Tuesday, 19 August 2014


Desmond Ng, the 16th President of the Computing Club, is usually found at every school event with his team, promoting Computing Club activities and welcoming the uninitiated into the fold. His initial gruffness belies his helpful, genuine, and friendly nature, so don’t be afraid to approach him – he’s just a bit shy! 

What are you studying at SoC?
I am a Year 4 undergraduate, studying Electronic Commerce. 

Besides academic work, what else do you do at SoC? 
I am currently the President of the NUS Students’ Computing Club and my role is to manage to ensure the smooth operations of the activities initiated and executed by directors from the 16th Management Committee. Beyond that, I represent the voice of SoC undergraduates at the Union Level and engage discussions with Deanery on matters that affect the general NUS population, such as the ‘grade-less first semester for NUS’.
Within Computing Club, I am alike all other committee members who participate in activities and offer help whenever the call arises. I believe that a versatile hierarchy allows me to understand the concerns and challenges that are encountered by my members and ensure proper governance is in-place to abide to the rules and regulations. Just like the saying that there must be someone in the family, either the dad or mum, to be the “black-face”, and therefore, some of my members might feel that I am like a “black-face” that limits the actions of my members. As I embark on this journey as a President, I truly empathize how my predecessor, Yong Jie, felt back then when he was President of the 15th Management Committee. At times, I felt the sense of “loneliness” because the decision call is on me but I am very grateful that my committee members are supportive of my decisions. 
As a NUSSU representative, I would need to be the voice of my fellow computing undergraduates. In addition, I would also need to be the voice of my fellow NUS undergraduates and, at times, where the two positions have opposing viewpoints, I would need to “split” myself, to ensure the opinion and vote casted is aligned my personal cost-benefit trade-off. During focus group discussions with the school administration, I would bring up existing concerns that an undergraduate would have encountered so that such concerns would be taken into consideration by the school.

Describe your SoC experience.
Although I am currently doing my sixth semester in NUS, it feels as though my fourth semester. Not because of time flies, but because I “started” my university life in SoC only in my third Semester when I started joining the student life activities. In my first and second semesters, I was indifferent like many SoC undergraduates, studying at some corner of the school and the only activity that I attended then was welfare pack giveaway. Towards the end of the second semester, I saw a post on the list of student events and they were looking for a treasurer for the Game Development Competition (GDC) 2012. With my interest in accounting and finance, I applied for this position without much hesitation and I feel that this has been a turning point in my university experience and this marks the “start” of my university life.
After my initial role as treasurer for GDC, I was encouraged to run for the Director of Finance position in the 15th Management Committee. The process of interview is not unusual but campaigning and elections were relatively new to me. I still recall the days I went around pasting publicity materials around to garner votes. Giving my first election speech was a nervy moment where I had to pitch myself. After campaigning, it was the wait for the moment of truth to see if I will be elected the Director of Finance. Although I could foresee myself losing the election, I was thankful to everyone who stood by and supported me to continue as Deputy Director of Finance. The moment of truth was also the moment of realization of what elections really boil down to. It does not matter how capable you are, what matters is how popular you are. Back then, it was a tough call when I had to decide whether to accept the offer by my President, Yong Jie, as Deputy Director of Finance. So I questioned myself on the purpose of electing, which is to volunteer my services for my fellow SoC members, and that guided me to accept the offer. During the course of my term as Deputy Director of Finance, my passion for Computing Club grew to the point that I felt so devoted to Computing Club, and that was the moment I decided to continue to work hard and run for President of Computing Club, to allow me to serve at the next level. 
The turning point was a defining moment for me and it changed my university life. Thus, as a word of advice to my juniors, I urge them to spare some time for these leisure activities. Who knows if it might also be a turning point for them to realize more about what university life is all about too besides studies? SoC has been the great place that offered me countless leadership opportunities and they placed strong faith in their students in being the Voice of Computing and personally, the soft skills that the school had offered me are the greatest takeaway of my journey in SoC.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a homegrown Singaporean and neither of my parents are Malaysian despite the fact that I sound pretty much like a Malaysian when I speak in Chinese.

