Thursday, 20 October 2016


If there’ one thing from an NUS canteen stall that Jin Zhe could eat for the rest of his life, it’d be the dry ‘ban mian’ from the BiZ canteen. Most people may be surprised to learn that Jin’s command of Mandarin isn’t the greatest, even though he was born in China, grew up in Singapore, and went through the Singapore education system and National Service. If he were stranded on a deserted island for eternity, he’d like to have a compound bow for hunting, a journal, and Wilson the volleyball for companionship. He is averse to small talk and the word ‘entrepreneur’ (despite being the founder of a startup). He discovered his weakness for American food while away at NOC and is a self-professed pizza and junk food fiend. He thinks that we could really, really improve the printing system at SoC and hopes that someone will build an app for their FYP that will show users their print quota and queue, instead of us wasting paper, printing cover pages for every print job. Any takers?

Describe your SoC experience.
I was a Computer Science major with a focus area in Information Retrieval. I’ve just graduated and it took me a total of 5 years if we also count in the 1 year for NOC.
My journey at SoC wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. I had a really tough time picking up programming in the beginning as it was such a drastic switch from what I’m used to learning in 12 years of public education. I remember being completely gutted and utterly embarrassed when I received C+’s for both my CS1010 and CS1231 in my first semester. Till this day I still get a tinge of guilt when I think about it because I feel I’ve let down Mr. Aaron Tan and Prof. Bressan. After the disaster of a first semester, I took it upon myself to do whatever it takes to improve. It would take me 3 years and countless hours of practice to eventually love, embrace and appreciate the world of programming and Computer Science.
One of the most challenging aspects of being in the field of CS is keeping up with the times. The democratization of the internet, growth of smartphones and advancements in hardware within the last decade had really propelled technological progress at jaw-dropping speeds. Software engineering paradigms are shifting, new machine learning techniques are developed by the likes of Google and Facebook. Due to this phenomenon, many outsiders feel that a CS education is losing its relevance because it doesn’t cater for the shifting landscapes of technology. That misconception couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Applications and methods of application change, however fundamentals never change and the value of a CS education in SoC is that it imparts strong fundamentals. I actually wrote a Medium article in April to discuss this issue. 
The craziest thing I did was willing ‘tanking’ most of my projects, except for rare a few which I happen to get star players on my side. In college and in the workplace, there will always be an unequal distribution of contributions from the people you work with. You can’t change them and neither can you change the system. However you are in control of how much you can gain from the projects. For the projects where I did most of the work, I was also the one in the team who learnt the most.
I’d definitely wished to have been more involved with the SoC community. I had been a geeky, hermit for the most part of my time here and so have only made a handful of friends from my classes.
In my third year, I went onboard the NUS College in Silicon Valley and became a full-time software engineering intern at a tech startup. It was there that I realized the importance of working on real world projects. To quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” That really applies to software engineering as taking part in real-world projects and shipping production-grade code is a great opportunity to apply our knowledge in the industry. Iteration cycles at startups can get pretty intense and there was at least one day a week where I had to put in about 15 hours of work. I dare say that the hours I clocked churning code can put investment bankers to shame. It was a lot of hard work but what my internship gave me was a ton of practice and immense confidence as a programmer.
Returning from NOC, I found a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm. I no longer looked at my assignments with reluctance and fear. In fact I looked forward to problem sets, assignments as I thoroughly enjoyed solving them. Accomplishing them gave me a sense of achievement I hadn’t experienced before. As I progressed in my CS curriculum, I also realized that it was a lot more than just coding, algorithms, data structures and software engineering. I was introduced to entire fields in computer graphics, artificial intelligence, information retrieval, computer security and many more which were all extremely interesting. Despite being more demanding, I found the last 2 years in SoC being much more enjoyable than the first 2. One could certainly say that college ended on a high note for me. I actually enjoyed my FYP the most because it was self-proposed and it also eventually turned into my startup! How cool is that! 
I must say my experience in SoC is something most students can relate to. The most defining moment for me as an undergraduate actually happened while being on the NOC programme when I was at a dinner party and a Venture Capitalist whom I was with turned to me and asked “what is your goal in life? What gets you out of bed every morning?” My pursuit to the answer of that question would eventually bring me to realize my passion in utilizing technology to make this world a better place. So I’d say what set my student experience apart from most is actually NOC, which for me was pretty life-changing.

Which faculty members made impressions on you?
SoC truly has an exceptional group of professors and staff which makes me proud to be part of this family. It would be impossible to exhaustively name everyone here so I’ll just attempt to mention those who come to mind, not in any particular order whatsoever. 
I’m truly grateful towards Dr. Steven Halim for believing in me and taking up the project as my supervisor. Hadn’t it been for his support, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. His algorithms classes are also world-class and comes with a top-notch algorithmic visualization website (VisuAlgo) to aid learning. Mr. Aaron Tan is someone almost every SoC freshman will have the opportunity to take classes under. His enthusiasm is simply infectious and he also goes above and beyond to make classes engaging and interesting for students. When lecturers are passionate about teaching, it really shows in their classes and Aaron is exemplary of that. Dr. Alan Cheng taught me Computer Graphics and his assignments were some of the most fun and engaging ones I’ve ever done in NUS. Prof. Ng Teck Khim is a wonderful lecturer at Computer Vision in CS and has a knack of breaking down complex ideas into really simple concepts. I took Information Retrieval under Prof. Kan Min-Yen and had thoroughly enjoyed his classes, assignments as well as his dry wit. Prof. Leong Hon Wai was the one who really pushed us to maturity in our algorithmic journey. Prof. Wong Weng Fai taught me Computer Organization and I will always remember his detailed PowerPoint animations on MIPS architecture. Dr. Bimlesh Wadhwa taught me for all my software engineering courses and she is the without a doubt one of the kindest and most caring lecturers around. 
For those who didn’t make the list, please forgive me, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t make an impact on my SoC life, it just means that I wasn’t able to load everything into memory all at once.

