Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Tenacious A

Adrian Tan specialised in E-Commerce with Information Security and graduated in 2013. If he could have done one thing differently during his time here however, he would have taken fewer management modules, which required too much writing for his liking. He even went as far as skipping a 20-mark question in a mid-term test because he couldn’t be bothered typing an answer. Two years ago, he conducted a field study in a remote village in Indonesia, as a member of the Centre for Social Media Innovations for Communities (COSMIC), and considers this experience one of his most significant achievements. When he isn’t working, Adrian likes to travel and spend time with family. 

Adrian, his nephew Jason, and Mr. Bean

What do you do now?
I am a Research Engineer in the Institute for Infocomm Research, Sense and Sense-abilities (S&S) programme. S&S is a national initiative which aims to create a unified architecture for an end-to-end platform for sustainable large scale and heterogeneous 'sensing' and 'making-sense' of our living environment in real time. Since this is a national initiative, the primary users are the various government agencies.
My primary responsibility is in the visualization service where I implement various visualization techniques to represent data that make sense to the users, i.e. displaying a set of locations on a map is better than displaying a list of latitude and longitude to the users. I am also responsible for the analytic toolkit. One of the products I have in the toolkit is ‘heatmap’. One application of heatmap can be for making sense of noise data collected by sensor nodes. One can visualize how noisy a location is based on the colour of the heatmap region. There is no point collecting large dataset if one cannot make sense of it.
This role allows me to gain hands on experience data analytics which is one of the cool things and it is cool that products that I build are used by government agencies. Singapore will become a better place to live in. For example, the authorities will be alerted when noise exceeds a certain threshold. The noise may be caused by construction works, or maybe, riots.

Describe your SoC experience.
It was challenging as I aimed to graduate well (with good honours). Aiming to graduate is a completely different ballgame from aiming to graduate well. As a freshman, I really suffered from cultural shock. I did not know that a professor could speak at a speed where I asked myself what I have learnt during the 2 hours. My grades were poor in the first semester, in fact, the first two semesters. Memorization work is not applicable in NUS as exam questions were to test students’ understanding. It is the ability to summarize profound concepts and share your views that will bring you the grades.
[What I enjoyed most was getting to] take modules outside of computing. From law to philosophy, we can choose them so long they interest us. Of course, we need to have the capital to fight it out in CORS. Also, I got the opportunity to make very good friends and learn from professors on stuff beyond academics. [The one thing I would change about NUS, though, would be to] make it clearer to students on graduation requirements. Till now, I can still be confused about the module requirements to graduate.
The toughest period in NUS was during my final year project (FYP) period. I lacked the research experience and strong theoretical foundations. Before embarking on my FYP, I always assumed that those Chinese dramas having actors falling asleep in front of the computer was a mere act, rather a blatant lie. But, the FYP experience has rejected my claims.
I received many critiques from my supervisor. I remembered vividly that I once skipped class to develop a mobile game for my experiment and showed it to my supervisor the next day. She asked whether my target subjects will be interested to play the game. Eventually, the game resides in my cold storage. 

Which faculty members made impressions on you?
Prof. Hon Wai Leong was my personal mentor. He has been very inspiring where he always share insights whenever I approached him for advice. Even when he's busy, he does not chase me away when I knocked on his door.
Dr. Klarissa Chang taught me how to think critically. My grades drastically improved after I have taken her course for one semester (She is also my FYP supervisor). I will say that she imparts a great deal to students, but whether one can absorb is another story.  
Mr. TK Teo, a part-time lecturer where he taught IS Strategic Planning. He is from the industry and he taught us things that is beyond academics.I pretty much enjoyed his class as it takes us away from those boring theories. One lesson I always keep in mind and I share with people - value-add and not be a cost centre. 

What do you think made your student experience different than that of any other student?
I do not deny that I took a more difficult route to be where I am today. I did not get to attend mainstream school till I completed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). I attended a special school, a school that that caters to children with Cerebral Palsy. Apart from academic lesson, we received therapies to train our motor skills and speech. It was just 4 hours a day we spend in school so lessons were slow. Special education was only in focus in recent years. In the 1990s, it was not common. Computers were very expensive – I typed my schoolwork using typewriters. I spent a decade there and I was then 14 years old, the youngest candidate to take PSLE. I fought to leave as I find it crazy to sit for PSLE at a later age. 14 is a good age as I need not serve the nation, I wasn't ready as I was only Primary 5 at that time.
My teachers disagreed but my parents supported my decision. I tried and I make it to Normal Academic stream at a Bishan neighborhood school, not Raffles Institution. After secondary school, I enrolled into a Polytechnic.         
After polytechnic, I was lucky to secure a scholarship to study at NUS. I am no different from other students. Rush projects, burn midnight oil, skip lectures were all part of my uni life. I pursued a degree like most of my peers, wanting to get a well-paying job and lead a better life. I chose to enroll into NUS for her prestige; I do not want to enroll into a university where its degree can be simply obtained through dollars and cents. The mere difference is that I have to spend more time and effort as compared to others. One thing I insist is to type my answer on my own and present for my projects. Given my condition, a scribe may be an easy way out. But, scribe will never be available in the workplace. It will also be weird that a computing graduate doesn't code independently.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I participated in horse riding classes.

Quick-fire. Most annoying word?

Guilty pleasure? 

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and Kevin Rudd

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg

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