What advice would you give a prospective SoC student?
If [you think] university life encompass of solely academics, I personally feel that it might have alter the definition of “life” adversely. For most, this might be the last part of their student journey before embarking onto the next phase of life into work environment and if [you are] ever asked what your university experience is, take a deep thought into what constitutes to it….
If the first and last [thing] that strikes your mind is the academics, it is never too late to change it and be different. Each year, SoC has over 400 students graduating from the various majors and I believe that most seek differentiation and would like to have a different university story to share. If our story revolves solely around academics, how different can [it] be compared to others? In university, there are tons of opportunities available throughout the journey and I believe that the first step that one takes to participate in student life activities would result [in a] recurring occurrence of it and this will eventually forge a greater overall experience to one’s university experience. 
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. No matter how hard we work academically, we need to give ourselves some time to enjoy the activities that enhances our university experience. 
Speaking to some prospective students during Open Day and Computing Insights, they shared their concerns about job prospects in the IT Industry as many organizations have outsourced IT services. My experience so far is that SoC does not prepare you to compete on solely on that level, which will be prone to outsourcing - SoC prepares our undergraduates to be in a managerial role and the focus on soft skills would be the key to enabling our undergraduates to assume managerial positions.

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
Since young, I had the ambition to be policeman but sadly, the ambition was shown the door as I have a medical condition that does not allow me to overexert myself. 

What are your future plans?
Few years back when I was in polytechnic, one of my lecturers told me that there are three things that one would do:
  • Things that you are good at;
  • Things that you have a passion for; and
  • Things that offers you the financial sustainability
I did a Diploma in Accountancy in Singapore Polytechnic because I feel comfortable with Accounting during my secondary school days and I feel that it is something I am good at it. However, during the course of study, my passion for IT grew and I went on to take a Certificate in Software Programming and Applications as an add-on to my core diploma. Failing to secure a position for Accountancy, I turned to my passion, which brings me to where I am today. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason and I never regretted the decision to [enter] SoC because it offers me tons of opportunity for me to learn and take up leadership appointments. Many asked if I would continue in this line after I graduate. It is definitely an interesting field that I would want myself to be in; however, the lack of technical expertise (i.e. programming) has led to the lack of confidence to pursue a career in the IT industry. The journey in SoC made me realized how much accounting had meant to me and that, I would continue to further my studies in the accounting line and hopefully be able to find a job that allows me to leverage on both my accounting and IT knowledge.

Quick-Fire. Favourite sport and team?
My favourite sport is soccer and my favourite team is Manchester United and that has never changed since the day I supported a football club.  

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

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Bodhisatta Roy always wanted to work with computers because he was attracted to computer games, but his father refused to let him shoot aliens or race around virtual worlds. Because of that, he’s never played any computer game – not even when he got his first tablet a couple of years ago. Bodhi was a Graduate Research Student here from Jan 2012 to July 2013, working with A/P Liang Zhenkai. He plays the guitar, loves the sunshine and beaches, has been going to Sentosa for a picnic at the end of every semester since he’s been here in Singapore, and can’t get enough of vanilla ice-cream.

Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in a small town called Garifa on the eastern coast of India. The best way to describe it would be a half-way house between a “kampung” and a small-sized city, but with a “kampung” spirit. Cycle rickshaws are still a widely-used mode of transport, the social circle extends well beyond the immediate family to a long list of neighbors. [There are] mostly small houses with gardens in front. Apartment complexes have only sprung up in the last decade. There are also a lot of ponds (one in front of my house, to be exact!). Cricket is still considered a religion, though I prefer soccer.
I had a very disciplined upbringing; both at home and school. I remember crossing a river in a train via a bridge which is over a hundred and fifty years old. It has structurally degraded [to the extent] that the trains are restricted to go [a maximum of] 10 kilometres per hour on it. I did walk to-and-fro on that bridge several times and it was quite scary: watching the river flow over a hundred meters below and just pieces of wooden plank prevented me from swimming below.
Studying in a Catholic school has been quite instrumental in my life: the administration was not only insistent on providing quality education, but also taught me essential life skills. Though I had always managed to escape the cane, there were a few instances where I, along with my fellow friends, had to stand in the sun for a whole day. Ironically, I was innocent on those occasions, just caught in the wrong spot at the wrong time! It, however, made me realise that the best way to avoid punishment is to get good grades and be treated with more respect (the top-five students in my class always got off with no punishment). I studied harder, and I was treated leniently on several occasions after committing “crimes” henceforth. 
Undergraduate was crazier: I guess I was plain unlucky. My undergrad school was so strict that we were not allowed to leave the premises unless the lectures were over: and we had seven lectures, five days a week! If a lecturer was absent, some other lecturer would come over and teach the module. It was hilarious, and outright dictatorial, and completely ridiculous because nobody understood the logic behind forcing adults to sit and study for 6 hours in stuffy classrooms with more than a hundred students. Oh, we did not have air-conditioned classrooms as well. And the student attendance rate could not be less than 80%.
Masters was slightly better: we were no longer bothered with attendance percentages, the classes had air-conditioning, and the Professors were quite serious in ensuring that the coursework was rigorous. Despite getting an opportunity to do a 6-month internship for a IT MNC, I chose to do a Master’s thesis and it was a very insane decision I consider myself lucky enough to graduate. Ha ha!

