my passion for marketing alive. Studying IS and working in Marketing kinda go well together. I applied things that I learnt at school at work. And work helped me discover my interests, which helped me structure my curriculum in school and not just take modules blindly. 
Of course, this was possible only because of the flexibility that SoC and HM provided me with. And that's another thing I love about SoC. The school not only gives students enough space to discover or pursue their passion, but also supports them whenever possible.
Prof. Anand Ramchand was one of my favourite profs in year 1. I loved his style of teaching, it’s very practical and interesting. There are 2 other profs that I really admire, Prof. Tan Wee Kek and Prof. Tuan Phan. I studied the toughest modules in my curriculum with them and it’s awesome how they support their students. For Prof. Tan's module, he used to stay around on campus, overnight, to help students with their projects. His students were his first priority and he just goes the extra mile to help them. Prof. Tuan was my FYP supervisor. Everyone told me FYP would be tough and it was. But it just became so much more enjoyable with a great supervisor like Prof. Phan. He's always open to suggestions and he doesn't micromanage. He gives students the liberty and support to experiment, fail and re-try. 
[On top of all that,] we did have a lot of fun while we worked overnight on group projects. We'd play card games, share silly stories, take funny/embarrassing pictures of friends while they dozed off, draw on their face etc :P [If there was one thing I would have done differently,] I think I would have liked to try more cross-university or global programmes. Learning and travelling at the same time :)

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date?
Being recognised as the "Most Promising Newcomer" in Asia in the marketing industry (at the 2015 Mumbrella Asia Awards in May). It was my first "big" achievement. I just made sure I continuously add value to the company (Happy Marketer) and its clients, and keep learning every single day - and it paid off! Both my bosses and my clients were kind enough to recommend me and nominate me for this award. My bosses, Rachit & Prantik who've always been my mentors, my friends & family, my clients & colleagues. I just made sure I have fun doing my work :)

Khyathi with her bosses and colleagues at the 2015 Mumbrella Asia Awards

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
I wanted to be an astronaut! Haha! I am still very fascinated with space and stars and extra-terrestrial activities and would definitely like to visit another planet someday (doesn't seem so unreal given all the advancements!).

What are your future plans?
No big plans yet. But 3 things that I want to do, backpack around the world, start a business at some point, help social causes through marketing (as in take up pro-bono marketing projects that can make a difference).

Quick-Fire! Worst fear?
Getting tickled :P. 
On a serious note: losing my freedom

Worst experience with public transportation?
Hate traveling by buses specially double deckers. The constant feeling that you might just be thrown out of the window while moving on the upper deck is scary! :P

Most interesting development in technology this year?
I am very curious about the interesting applications of IoT in store for us!

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015


Francis Yeoh is, in his words, ‘a true blue Singaporean, born and raised here, served NS, likes durian, kway chap, yong tau foo and chili crab’. He did, however, spend seven years in England and one in Boston ‘collecting a few pieces of paper’. His guilty pleasure is having beef jerky with beer at the end of a hot day. He thinks that the most interesting recent development in technology is the drone because there are just so many application possibilities. Francis chairs the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Committee at SoC.

Francis and his wife Karol at Machu Picchu, Peru

What are you working on and why are you passionate about it?
My work in the last 30 years or so has always revolved around research, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, whether as a research scientist, research institute director, start-up CEO, venture investor, government policy maker, or university professor.  
I have lived through Singapore’s incredible transformation from third world to first and saw how the country cleverly transitioned from a labour intensive economy in the 60s to the sophisticated knowledge-based metropolis that it is today, thanks to the hard work, foresight and resilience of our founding leaders and pioneer generation. Moving ahead in an increasingly complex and inter-connected world, I believe Singapore has to develop a thriving entrepreneurial wing to the economy, to complement the FDI (foreign direct investment) led strategy that had served us well in the 70s and 80s but is no longer adequate for the future. A robust economy should have both large corporations for stability and resilience as well as numerous fast-growing startups, for agility, dynamism and renewal. This is why in my past work in government, whether in the National Science and Technology Board (now A*STAR) or the National Research Foundation, I had pushed for the development of an eco-system that will support the entrepreneurial community of startups, venture capital, angel investors and supporting services. The universities have an important role to play in supplying innovative technologies and the entrepreneurs that are the central players in such an eco-system.  
SoC, as a top-ranked computer science school can and should certainly play a key role. SoC could produce graduates who are not just technically competent but also possess drive and resourcefulness, and a desire to experience the intensity and pace of the startup world rather than take up a safe job with a large corporation or government agency.  
What a few SoC colleagues and I hope to do here is to educate and equip SoC students with the entrepreneurial skills needed to work in a tech start-up and to encourage and guide them in the first steps of their entrepreneurial journey and help connect them to the local startup eco-system.  

