Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Natural Natalie

Natalie Goh is a second year Information Systems student, who would like to eventually work in the healthcare industry. At a recent Freshman Social Camp, she walked around with a giant soft toy slipper (that a friend brought as a pillow) perched on her head, thinking it was a legitimate, albeit outrageous, hat. Incidentally, her worst fear is ‘embarrassing herself’ - she has an image to maintain!

Real Natalie

Besides academic work, what do you do at SoC?
I'm currently the Vice President (Operations and Projects) of Computing Club, and I am in charge of making sure everything around school runs smoothly for the students as well as overseeing the major projects Computing Club organises every year (including Freshmen Orientation Projects as well as the Cyber Gaming Festival) My job scope is not just limited to those, so feel free to approach me if you have any comments/suggestions for Computing Club! 
I'm always busy with the different events which Computing Club is organising. I guess the reason why I am still here is to return to the Computing community. I want to make sure that this warm culture exists not only among those active members of Computing Club, but among the general student population too.  
Many people think that the active Computing Club members are exclusive, and are not open to any newcomers and such, so I am working hard to tell every SoC student that we are always open to everyone, and that none of us bite! It is indeed hard for people to approach us since we always look like we are exclusive and stuff, so I am looking at approaching people instead :) Hopefully we can build a close knitted Computing community and not just a Computing Club community!
Slipper-headed Natalie - proof that Computing Clubbers don't bite and are definitely not exclusive.

Describe your experience as an SoC student.
[The thing I enjoy the most about SoC is] the students. I came into Computing without any prior experience in anything related to computing. I wasn't sure if I was going to regret my choice since I was told that it will be hard for me to cope with the steep learning curve. However I am able to cope with my studies due to the students in Computing. The freshmen camps has allowed me to get to know a lot of seniors as well as peers, who are more than willing to help me out with the different problems I have.  
It might seem unbelievable, but the computing students I have met were usually more than willing to sacrifice their time to help each other out, even if that means they might not have time to finish their own work. I guess this is the very reason why I decided to be more active around computing and help pass the love! :) 
I find memorising the most challenging thing I face in computing, which is evident and common in IS modules. I don't like to memorise facts, and I cannot seem to get those minute details into my head.. (More open book examinations pretty please? XD) 
On the other hand, I found programming really useful! As much as I am not proficient in any language, I found out that knowing some programming languages has allowed me to better understand some stuff the computer browsers display when there is some sort of error. Indeed, having a computing degree has made me feel better about myself (since I know more practical stuff!) 
I remember crashing lectures back in year 1, when I had a very empty timetable. One of the lectures which I crashed, was CG1101 (the CEG version of CS1010). I remembered Dr. Zhou Lifeng asking me if I was his student, and it was embarrassing for me to admit I wasn't his student. I thought he would ignore me since I wasn't his student, but I was surprised he still tried his best to teach me C programming! He even took time out for personal consultation with a few crashers (including me). This was when I realised professors do not actually segregate students, and that they would teach any student who comes their way!  
[If there was one thing I would change about SoC, it would be] to change the learning mindsets of the students. I wish that students in SoC are not that results-oriented, as we all know that results merely determine our first job after graduation. What is important and will bring us far in life, is the different life experiences and other qualities, not academics. I hope that students will realise that stepping out of the books can allow us to learn more than just knowledge. And that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Everyone thinks I'm a social butterfly since I just seem to be able to talk to people comfortably. But actually I take a very long time to warm up to people in general. I am socially awkward sometimes, and I hate approaching strangers! 

What advice would you give a prospective SoC undergraduate student?
Do get to know more seniors or friends, as fellow students' advice are definitely more close to your hearts than professors or non-SOC students! Do not think you can survive alone in SOC because the modules are challenging and getting a second opinion is definitely more helpful! Of course, do join more activities (be it orientation or just random Computing Club activities) to get to know more SOC students! I did not regret joining these activities, and I do think you will not regret too!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not studying/working?
I like to look out for new music, and try to play it on my guitar (and sing to it). I barely make progress since I'm still a novice, but practice makes perfect! :) 

Quick-fire! If you had to eat only one item from one of the NUS canteen stalls for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Korean BBQ pork from Hwang's!  

Pet peeve?
Any artificial stuff worn to "make you look better" (like coloured contacts, false eyelashes etc.) I don't think it enhances looks :/ 

New Year’s resolution?
Stop being everywhere (because I'm always around Computing!) and focus more on my work! :X 

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Grinning Eugene

Most people will not be surprised to learn that Eugene Chiong is distantly related to the Cheshire Cat - explains the easy, ear-to-ear grin that he always seems to sport. Most people will, however, be surprised to learn that flunked his primary school streaming and secondary school exams. He has obviously come a long way since then and intends to venture into a special effects role in a visual effects company after he completes his studies. Like many of us, all this Bishan-boy wants for Christmas is ‘a longer holiday!’.

Describe your experience as an SoC student.
[I’m studying] Computer Science! I'm halfway through my 3rd year now, and going to finish it in one more year before I pursue my Masters in the US (in a Concurrent Degree Programme with CMU-ETC). My specialization is Interactive Digital Media, a clear choice for me, as my passion lies in visual effects and all things related. [My experience as a SoC student has been] pretty fun and challenging. I've always been one who loves going down the path less traveled, and I'm glad SoC offers courses that really pushes my limits and allow me to learn as fast as I would like to. 
[The thing I enjoy the most about studying at SoC is the fact that] some courses are very flexible, and let me get creative with the assignments and projects as long as I meet the basic requirements. One such example is Computer Graphics, where you can just make whatever you want in the assignments, it's entirely up to your creativity. And that you're welcome to try out all sorts of modules as you can SU them (not anymore though :/) 
[If find] anything that I cannot visualize [challenging]. I'm a very visual person, so things that exist beyond three dimensions can get exceedingly frustrating for me. Naturally, math (especially linear algebra) falls in that category. Beyond that, the more interesting things are basically just anything that has to do with visuals, such as computer graphics, special effects, etc.  
I used to be actively involved in Computing Club's activities as the Vice President, but now I have stepped down and am focusing more on my studies. I still help out with Computing Club's activities as a photographer, and a first aider if needed for their camps. Much of my time is still spent on activities outside of SoC though. 
I spend a considerable amount of time doing part time work (15 - 27 hours a week giving private tuition) while overloading on my modules as I have to graduate early, so I have little time to socialize with others, join hall activities, etc. 
Most of the faculty members have made some sort of impression on me, but I think the most unique one is Prof Colin Tan, due to his obsession with cats and how 99.99% of his Facebook posts has some relation to felines. 
One of the craziest things I did here was to cycle and take photographs during the night cycling event every year during sports camp. During night cycling, everyone is mostly on the move, so it is difficult to get pictures of them cycling as it requires photographers to stop to take snapshots along the way - that can be pretty tiring. So being the lazy person I am, I've been taking photos with my DSLR while cycling along with the different groups.