What do you do now? 
I work as the sole IT Analyst at the Business Analytics Centre since October ’13 :-/. This is a joint setup between NUS Business School, NUS SoC and IBM. My primary responsibilities are teaching programming technologies to the MSBA students. I’ve only been here for close to a year and one of the few perks of academia is that you get paid to read and then read some more. I also work closely with the Director of the Centre, Prof. Jorge Sanz, on a few research ideas while I’m not doing something useful! I need to do so to keep my brain excited with new challenges.
As an instructor, I try to ensure that my students learn something useful for their professional career. However, it becomes slightly challenging as most of my students are in their mid-30s, and one is even in his 40s, while I’m still in my mid-20s! But I guess the feedback reports are quite good, so all hope is not lost yet! I’ve always enjoyed teaching. I [was] a Teaching Assistant during the entire senior year of my Masters back in India and it [was] a gratifying experience for me. After my Masters, I was associated with a university in India; working for a project to build virtual classrooms for university students with low-speed internet connections (< 256 Kbps; typical in India and other developing countries). Even in NUS, I was a Teaching Assistant in SoC for a semester. 
I’ve also always dealt with Graduate students as a Teaching Assistant. During my research candidature in NUS, I was a Senior Facilitator of Facilitators@NUS, teaching NUS team leaders and student cohort life skills via experiential learning. It has been an incredible experience for me, and I can safely say the same for the NUS students who’ve taken part in these camps and workshops. Some of these overnight camps were held in Pulau Ubin, and there was even one in Kota Tinggi, Malaysia! This is a completely different methodology of enriching student lives, and I try to incorporate some of them during my classroom sessions in the MSBA program as well.

What is the one thing you would change about SoC?
A few of my colleagues complain that they have to go to The Deck (FASS food court) to get decent coffee. And to accompany them, I’ve to make the long walk from the far end of COM2. Solely to avoid the 10-minute walk each way, can we please have a nice coffee machine in the staff room? Even if three staff members go to the Deck to get coffee, that’s one man-hour wasted. 

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date? 
I think I’ve been lucky in enjoying what I do, mostly because my managers have never pestered me. Choosing the right manager and the right job, I think, is a significant achievement. This helps any employee explore a lot of ideas and translate them into viable projects, with a business goal in mind. Of course, sometimes you do a project without any specifically defined business values, but that is a perk solely enjoyed in academia.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I read a lot of fiction: Tom Clancy happens to be my favorite. I’m currently reading “The Cobra” by Frederick Forsyth. I try to read 50-70 paperbacks every year. When I'm out of good books, I "steal" a few books on economics from Prof. Sanz's bookshelves.

Quick-Fire: Worst experience with public transportation?
My home was about two-and-a-half hours away from my undergraduate school. During my final semester exams, the mercury crossed 40 degrees Celsius every single day. It was a bit difficult to travel in public transport, because there are no air conditioners in local buses or trains back home.

Pet peeve?
Wasting food.

Three things you can’t live without?
They’d have to be the following, and not necessarily in that order:
  • Holidays: the opportunity to see my family back home or backpack around
  • A positive attitude: to make a difference to my professional and personal life
  • Reading a few pages of fiction every night, or while I'm commuting. 

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