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