[If I could change one thing about SoC, it would be to have] better computers and network connection. I think a hardware upgrade to most of the computers are way overdue, and I think a computing based faculty should boast network connection that is faster than the others (which is not the case).

What are you working on and why are you passionate about it?
I'm working on an online tool for NUS students to help plan their future modules easily so they know what modules to take in which semester. I did that because many of my friends and I needed to plan future modules and there was no tool readily available for use. Right now, I have an offline version available in an excel file at http://eugenecys.github.io/NUS-Module-Planner/ 
I like doing stuff that helps solve real life problems, rather than random software that does not actually have any significant impact on the community.

What advice would you give a prospective SoC undergraduate student?
If you're here to learn as much as you can, and want to achieve as much as you want, plan your classes early (like, have your full 4 year plan done by the end of your first year!). I say this is because there's many classes that are only offered in alternate semesters, and you may run out of time clearing prerequisites before you get to the classes you want.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not studying?
Playing games! I believe in working hard and playing hard, so I spend a considerable amount of time after a day's work on playing popular game titles, such as Starcraft, Tomb Raider, etc. On top of that, I love cycling - it's my primary pastime outside of the house - and I cycle to pretty much anywhere in Singapore. Sometimes, I play around with some special effects software such as Adobe After Effects to make fun animations as well.

Quick-Fire! Favourite sport?
Cycling. I just love cycling. Been cycling since I was 5 and I have never stopped :D

Pet peeve?
Inconsiderate behavior. Things like people sitting on the outer seat on the bus, or not moving in inside a bus/train, and parents not controlling their extremely rowdy kids. They irk me to no end. 

Guilty pleasure?
KFC. It's so unhealthy but their fried chicken is just so tasty =D

Three food items you’d have with you if you were stranded on an island for eternity?
KFC. Haha! Ok, seriously, eggs, chicken, and potatoes. I think you can get pretty creative with those three food items. 

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Doco Buff - Abhijeet

Abhijeet Banerjee is in the third year of his PhD. According to one of my informants, he “tells awesome stories about his undergrad days and has probably seen every documentary on this planet.” Unfortunately, I have failed to draw any of those stories out of him - perhaps they were a bit too saucy for our little blog. At any rate, his love for story telling is evident in his prose.

Where did you grow up?
I spent a substantial part of my childhood in the North Indian city of Varanasi. It is situated on the banks of river Ganga and is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is a spiritual city full of old temples and monasteries. However, for me the most memorable feature of the city remains the river ghats (stone paved river banks). If you go there in the early morning hours, you would see the sun rising over the mist on one side. On the other side you would see a seemingly endless series of stone steps leading up to numerous pavilions and terraces. Occasionally, you would find a temple or a shrine. At far you could see a railway bridge, over which sometimes you could see a train pass by. 
Living in a city right next to a big river has its own advantages, such as you could go for a swim or a boat ride every now and then. Apart from the river activities, I remember spending a huge amount of time on our roof-top flying kites. Yes, in my city kites are usually flown from the rooftop and in the festival of kites the entire sky is full of kites. The festival of kites (Makar Sankranti) was just one of my favourites, we had the festival of colours (Holi), the festival of lights (Deepavali) and the list goes on. As a child I had a whole list of festivals to look forward to throughout the year and in each festival the city looked different. Even in non-festive seasons the city is a colourful place, quite full of life. A distinct feature of the city is its network of labyrinth like by-lanes, navigating which can be a daunting task for an unfamiliar person. I have had quite a few adventures exploring them!

Why are you doing a PhD?
The answer to this question probably lies in my undergraduate years. During undergraduate years I had a lot of fun while remembering to study a little bit of everything. However, sometimes during the lectures, when the professor would be explaining a new concept, I would have a crazy “what-if” idea (i.e. what if I did this instead of that, idea). Usually, I didn’t bother to bother anyone with those “what-if” ideas. Undergraduate is too much fun to bother about “what-if” ideas. However, eventually graduation drew near and I realized that only way to explore some “what-if” ideas was to join a PhD program (because at that time none of job offers I had were research oriented) and that’s when I made the choice of enrolling for a PhD. During PhD, one has the time and resources to check out all “what-if” ideas one has. Most of the time they turn out to be crazy but sometimes they do work out.

Briefly describe your research and its significance.
My research is primarily focused towards testing and analysis of non-functional properties (such as execution time and energy consumption), for real-time, embedded systems. Embedded systems are specialized computer systems designed and used for a specific task. They are everywhere, watches, smartphones, automobiles, space shuttles all use embedded systems. A real-time constraint dictates that the system (in our case, embedded system) must respond in real time. For example, an anti-lock breaking system in an automobile must react as soon as the brake pedal is pressed and not a few minutes later. Failure to meet a constraint, for such systems, might lead to serious (even fatal) consequences. Therefore, to ensure the reliability of such systems, the software executing on such platforms must be tested for functional (e.g. absence of buffer overflows), as well as non-functional properties (e.g. execution time, energy consumption).  
Every year exciting new ideas are presented in this field through leading journals and conferences. However, still a lot remains to be done in this field. Let me give you an example, if you are a smartphone user you must have faced the irritating “low-battery” signal while you were doing something interesting. If you had a similar experience, I can sympathise with you and so will the millions of smartphone users around the world. Every year we have new and improved smartphones coming in to the market, each with a bigger screen, a better camera or a faster processor etc. These trends are not surprising as integrated circuit technology is approximately doubling every two years, as correctly predicted by Gordon E. Moore in 1965. However, the same cannot be said about the battery technology. The improvements in the battery capacity over past couple of decades have been very small. Such problems give rise to a host of research opportunities. Presently, applications for smartphone and mobile devices are developed in an energy oblivious way, the implication of which are wasted battery power and/or reduced battery life.  
In our current research we are trying to develop tools and techniques for energy aware programming for mobile device such as smartphones. Such techniques when developed would enable the application developers to develop energy-efficient applications and enable the contemporary devices with limited battery capacity to function much better. Not only that, energy-aware programming tools (and techniques) would be useful even when better battery technologies arrives, as energy-efficient applications are good at saving energy and therefore contributes towards a greener planet.

