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

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