Tuesday, 28 July 2015


If there was one thing from an NUS canteen stall that Mohammad Mobashir could eat for the rest of his life, it would be the peanut butter waffles with an extra scoop of peanut butter (from The Terrace’s drink stall). He must have a thing for peanuts because he also thinks that the best hawker food in Singapore is the satay with peanut sauce that he gets from a stall at Lau Pa Sat. Fake English accents peeve him, but just give him some bubble wrap to pop (guiltily gleefully) and he’ll be all right. Mobashir also enjoys the satisfaction of being able to ‘tick off’ all the countries he’s travelled to and would like travel around the world in the future.

In his lab. (Photo credit: Nimantha Baranasuriya)

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kolkata (Calcutta) which is referred to as the “City of Joy" in India. It is one of those cities which would embrace you and leave you with a bit of it in your heart. I’ve read somewhere and totally agree that if you want a clean city go to Delhi, if you want a city full of rich and famous people go to Mumbai, if you want a tech-savvy city go to Bangalore but if you want a city with a soul you can’t look beyond any other city other than Kolkata.

In Kerala (Photo credit: Nimantha Baranasuriya)

What are you studying at SoC?
I’m in the third year of my PhD in Computer Science. My research interest lies in the confluence of Wireless Sensor Networks and the Internet of Things (IoT). I aim to build communication protocols which would perform well in an environment consisting of numerous devices generating a lot of interference for each other. Hopefully when the IoT hype meets the Tech Reality, people might find my work useful. 
I can classify myself as a Full Stack Developer, a person who looks into the research and development of the different layers of the networking protocol suite for Internet of Things. With more and more technologies coming into existence ranging from ZigBee to Bluetooth to WiFi, a common communication paradigm would be necessary. I hope I would be able to fill this void. 

Describe your SoC experience.
SoC has given me a platform to play multiple roles during my stay here from being a student to an independent researcher to a tutor. I have been gifted with a blend of a motivating supervisor, helpful colleagues and curious students. 
The most challenging thing [I’ve faced here] was to adapt my eating habits. No, it is not that I have started eating particularly healthy meals like McDonalds (pun intended). Instead the change has been in my eating timings where the dinner ends around 6 in the evening. Surprisingly that was the time I used to finish eating my evening snacks back in India :P.
One improvisation to the campus according to me should be adding a lot of foosball tables. I seem to have acquired an addiction for it during my internship at Microsoft Research and somehow I'm finding it hard to overcome it :(. 
Besides doing research I manage to take some time out to travel to different countries. I love travelling and wished that my career had been oriented towards a profession which demanded travelling :(. Luckily as a graduate student we get to travel for conferences and I'm trying my best to make the most out of it! 

In Dubai

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
I wanted to become a cartoonist. I'm still interested in it but as a hobbyist instead of a profession. I enjoy sketching cartoon characters whenever I take time out of PhD and perhaps that's the reason why I enjoy movies like "Madagascar" instead of "My Fair Lady".

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Something that surprises a lot of my friends is that I have not watched even a single episode of Friends or Big Bang Theory or the many other television series which are rated above 9 in IMDB and is bread and butter to all my friends. Trust me that I had to look into IMDB right now to get the list of popular TV series to answer this question :P.

What advice would you give a prospective PG student?
Keep calm and research hard. More importantly, stay away from discussion leading to "When are you graduating?" and profiles of fellow PhD candidates publishing like a machine. One thing that I have learnt from PhD is to accept "rejects" sportingly. Be it from a prospective girlfriend or a top rank conference. If we work hard enough we are definitely going to get what we dream for.

In Abu Dhabi

Quick-Fire. Worst fear?
Locked in a room with a dog. Even the tiniest Chihuahua scares the @#$@ out of me :-/

Three items you'd want if you were stranded on a deserted island for eternity?
1. Some bubble wrap
2. My Timberlands shoes
3. And of course decent supply of water 

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

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Khyathi, literally.

Class of 2014 Information Systems alumna Khyathi Nirmal Kumar hails from Chennai, a city in the South-Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Most people would be surprised to learn that she’s an introvert, and only 22 years old. If there was one thing from an NUS canteen stall that she could eat for the rest of her life, it would be The Terrace’s Western stall’s eggless brownies. She hates piercings of any kind and the incorrect usage of the word ‘literally’ [Ed: I hate to break it to ya Khyathi but they’ve accepted that ‘incorrect’ usage so technically it’s no longer wrong – I know, I know it’s the end of civilisation]. If there was one thing she would change about SoC, it would be to have modules with more emphasis on practical, real-life projects and experiences, especially for less technical courses like IS. When she’s not working and broke, she enjoys sleeping and binge watching TV shows. When she’s not working and flush, she loves travelling. Khyathi’s three ultimate dinner party guests would be Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and one of her own bosses, Prantik Mazumdar