Briefly describe your experience as an SoC student. 
Being enrolled in a highly ranked educational institution is a privilege by itself. There are other perks too. Grad students in SoC have plenty of opportunities in terms of educational resources, the chances to interact with other highly skilled people in their research domains, attend interesting workshops and seminar that are regularly held in the department, etc 
The most important [faculty member, to me,] would be my advisor Dr Abhik Roychoudhury, who has been there for me ever since I joined the department. SoC has so many good faculty members that it is hard to name a few. However, the two faculty members who have made the biggest impressions on me were Dr Liang Zhenkai and Dr Y. C. Tay
I took a module on systems security during which I had the chance to interact with Dr Liang Zhenkai. I felt that he is one of the most hands-on professors I have met in the department. Thanks to him, I actually learnt how to do cool stuff such as buffer overflow attacks and XSS attacks. Earlier I just knew that these things existed and never tried them on my own.  
I was also very impressed by the teaching style of Dr Y. C. Tay. He is the only professor I know who still uses overhead projectors to teach! Not only that he would haul two overhead projectors for every lecture along with various props to make us understand the complex concepts of analytical performance modelling. I really admire the enthusiasm with which he taught us in every single one of his lectures.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I enrolled in a school when I was less than 3 Years of age and I have been in school (figuratively speaking) ever since.

Why are you drawn to documentaries?
I think that our world is an awesome place. It is full of information, lots and lots of it. However, in the rush of our day to day lives we often overlook the details of the world around us. If we look closely, every person, every single object has a different story to tell. As a person who is fond of listening to (and telling) stories, documentaries are an excellent medium for me to know new things. 
Over the years I have watched a number of documentaries, some of which were very elaborate, such as “Planet Earth” (released 2006, made by BBC) whereas others were very simple, such as the “Life in a Day” (released 2011, made by people from all over the world). Varied as they might be in their theme and design, yet they have one thing in common, they are all made with the intention of conveying a message. So I guess in that sense (conveying a message), I would say the most influential and memorable documentary I remember watching would be a documentary named “An inconvenient truth”. A good documentary is a mix of a good (untold) story composed of clear and concise information and accompanied by a captivating narration. In the documentary “An inconvenient truth”, Al Gore presents the general ideas about global warming in such a manner that even the uninitiated would have little trouble following it. This documentary was crucial in changing my (and many other people’s) views about Global Warming and the dangers it poses to us.

Quick-fire! Best film ever? 

Most annoying word? 
Segmentation Fault

Three items you would want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island? 
An axe, a lighter and a shipping container full of books, preferably novels ;-D

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Vinova's Mike Nguyen

Mike Nguyen, Founder and Director of VINOVA, grew up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He came to Singapore for university, graduated with a degree in Computer Science in 2006, stayed on at SoC for a Master’s programme which he completed in 2009, and has been living in here ever since. His co-founder, Alex Nguyen, also happens to be a SoC alumnus and is busy establishing their business in Vietnam.

Alex and Mike (right)

What do you do now? 
I, together with my business partner Alex Nguyen, founded Vinova. Vinova provides and develops IT services and products. I have worked as multiple roles, from Sales to Delivery, such as a developer, cum project manager, cum sales person. After 3 years of operation, the company has grown bigger and more stable. I am now more focussed on the Customer. I am taking care of company revenue to ensure business continuity and support team growth. I also ‘quality check’ projects before they are delivered to customers. The training of the support team is part of the routine as well - this is to ensure that the number of projects on hand does not compromise the quality of support provided. 
I met Alex during one of our Master’s courses. He is technically strong. We share a passion for programming.  He is now more focused on Delivery. He has been training the development team and is in charge of product development. Together, we make a great team.
I am working on multiple web and mobile projects for customers, as well as for our own company. I am getting the chance to deal with customers from different sectors and employees from different backgrounds. I can help my customers solve their problems, create jobs for employees, and watch my company grow. I feel like I’m doing something meaningful and helpful. I always want to contribute my best, in whatever I am doing. Hence, looking at the company’s growth, the competent employees we’ve trained and the happy customers we’ve served, it drives my passion and I want to continue to work harder to achieve more and do even better.  
I’d like to build up Vinova, both in size and in quality. My plan for the company is to focus more on IT services to gain capital to continue development of company products. I also want to maintain good company culture and welfare of employees. This is quite important. 
I also have plans for my family. I know it is not easy to achieve work life balance, but it is important for me to plan so that I can achieve it. 

Briefly describe your experience as an SoC student.
Being a SoCian is cool. I was taught with technical and non-technical stuff. I enjoyed the good facilities, teachers, and environment that is encouraging of entrepreneurship that we have in SoC. Mr. Aaron Tan [was probably the faculty member who made the biggest impression on me]. He is very dedicated to teaching. His lectures were always crowded with many students.
The ‘craziest’ thing that I did was walk from PGP to NUH for supper and ‘sweet-soup’ at 2am with a group of around 10 friends. I don't think we’ll ever get to do that again. [My favourite thing about my time at SoC was] playing games with friends. We played AOK nightly at that time. [I also really enjoyed] my first year’s Rag Day. [However, the thing I found most challenging and interesting was] my final year project. [If there is one thing I would have done differently during my time here, it would have been to] make better use of the Entrepreneur scheme. There was plenty of support available at SoC that I didn’t know of so could not make use of.

What do you count as your most significant achievements since graduating from SoC? 
Getting married. Hahaha. [Actually,] establishing an IT company that has been up and running for more than 3 years, with 25 staff. It's hard to tell why [I pursued it]. I just felt it was a right time for me to move on that way.  
It's all about hard work from morning to midnight. At first, it was very difficult to find customers. We were very young and inexperienced at the time. We didn't know how to sell our services. Because of that, we had to do everything we could at the cheapest rate as possible in order to get projects to sustain the company. Then we slowly built up our reputation, portfolio, and partner network. After 2 years, customers just started coming to us naturally.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Probably that I always spend time helping my wife clean the house during weekends, and that I wash the dishes after we finish our dinners. 

What advice would you give a prospective SoC student?
Study hard and Play hard. Make full use of the support you available in SoC. Get as much hands on experience as you can. Keep an eye out on what’s going on in the IT industry. 

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working? 
Reading books about leadership and management. They really open my mind.

Is there anything else you would like to share? 
If you like anything, just do it. Life is short, don't think too much.

Quick-fire: Song you have repeated the most this month? 
I find myself listening to Richard Clayderman every time I am seated at my work desk. 

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Nim(antha) Can Cook!