Describe your SoC experience. 
What I find enriching is the opportunity to interact with bright, driven young people, both in my class (IS3251: Principles of Technology Entrepreneurship) and in the SoC incubator for start-up companies. Contrary to popular perceptions that millennials are slackers, easily distracted multi-taskers, self-serving day-dreamers, etc., I have come across many who are sensible, determined, idealistic and yet very down to earth. It is a delight to be able to encourage and guide intelligent self-driven young people to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.    
I would advise students to build strong technical skills – great software skills are very valuable and in high demand, especially in the start-up community. It is far easier to pick up business skills than technical skills later in life.  
I would also advise students to join a tech start-up early in their working life, rather than go the tried and tested (and boring) route of working for an MNC or government. There isn’t a better time than now to be part of the exciting entrepreneurial community in Singapore – the environment is very conducive, funding is quite abundant, and, there’s a thriving multi-national community of entrepreneurs operating in Singapore. For the young graduate, there are rich intense and valuable learning experiences and opportunities galore! Even if the start-up eventually fails (as many will), the value remains. Many entrepreneurs describe their start-up experiences as transformational in developing independence, perseverance and character.     

What is the one thing you would change about SoC?
As professorial fellow, I spend about half time at SoC so I would not know the School enough to suggest changes. One thing I do notice, however, is the way faculty offices are configured – long corridors with offices on either side, mostly closed. I imagine a professor could spend days, even weeks, within his closed office without interacting with anyone unless he consciously seeks to do so. For creative ideas to be seeded and nurtured, and for innovation to flourish, human interaction is key. Much has been written about the value of water cooler conversations and other serendipitous encounters that give birth to great ideas in research labs. Having offices sited in square clusters, with (open) doors facing inwards would immediately raise the interaction level manifold and increase the likelihood of developing breakthrough ideas. Of course, there are constraints imposed by the existing building architecture but I believe more emphasis could be given to build greater interaction among the faculty into the daily routine.     

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am pretty bad in recognizing faces, at least some faces. There were embarrassing occasions when I failed to acknowledge someone I saw in the street whom I’d met several times before, in the same week.  My image processing algorithm just couldn’t handle certain data sets! While usually efficient and well organized (I think!), I do have periods of unbelievable absent-minded lapses. One day returning from an overseas trip, I tried in vain to open my suitcase when I reached home. It took a while for me to realize that the key didn’t fit and yes, it wasn’t my bag – the luggage was not even same the brand and model! Thankfully, after driving back to the airport, I was able to retrieve the correct luggage and hand over the piece I took home by mistake to an anxious lady at the baggage claim. Everyone had a good laugh and my wife had a great story to entertain her friends with.  

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I enjoy working with and mentoring start-ups. When not doing that, I read a lot (non-fiction mainly), tinker with the piano and travel. My wife and I have a long bucket list of travel destinations. We want to see as many places as we can while our legs are still strong and we can endure 30-hour flights, extremes of weather and days of trekking.  

Quick-Fire! The one trait an entrepreneur must have?
Undying optimism.

The most common problem you see start-ups facing?
Not focusing narrowly enough, trying to build something to please too many different customer groups and ending up pleasing nobody.

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
Warren Buffet (but I can’t afford the going rate for lunch!)
Peter Drucker – great, insightful, down-to-earth teacher
Philip Yancey – modern day Christian philosopher with deep honest views about the world

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