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date? 
My most significant achievement to date is being able to build a production-grade social network entirely by myself. It was an end-to-end implementation which covered UI design, frontend development, backend development, database, caching, server load balancing, web security and scalable architectures. I really learnt A LOT from the one year working on it. The project is called Mooder and it is the startup that I am working on right now. I’d like to cheekily think that I have outdone Zuckerberg because Mooder is definitely more advanced that the first version of Facebook, but to Zuck’s credit, web development in the early 2000s is vastly different from what is today; I had it much easier with the embarrassing array of tools and knowledge that web developers enjoy today. Do check out the platform at! 
As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt famously said, “Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality.” Human emotions is something very primal and it’s ironic that it has been almost swept under the rug during the digital revolution of our time. 
I am a very heavy user of social media and I do believe it is the single most defining technology in this decade. It has become such an integral part of our lives! It redefined the way we connect to people, changed the way we consume information and brought new ways to how we project ourselves to others. However as social networks continue to evolve, there is a void being left behind and that is emotions and empathy. To paint a bleak picture, Facebook has evolved into a platform for content sharing and self-assertions, Instagram and Snapchat are starting to become the center stage for the vainglorious, twitter became a one-way channel for celebrities and politicians to project their views and opinions onto others and the list goes on. In 2010, a Stanford research paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that Facebook makes people sadder because users mostly post about overly positive emotions and it harbors the illusion that everyone around us are leading way better lives than us such that when we experience negative emotions, we think that we are alone in our sorrows. The conclusion of that study proposed that if we could share our negative emotions as much as our positive ones, we could be way happier people. That is what Mooder sets out to accomplish: to create an environment where users would feel welcome to share any emotion they experience and connect with other users who feel the same. Empathy has always been the cornerstone for authentic human relationships but we have yet to see mechanisms online which facilitate that. 
I first proposed the FYP idea to Dr. Steven Halim and was very fortunate that he agreed to be my project supervisor. I then acquired SoC’s Validating Startup Concept (VaSCo) grant last July followed by getting into SoC’s incubator The Furnace in December. In February I was accepted onto AliCloud Startup program 2016 and then in April I went onboard Mediacorp’s Mediapreneur programme which also provided additional funding for the startup. It all started out from a FYP project! This journey so far was made possible by a lot of people, my friends, family and professors. The SoC Entrepreneurship committee has also provided tremendous support, encouragement and mentorship, for which I am extremely grateful! 
It is A LOT of hard work. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to run a company and I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to prepare oneself for something quite like this. I have an office under The Furnace at I-Cube which has been my home for the past 8 months because I literally stay there on weekdays. Every single day is spent working and ironically one of the few things that keep me sane throughout this time is actually Mooder. For anyone reading this, feel free to drop by I-Cube #03-31 to say hi!

What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be an artist and I have been really wieldy with a pencil for as long as I could remember. My strength was in drawing portraits and in secondary school my art teacher told me I was pretty talented (humble brag) and suggested that I go to an art school. Well I decided against that because pursuing art as a career was a pretty risky move and more so making that decision at the age of 16. So I pretty much gave that idea up and haven’t practiced drawing ever since. You know when you make a hard decision like that, you really can’t look back anymore. I might return to it someday, maybe when I retire.

What advice would you give a prospective SoC student?
1. Be patient with your learning. Coming from the public education system, a lot of us will have this conditioned expectation to grasp something within a couple of months and if we don’t, we think we’re not fit for it. That couldn’t be any further away from the truth. It took me 3 years to get comfortable with coding. What computing had taught me was that if you stayed on a challenge long and hard enough, you will almost certainly overcome it. Just don’t apply that during exams! 
2. Go for internships, ideally one at a big company followed by one at a startup. Internships at big companies teach you industry best practices and production-grade standards, while internships at startups provide you with incredible control over your responsibilities and lots of room to experiment. Both will prove to be great learning experiences 
3. Work on your own projects. Passion is not given, it is cultivated and grown. A software engineer without a pet project is like a novelist without a genre. 
4. Do not rush to graduate. The more time you spend on learning, the more appreciation you get to develop, the more concepts you get to internalize and most importantly, the more opportunities you get. Staying in school longer could mean that you have more time to work on personal projects or going for more internships.

What are your future plans?
My focus now is entirely on my startup and I seek to grow it as much as I possibly can. Oh my mom is also urging me to get a girlfriend, maybe I’ll start to make some plans for that too!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I am a huge fan of combat arts and have trained in various systems including Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Boxing, Brazilian Jujitsu and Olympic freestyle wrestling. These days I don’t have time commit to regular classes at a gym and so I pretty much train by myself in school.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
6 years ago I declined the offer to study CS in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s college of engineering. I chose to enroll in NUS instead. You know after all these years, the biggest lesson I learnt is that decisions are rarely right or wrong in and of themselves, it’s what you make of them and where you allow them to take you that ultimately define their worth. In my attempt to justify my decision, I made sure I’d be the best that I can be with the opportunities that I can get. My stint in NUS had brought me great friendships, blessed me with amazing professors and wonderful mentors, led me to Silicon Valley, to Stanford and eventually to founding my own tech company. I’m not so certain that I could be in the same position today had I gone to Illinois. 
While I may not have been the valedictorian for my batch, I too would like to leave with a message to the graduation cohort of 2016: You are only as decisive as you are willing to fly with your decisions, so fly, and never look back!

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!

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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

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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 

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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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