Third year CS PhD candidate, Nimantha Baranasuriya, was top of his class, played varsity tennis and received the Most Outstanding Graduand award at his alma mater. He thoroughly enjoys unnerving people who he has only met briefly before (who don’t remember him) with his knack for remembering faces and names. He is an avid photographer and used to cover engagements, weddings and corporate functions through his small photography service start-up in Sri Lanka. He’s doing a PhD because he enjoys ‘fiddling around with unknowns’ and tackling problems that can’t be solved by googling. Nimantha happens to be of the rare breed of people who have a passion for teaching.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town, which was around 30km south of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. My home is what you would call a perfect holiday destination. It is located a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the town and it is within walking distance to a beach that had yellow sand stretching for miles. Every day, I would wake up to the sound of waves crashing on to the shore. On weekends, me and my friends used to play volleyball on a makeshift court on the beach or just sit and have a little chit-chat.

What are you working on and why are you passionate about it?
I am working on designing, implementing and experimenting novel communication protocols for dynamic networks like vehicular networks and smartphone networks. In these networks, the participants move around a lot and hence, communication links get established and disestablished pretty fast. So, our protocols can be used by applications that are designed to work on those types of networks. My work will aid the deployment of distributed sensor network applications on the types of networks that I mentioned earlier. For example, consider a fleet of taxi cabs that upload their status information (e.g., free/hired/shift, speed, location, etc.) to a server. The easiest way of achieving this is to give them all a 3G connection and get them to upload their individual information. However, this is very costly, as data connections carry a greater cost. Our protocols will allow the cars to talk to each other and upload all of the information in a cost effective and energy efficient manner. So, in the next decade, our protocols will allow application developers to deploy cost effective and energy efficient sensory applications. 

Describe your SoC experience. 
SoC really brings out the best in me. The school provides me with all that I need to do my work well. There are many opportunities like entrepreneurial support and internships that we can use to heighten our careers. The courses taught at SoC are really cool too. I sit in in the classes I find useful and none of them have disappointed me so far. The covered content is just right and has the correct depth. The school is very generous in funding as well. All PhD students’ receive a scholarship that covers all tuition fees and their expenses. This allows us to focus on our research without worrying about doing other work to get our next month’s allowance.
Dr. Seth Gilbert is my thesis advisor. He has inspired me in a multitude of ways. He helped me realize what exactly research is and how I should go about tackling research problems. On countless occasions, he assisted me in overcoming difficulties I was facing. I would have torn off all my hair by now if not for him (literally!). His supervision has been excellent and I really enjoy working with him.
From my first semester, I have being doing on and off TA work for Dr. Damith Rajapakse. His lectures are amazing! He uses out-of-the-ordinary lecture material that keeps the students focused and engaged. It was through him that I learnt the secrets of giving captivating talks that inspire audiences. It’s really wonderful to see the amount of effort that he puts into his courses. If I do teach someday, I aim to be a teacher like him.
[The one thing I would change in NUS is] I’d really like if NUS was made more bicycle-friendly. Adding cycle lanes, among many other things, would really make cycling safer on campus. I bike to school a lot, but unfortunately that it is not the safest way of getting to school. There were many times where I narrowly escaped from being bumped into by other vehicles. 

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a great cook (or at least my wife and friends tell me so). However, my skillset is limited; I can only prepare a few traditional Sri Lankan delicacies. My mom is a great cook and I used to help her in the kitchen when I could. That’s actually how I picked up the whole thing. When I get free time, I love to prepare some Sri Lankan dishes, which are hard to find in Singapore, and invite my friends over for dinner.   

What advice would you give a prospective SoC graduate student?
Research can get to you sometimes because it is pretty tough. More often than not, you will have a hard time getting past obstacles when you come across them. I’ve had breakdowns a few times when things didn’t go the way I want. That’s quite natural because research is all about dealing with unknowns. You have to work hard and persevere until you arrive at the solution. So change the way you look at the problem, talk to a friend about it (that will help to get a fresh perspective), or do anything else that you seem fit to overcome obstacles. But no matter what you do, don’t ever think of giving up!
Meet your advisor regularly, at least once a week. This helps to keep things moving and to make a bit of progress every week.
Target conference deadlines. Keeping a conference deadline at the back of your mind will push you to complete your work and avoid procrastination. I found that conference deadlines become a good motivator as well.
Read as much as you can. Make a habit of reading papers that get published in the top-conferences of your field. This will allow you to stay up-to-date on what’s hot currently in the community.
Take some time off of work. Being in the lab all throughout the day doesn’t really help that much. Go out and do some sports. Or better yet, do some travelling with your friends. There are plenty of less-known places in Singapore that are worth visiting.

Quick-fire! Favourite design?
Definitely, UTown. It’s an engineering marvel!

Guilty pleasure?
Having baths in lakes in the middle of the night.

3 ultimate dinner party guests, dead or alive?
Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Tom Hanks.

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

2-in-1 Hugh

When he’s not working, Hugh Anderson likes sailing and playing guitar. Actually, as you’ll see, he plays his guitar at work too. Like me, and every other sane person I know, he hates Mondays. One of the things he’s done to spice up his classes is to create ‘anime-esque’ music videos in which a cartoon character sings about computing theories and concepts, accompanied by Hugh and his guitar. Also, Hugh feels (and I would have to strongly agree), that it would benefit NUS and SoC significantly to have chocolate fish (and maybe Marmite) available to all staff and students as required. A VOICE (Valued Online Ideas Contributed by Employees) winner for sure. 

Hugh and his niece

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a little town in Aotearoa (NZ), which was called Wanganui when I was there. It is no longer on the map as it has been renamed Whanganui as part of a PC government project to ensure that all Kiwis mispronounce names equally badly. It was a pretty neat place when I was small.

I remember when the first set of traffic lights arrived, and the whole town turned out to see them switched on. Red, green, orange and back to red again. Even the Mayor was there and a marching band. Awesome.

When I was about 10 I ran away from home after school. I bicycled to Upokongaro (about 15km) where I set up my tent. At about 5:00 I rung up my Mum to tell her that I had run away (so she wouldn't worry), and told her where I was camping. Mum had not actually noticed that I was missing. 

About half an hour later Dad turned up and took me home in the car. Ah well.

Briefly describe your experience being at SoC.
I have been here since 2000, when I arrived fleeing a coup in Fiji. It was nice to live in a country without people shooting guns over my house.

In 2008, I moved back to NZ for family reasons, but my job there did not take, and I was very happy to return to SoC in 2010. Because I revisited NUS from NZ, and taught in 2008, and 2009, many of my colleagues in the department did not realize that I had actually left SoC. I would run into them in the corridor, and they would say "Hi Hugh, haven't seen you for a while..." Anyway I am back now. SoC is a cool place to work, with a bunch of friendly and very smart staff, and friendly and very smart students. I am also an Alumni of SoC of course - I got my PhD here.

As a student I remember skiving off with my classmate Colin Tan (also now on staff in SoC) and doing the sort of things that school kids everywhere do. As a mature person working in SoC, of course, I never skive off. However I do drink a vast amount of coffee with my mates. I like that.

At the moment I am working on tiny computer systems that measure movement pretty precisely. We put these units on people's shoes or socks, and they record their walking. This is to be used both for therapy, and for diagnostic purposes. I visited local hospitals, and saw the infinite care and patience that therapists and nurses were bestowing upon people with severe problems, and I felt that I would like to help as well.

I like two things big time here. One, I like learning new things - SoC is full of people trying out new ideas. Two, I like my students. Which of these I like the most depends on the day I am having, the phase of the moon, and my level of vitamin B12. I find it interesting that every year my students appear to be getting younger. Why don’t they stay the same age? Like me?

What and how do you teach at SoC? 
I have mostly taught things that I have always thought of as "fun" in computing. I do not really like computer games, but I love the technology that is behind the games. Similarly, I don’t really like computer crime but I like the technology behind making computers secure. 

So I mostly teach those behind-the-scenes courses, like "Parallel Programming", which describes some ideas behind fancy gaming/graphics cards, and "Computer Security", which describes the ideas behind computer crime and hacking.

I am trying out new ideas in teaching, and find that pretty challenging. I'm not sure if it is successful or not, but this last semester I have tried some new things (to me) in class, as an attempt to break out of the powerpoint-talkee-talkee rut. For example, I have tried torturing my students by playing guitar in class, and having Prof Neko Kanochi sing along. She sings, for example, that well known song "The Diffie Hellman Key Exchange Song" (which of course may vaguely be about Diffie Hellman Key Exchange). My students' reactions to this appear mixed, ranging from "Please Hugh, never do that again", to "That’s fun!" :) It is a work-in-progress.

[The memorable students are] the ones who are enjoying themselves learning new stuff. It is easy to pick them out, and I like to watch, and help if I can.

What's the funniest or craziest thing that you have done?
Don’t really know if I do funny or crazy, but sometimes I do bizarre.

Many years ago I was keen on woodwork, and had all sorts of tools and chemicals like varnish and French polish around the house. One night one of my children was sick with a cold, and his nose was running, and I wanted to help him settle back to sleep. So I went into the living room and got what I thought was Vick's Vapour Rub to put on his chest and help him breathe easier. I opened the plastic container and got a blob out and rubbed it gently into his chest. After a while I noticed that there was a peculiar sweet smell, and that my boy had become part of that elite goup of people whose chests have been French polished.

And sometimes bizarre finds me. In 1998 my family and I moved to live in Fiji, and as part of our orientation, the University gave us a morning's instruction about living in Fiji. One of the slides said that we should not lick the backs of frogs in Fiji. Good advice I guess. Not that I ever much had the urge. It turned out that they were pointing out that any pet animals that we might have could be poisoned by licking the local frogs or toads, which had poisonous backs. So I'll pass this advice on to you. Don’t lick the backs of frogs - you heard it here in SoC first!

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Three things: 
1. When I was 21 I was the chief technical officer on Campbell Island for a year. This is a little island between NZ and Antarctica, and it has a weather station. I was one of the only 6 inhabitants during winter, and looked after magnetometers, ionosondes and other instruments. It was fun seeing icebergs and penguins and sea elephants and seals and things. 

2. I was addicted to the Doc Martin TV show, but I managed to go cold turkey earlier in the year, and I am now 80 days clean. 

3. In addition, I am the local representative for the IKC (International Kiwi Conspiracy), which has been running the world pretty successfully since 1987. We do keep a low profile though, so keep it quiet.

Quick-fire! What is the one distinctly Kiwi thing that you wish you could introduce into Singapore?
The bach, otherwise known as a crib (if you come from the mainland).

Favourite local foods?
Has to be laksa. Yummmmmmmmmmmmm. And from time to time, Roland (Yap) brings me things that I don’t know what they are, but they taste great. Ask him.

Worst song ever?
Anything by Justin Bieber, or any of the crop of Autotuned, Melodyned, pitch-corrected singers.

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Savvy Zwee

Wee Zihuan, or Zwee, is the Founder and CEO of Savant Degrees. Back in the day, he was enrolled in a three year e-commerce programme at SoC, went to Stanford as part of the NOC programme, graduated in 2008, went back to Stanford for a Master’s, and then left the programme to concentrate on developing Savant Degrees. Prior to all that, he was Valedictorian at his polytechnic and won the Lee Kuan Yew Award for excellence in Mathematics and Science in 2004. Despite the feelings of inadequacies that will undoubtedly creep over you once you've learnt all he’s done, if you meet him, you will find Zwee generous, unassuming, a visionary and someone who’s actually living the fantasy we've all had at some point – he’s working on changing the world.

What do you do now?
I help people solve problems using technology. I work towards understanding clients’ challenges. It’s interesting because they tell you a lot of things and you realise that because we are technologists, we are actually riding on a wave and technology is changing a lot of businesses and organisations.

Briefly describe your experience as an SoC student.
I had done a lot of work outside of school. Through those experiences, I've discovered that there are many ways where you can be effective in programming. The most challenging part for me was to conform to a prescribed way of doing things. A lecturer once said “this is the platform and this is the framework you need to use”. But why am I spending two months to deliver something the conventional way, when I can yield the same results in a week using other methods.

The internship I did when I was 16 really helped. I was thrown in the deep end, working on real projects at a company and with people who were phenomenal at what they did. As with any engineering field, you have to be on the grounds and experience the steep learning curve.

Being a SoC student put me ahead of the pack when applying to overseas colleges, especially to Silicon Valley. However, being selected into the programme doesn't guarantee you a spot in the company that you want. You have to go through a interview process and of course in Silicon Valley, they want people who can contribute something tangible. So if you’re a programmer, you’re pretty much set.

The professors who taught at NUS and Stanford were both really good. They could bridge the gap between technology and business. In one of the classes I took in NOC, we had the opportunity to experiment with actual business cases. For example I did a supply chain case study, a seemingly boring topic right? But they had real sponsors. I was working on a project for AMD and had to come up with business models and figure out the best way to deliver the solution. That left an impression on how classes can be run in a real life context. With programming, as with the internet, things are moving so fast, there’s no way you can learn something today and expect it to be the same in the next few years. Interestingly in the Stanford classes, some of the professors don’t really "teach" – instead they invite good speakers. That motivated me to help Professor Juzar in the last two years for his Journey of the Innovator class because it’s about sharing experiences.

Is there anything you would have done differently during your time here?
I would like to have spent more time with the business people, if not for some projects that took too long to finish. I also didn't have time to attend all the orientation camps because I missed the first year coming from poly. I understand it’s important to mingle with people from different faculties.

What do you count as your most significant achievement since graduating from SoC?
In the last four to five years since starting Savant Degrees, I would say it’s the ability to change a lot of things around me. We're working on how the nation will watch TV in the future. We’re working on projects to alter the visitor experience for one of the most visited attractions in the world. We're working with struggling retailers to transform their business model. In a nutshell, we're transforming and shaping the way industries grow and I'm very appreciative of the opportunity to able to be in this position.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Travelling. It’s important to get a breadth of knowledge, to meet different people, different cultures and experience different things. A big part of my work is to connect the dots. When I’m not working, I'll be traveling and meeting people. With computing it forces you to be at the forefront of technology. It’s exciting to experiment with new technology, and inventing new concepts.

Quick-fire: Best movie you’ve seen this year?
Limitless. How you optimize your life. The drug aside, it’s analogous to how you optimise your life to achieve that potential. I believe everyone has that. Running every day, that’s my meditation, that’s my drug.

Worst fashion trend?
China doll bangs

3 ultimate dinner party guests?
Top of my list, Richard Branson. He's adventurous. I'm also inspired by his creativity, his tenacity and how he approaches life. I want to live my life like him.

Another dinner guest might be a little bit of a surprise, it’s Lee Kuan Yew. As I learn how to be a good leader and a manager, I realized, “Wow, it must have been really tough for him.” I had the good fortune of working with numerous CEOs and through that, understand the decisions and sacrifices they have to make as leaders. It is not easy, let alone for someone who runs a country and runs it so successfully. I really want to meet him if I ever get the chance to.

I want to say Steve Jobs but I've read his biography. Warren Buffet, because of his passion towards his career and his positive attitude.

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Marcel's Maxims

Marcel Böhme is a 5th year PhD student who now spends his days in sultry Singapore ‘breaking’ programs, as part of his research. Once upon a time, however, he grew up in a house at the edge of a forest in Schwepnitz, “a sleepy little village of 1500 souls in Germany.” He had an awesome, happy childhood growing up in the countryside, spending his winters walking through snow filled woods, following rabbit and deer prints, and his summers swimming in the nearby lake, chasing cows and falling from birch trees – which reads like lines straight off the pages of an Enid Blyton tale and something that, unfortunately, very few of us city-folk can relate to.

Photo credit: Nimantha Baranasuriya

What do you do now and where will you go from here?
My work is in automated software testing and debugging. Currently, I am looking at the changed behaviour of evolving programs. Let’s take Linux for example. The operating system has been evolving over the last twenty years to a massive 300 million lines of code and each day a ginormous 16 thousand lines of code are changed in the Kernel alone. I am interested whether any of these changes break anything, e.g., how you get a "blue screen". As part of my research, I have developed automated techniques that test and check these changes for errors. One of my tools found a major security problem in the Linux Core Utilities amongst other errors. Of course, there are many more interesting research questions that I'm looking into (e.g., automated debugging and program repair).

Hard to tell what my future plans are. I may follow the academic path for the time being. That gives intellectual freedom and opportunities to make some real impact. In the short term, it would be great to work with Professor Andreas Zeller in Germany. He has made significant contributions in my field of study and in particular to the automated debugging of large (evolving) software systems. In the long term, however, I still feel (geographically) unconstrained. Come what may, when I encounter an awesome opportunity, I'll go for it.

Describe your experience as an SoC student.
There are numerous opportunities to get involved and contribute. Earlier, I spent a year as a Graduate Student Representative and discussed with the school administration important topics related to the PhD program of SoC. Last year, I was invited to discussions with Singapore's Ministry of Education about possible changes to nationwide policies that were directly affecting us as PhD students. At some point, together with friends, we organized weekly PhD seminars (CSTalks) that fostered cross-lab interaction and gave direct feedback on interesting work in progress -- no advisors allowed. Next year, I am fortunate to meet Nobel Prize Laureates and Fields Medal Winners at the Global Young Researchers Summit (GYSS'14). Our PhD students are energetic and motivated. This liberal and competitive spirit drives high-quality research that is published in premier venues.

There is a lot of freedom in the way you can pursue your research. In Europe, I think PhD students often depend on grants from the industry and deliverables that totally need to work by the end of the year. Thus, there may be less opportunity for fundamental research which seeks longer term impact. In Singapore (specifically SoC), the majority of PhD students are funded on the Research Scholarship. So, without the pressure of immediate deliverables, you can do fundamental (farsighted, high payoff) research that won't expire in a few years with new technologies. But also, there are a lot of industrial grants and projects that can offer real data and relevant, applied research problems. For instance, the processor technology, developed by a friend during his PhD at SoC, has recently gained a lot of interest from ARM. Guess, where he is going to work very soon?

I also like the forward-mentality in SoC: If you just work hard enough, you can achieve something great. In a way, NUS (including SoC) is emitting this awesome sense of innovation, purpose, and progress. It is hard not to be inspired. If you have not already, you should go visit UTown and the CREATE laboratories to get a flavour.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
In my spare time, I am a jack of all trades, master of none. My philosophy is if other people can deeply appreciate doing something, then I can too. I like learning languages and spent a few semesters learning Italian and Mandarin Chinese. Unfortunately, not enough stuck with me to be able to converse. I like listening to classical music and attend mostly violin and piano concerti. In Dresden, I would pay a ridiculously small amount to visit the Semperoper as a student. In Singapore, the NUS Conservatory of Music organises classical concerti (free admission) and of course there is the Esplanade. I’m also the world’s worst guitar player and like taking courses on the online learning platform Courser.

I like to explore and choose the path least travelled. I've been to many places in South-East Asia and when I travel, I try to get lost to find my way back without a map. I also like to explore different cuisines and Singapore is *the* place to be for every food fanatic. Durian - damn shiok lah! Since my time is scarce, another means of exploration is by reading books. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” -- George R. R. Martin. I cycle to school every day, read crime novels in the evening, and play badminton on weekends.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
My online poker winnings paid for my first flight to Singapore (though I never invested any real money). In the beginning, a friend gave me $10 to poker for fun. Upon closing the account, I cashed out more than a hundredfold. Chiefly, I learned how to manage risk and reputation in an aggressive and highly dynamic "market". However, I do strongly discourage any form of gambling!
[Ed: Ahem…]

What advice would you give a prospective PhD student? 
These are some maxims I picked up along the way:

Work hard but productively. Do more things in shorter time. Focus on progress. Working long hours alone, won't give you the edge.

Learn from your mentor. Draw from his or her experience. Prepare meetings. Listen first, then speak. Work out deliverables for the next meeting. Digest the feedback. Since everybody has to publish to an international community, the only factor differentiating an excellent from a good university is your research advisor.

Maximize Originality. If knowledge is a tree, don't work on the leaves. Work on thick branches that can continue to grow. You'll be known for that. Somebody else will take care of the leaves.

Make some noise. Invest in your academic reputation. Publish to premium venues. In conferences, don't hide. Introduce yourself and make your peers interested in your work. Visit other research teams.

Read a lot. Only then you can make new connections that nobody else made before. Follow the most important conferences, journals, and research celebrities in your domain.

Peel the Onion. Every onion has a concise problem statement at its core. Before starting research, reduce all that complexity that is not crucial to an intuitive solution of your problem statement. For instance, you work in program analysis -- don't get distracted by concurrency, object-orientation, and unsupported program constructs.

Elevator Pitch. Be able to explain problem, approach, and main results of your work (i.e., every paper and even your dissertation) in one minute! If you cannot explain your stuff quickly, concisely, and coherently, you won't convince your busy reviewers.

Do lots of sports. A healthy mind lives in a healthy body. I get the best ideas, when I away from the lab.

Best hawker stall in Singapore? 
JiaXiang, 721 Clementi West Ave 2. Delicious steamboat and Sichuan food.

Worst fear?
Is there a life after PhD?!

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
Nikola Tesla, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Kurt Gödel

Seriously, which faculty members' innermost thoughts and feelings are you most curious about? Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Varun - the spoofer, ghost light controller and founder of Sent.ly

tenCube, the company that Varun Chatterji co-founded with his mates after graduating from SoC in 2005, and their breakthrough product WaveSecure, was acquired by McAfee in 2010. Now, Varun is the Co-Founder of Sent.ly. With the confessions we elicited in this interview and his varied interests, Varun is certainly aiding us in our quest to shatter the unjust ‘goody-two-shoesy-nerdy-one-dimensional-computer-geek’ stereotype.

What did you do at SoC and what do you do now?
Bachelor of Computing (Hons) Computer Science. Even though I did only a Bachelor’s degree, I think I completely agree with NUS' mantra of "Lifelong Learning". Though I am not formally trained, I have tried to learn what I can about subjects that interest me - Physics, Economics, Poetry, Art, Music and Law. 

Having started two companies, I can safely say that each day in a start-up is a research and learning experience. Every day in a start-up, you are researching on how to improve a product. Every day, you are researching on whether there is a market and how to reach them. And, just as research experiments can fail, so can start-ups. 

Working in a start-up is like going to school. In the end, even if you do not receive a degree, you will have received knowledge. And knowledge is what anyone who is true to him/her-self should seek in life and throughout life.

I am now co-founder of Sent.ly, a company focussed on providing Businesses with SMS send/receive capabilities in emerging markets. I like my position to be called "Member of the Team". I pitch in wherever I can but primarily, as a technologist, I like to write code when I can. My artistic temperament, though, kicks in at times and I can be a big pain in the a** arguing over something as mundane (though artistically relevant to me) as the size of an image or font or the choice of words in some text.

Describe your SoC student experience.
SoC was a great time for me. I am the sort who does really well when a subject gets a hold of me and I can just flow with it and enjoy it immensely. Unfortunately, this has a downside for if a subject does not get a hold of me, I do very badly in it. SoC was a roller coaster ride for me for this reason. My first semester grades were A+, A, A-, C+, F. 

I think failing in a subject is an important lesson in life. Failure can teach you more about life than an A+ can. Once you realise it is OK to fail and that it is not the end of the world, you can pick yourself up from every situation because you have the knowledge of "so what? I will do better next time". Even if people make fun of you as a poor student, failure teaches you to rise above all that and persevere.

I enjoyed programming modules the most. I also enjoyed Cross Faculty Modules like American Films (in which I made an atrocious film and got a C+), Writing Home (a University Scholars Program module in which I got an A though, I was later thrown out of the USP as my faculty thought I would not make it to honours though I eventually did) and Introduction to Indian Thought (a module in which I got an A and found that philosophy is exactly like programming in the application of logic).

The point that I am trying to make is that you don't have to get good grades to enjoy a module and to learn from it. As students, many of us are just in it for the grades. That is a very shallow objective in my opinion. Learning has to be the thing and not grades. Perhaps, this is a lesson that even our educational system needs to learn.

I would say that my stint in NUS Overseas Colleges (NoC) in Silicon Valley was both the most challenging and useful. The programme brought students from many different faculties from NUS together. The free flowing exchange of ideas and the camaraderie we developed, created a heady mixture especially in the intellectually charged environment of Silicon Valley. I met one of the co-founders of my first start up in Silicon Valley even though we were both from NUS. He was my housemate and course-mate in many courses.This collective experience of having a common root (NUS) and being in a new environment in which we were all on equal footing towards the new and unknown was a really useful experience.

Prof. Y. C. Tay is the faculty member who made the biggest impression on me. I failed in one of his modules once and nearly failed in it again in the subsequent semester, but I learnt one thing from him. He used to occasionally slip in a completely unsolved problem in his tutorials. He said he hoped one day one of his students would solve the unsolvable. Though at that time we were quite flustered to find these problems in our tutorials, I think, looking back, that at least this experience made us try to solve an insurmountable problem. Who knows, maybe someday some student might actually solve some of them and make a breakthrough in Computer Science!

A start-up company is like one of these insurmountable problems. Every day you have to solve a sub problem of the insurmountable. Every day, you have to discover how to break it down just a little bit more. If you are lucky, your breaking down of the problem into several solvable bits will give you success. If you are unlucky, it won’t. But that’s just life. Learn from the experience and move on.   

Different people have different interests at different points in life. When I entered university, I was 19. At 19, I had already been programming for 5 years since the age of 14 and had even started a company www.thewebartists.com with my friend Umang. This made me a little cocky and disinterested in the first year modules in programming (I did quite well in them even though I never studied). Now that I look back, I currently have a much more developed sense of interest in knowledge. I think if I was to do SoC again now, I would probably do a lot better and perhaps develop an interest in some modules that just went by because they didn't catch my interest. I often wonder if our education system is right in its imposing of learning at a particular age as a social norm.

What mischief did you get up to while you were a student here?
Please don't arrest me for these confessions!

I once spoofed an email from a professor and sent an email from his email address to my friend expressing "disappointment over his FYP efforts" and calling him to "my office". My friend got really flustered and went to the Professors office the next day. The Professor got really angry that someone had spoofed his email. I also spoofed the ‘From’ field in SMS and sent my friends messages which when opened appeared to come from "God". The text of the message read "I am watching you".

I also built a switch that could be turned on and off through SMS. So you could send an SMS to my system with the word "on" and the light in my room would switch on. And you could turn it off the same way. I once left one of my friends in my room after telling him that I thought the room was haunted and the lights seemed to be controlled by ghosts. After switching the lights on and off through SMS several times, I just walked into the room as though nothing had happened. My friend was as pale as a ghost!

What do you count as your most significant achievements since graduating from SoC? 
I would say co-founding tenCube and then selling it to McAfee would be my most significant achievement since graduating. It happened because I lost my phone and also because I was part of the NoC programme. I was still in school when I lost my Nokia 6600 which was a pretty darn new and expensive phone back then. It got me thinking if I could write a program to lock down a phone by sending SMS (I already had a reasonably good knowledge of SMS through my pranks and electronics experiments involving SMS). I posed the idea to my SoC mate Rishi and my NoC mate Darius and we agreed this would be a good problem to solve. So that’s how we got going.

Perseverance through all the doubt that surrounds a start-up is the key to making things happen. There were times when even my faith wavered as I went through a tough personal situation where I lost both my grandparents one by one. There were even times when things were not so good between my team mates and me. Looking back I can only attribute the success to who we were as a team and how we supported each other. Through any ugly situation, we were still a team and remained a team. That's what made it happen. The Team.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I enjoy reading. I enjoy writing poetry. I enjoy western and Indian classical music. I enjoy Rock, Jazz, Blues and Country music. I enjoy photography. I also enjoy making an occasional Charcoal sketch. I enjoy any kind of research activity.

Quick-fire time! Most Interesting development in technology/science this year?
Smart watches! I think we are getting closer to a "Beam me up Scottie!" scenario.

Worst movie you’ve seen this year?

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
Mahatma Gandhi - I would like to ask him what he thinks of our modern day world and what he would do to resolve the rampant mindless violence in the name of religion, ethnicity and politics.

Elon Musk - Because I would like to hear his vision for what technology can do towards creating a better world.

Stephen Fry - Because I would probably be tongue-tied with the first two guests and I trust Stephen Fry's creative genius would never let an awkward silence arise at the dinner table! As an interesting aside, if anyone is even remotely interested in English poetry, I highly recommend Stephen Fry's book - "The Ode Less Travelled".

Which faculty members should we interview and what should we ask them? Here's your opportunity! Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Thursday, 24 October 2013

'Crazy' Sarrie

Our victim this week is Sarah Tan, a third year Communications and Media (CM) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Concurrent Degree Programme student and former Vice-President (Finance and External Relations) of the Computing Club Management Committee. We couldn't convince her to let us Photoshop fangs and horns onto her photo for Halloween, but she shared a ‘zombified’ photo of her hand, so we've somewhat forgiven her. She’s also been providing excellent, much appreciated feedback on Project SoC Bytes, so if we start doing some dodgy stuff, it was probably her idea. :) Probably. 

According to Sarah, “most people, when asked to use only one adjective to describe me, would say ‘crazy’.” She generously offered visual proof of this craziness - the winning picture of the Best Photo-bomb Contest on the SoC Facebook page, of which she was the star. 

Briefly describe your experience as an SoC student.
[The thing I enjoy the most is] the awesome friends I have here! Because of them I'm actually more attached to SoC than to my hall :O

[I find] coding and linear algebra [most challenging], which unfortunately are the 2 most important things to know for a CM student. I suck at them ):

Almost everything that is being taught here [is interesting/useful] actually! Computing is like the most practical and useful degree ever and I really enjoy learning in SoC, even if I may not be good at it. 
[Ed: Working here has made me wish I had had the foresight to do a computing degree...]

Honestly, most of the faculty/staff members I know are like friends to me; I really enjoy talking to them and I even have quite a number on Facebook (profs tend to post really hilarious stuff :P). If I were to pick one person who has made the deepest impression on me, I think I'd probably choose Dr. Colin Tan. He's one of the Comp Club advisors so I had the opportunity to work with him last year. He's really nice, funny, crazy and spams my newsfeed everyday with pictures of Nala cat (which is a good thing)!

I would love to change the attitudes of the students here. Most of them are apathetic the stuff that's going on around them, unless it affects their grades. It's really quite sad and worrying to see how so many of our students have poor interpersonal skills and prefer facing a computer instead of humans. That's one of the reasons why we (Comp Club) try to organise so many events for the students, but the take up rate usually isn't very high unless its academic related.

[The one thing I wouldn’t change about SoC would be] the awesome faculty/staff members! I think we have the nicest people in SoC as compared to all the other faculties; my non SoC friends are always jealous of us because of that. While I do think some of the profs aren't really that good at teaching, they're all really nice people to talk to. I also know for a fact that how our school treats Comp Club is the best among all the other faculty clubs too! (:

Anything else about your student experience that you would like to share?
Orientation is awesome and should be compulsory in my opinion. Too bad Comp Club doesn't have enough resources for that ): Many of my friends were made during orientation camps as a freshie and as a senior, and they are the reason why I love SoC this much. You also get to make friends with seniors, who I feel are sometimes more important than profs in terms of the advice they give. So if any prospective student is reading this, JOIN ORIENTATION.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not studying?
Painting nails! My nail polish collection is hitting 100 bottles very soon :D I'm currently sporting a really cool blood splatter Halloween design! To see how I achieved that look (and the actual design when I finally upload it), check out my new blog.

Sarrie's Zombie Hand

What are your future plans?
I don't really have any long term plans other than the fact I want to work in Singapore, not US. For my short term plan, pull up my CAP to at least 4 so I can continue on to CMU to get my Masters in Entertainment Technology.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I actually cry quite easily haha.

Quick-fire round! Pet peeve?
People who can't speak/write in proper English. Not that my English is fantastic; it just irks me.

Guilty pleasure?
Eating salty food! Salt is possibly the best food discovery EVER.

Worst fashion trend?
Slippers with jeans haha.
[Ed: Agreed!! You can easily spot all the South East Asians overseas with this Slippers + Jeans disease!!!]

Got questions you want answered? People you want to hear from? Don't be shy. Sarah wasn't shy. Email tien@nus.edu.sg