Khyathi about to do some adventure parasailing on one of her travels abroad

What do you do now? 
I currently work as a Senior Consultant, Search and Social Media, at a Singapore-based digital agency called Happy Marketer. I handle clients from the Education and Technology verticals. My main responsibilities include client management, strategy and project management. I've always been fascinated with creativity and marketing requires creativity to be used to solve business challenges. I find this mix very interesting and this made me apply to agencies to do internships when I was studying.
Happy Marketer is a digital agency founded by NUS SoC alumni Rachit Dayal, who is also an NOC alumni. We help businesses innovate and grow their business through Digital. Some of our services include Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Paid Advertising and Web Analytics. The company turns seven this June and has grown at an amazing pace since its inception in 2009. It is now one of the leading independent agencies in the region. 
I am currently in the process of transitioning to a new role at Happy Marketer. This role involves managing branding, PR, internal marketing, award submissions, industry research for Happy Marketer as well as charting out the strategy for all our existing clients, pitch planning for new clients and lastly defining processes and benchmarks which we as a company should live up to in-order to stay ahead of competition.
I have loved working at HM since I started interning here 3 years ago. I've been in the company since we were just 4-5 people in a tiny office, and I am here now when we are 30+ people strong. I've been through the entire journey with the team and even though I did not start the company, it feels like my baby!

So, I am really excited and thrilled about this role because it is my one big chance to shape the brand, to shape the work that we deliver and to assist on a strategic level, and really give something back to the company.
Marketing has always been crucial [in business], it’s just the way it's delivered or executed that changes every decade. As boundaries and limitations keep reducing, the amount of clutter around us increases every day. Hence, as marketers, we hope to be able to help brands connect with their customers and stand out of the clutter by being "future ready". 

Describe your SoC experience.
I loved 2 things the most - the diverse classes and the CCAs. I met some of my closest friends in SoC who I still stay in touch with. I loved hanging out with them on campus, camping at SoC, working late nights or even just slacking to take a break. As for the CCAs, I was the Vice Chair of the NUS Student Chapter of the ACM. I've always been passionate about organizing events and running this club for over 2 years was one of the most memorable things for me as a SoC-ian. My team organized multiple events that were useful for techies. One of my favourite events was Developer Weekend which was the largest student-run hackathon at the time. Being a part of this club taught me a lot about leadership, expanded my network as I used to reach out to companies for corporate sponsorships and gave me a lot of experience with marketing. It was like my own little project. Another very interesting initiative by NUS ACM was Code for Cause (CFC). CFC was set-up to help social enterprises or NGOs that need technical help, be it building a website or an app or even something trivial. My team worked with 2-3 enterprises and built products that helped these companies. Sadly, the club is not very functional at the moment from what I hear, but those 2 years got us a lot of recognition in NUS.

Khyathi receiving the Student Achievement Award for Code for Cause

The most challenging thing for me was to balance work and school. I used to intern or work part-time pretty much every semester and it was good fun balancing school, work and my personal life. Even while studying, I was working with Happy Marketer which kept my passion for marketing alive. Studying IS and working in Marketing kinda go well together. I applied things that I learnt at school at work. And work helped me discover my interests, which helped me structure my curriculum in school and not just take modules blindly. 
Of course, this was possible only because of the flexibility that SoC and HM provided me with. And that's another thing I love about SoC. The school not only gives students enough space to discover or pursue their passion, but also supports them whenever possible.
Prof. Anand Ramchand was one of my favourite profs in year 1. I loved his style of teaching, it’s very practical and interesting. There are 2 other profs that I really admire, Prof. Tan Wee Kek and Prof. Tuan Phan. I studied the toughest modules in my curriculum with them and it’s awesome how they support their students. For Prof. Tan's module, he used to stay around on campus, overnight, to help students with their projects. His students were his first priority and he just goes the extra mile to help them. Prof. Tuan was my FYP supervisor. Everyone told me FYP would be tough and it was. But it just became so much more enjoyable with a great supervisor like Prof. Phan. He's always open to suggestions and he doesn't micromanage. He gives students the liberty and support to experiment, fail and re-try. 
[On top of all that,] we did have a lot of fun while we worked overnight on group projects. We'd play card games, share silly stories, take funny/embarrassing pictures of friends while they dozed off, draw on their face etc :P [If there was one thing I would have done differently,] I think I would have liked to try more cross-university or global programmes. Learning and travelling at the same time :)

What do you count as your most significant achievement to date?
Being recognised as the "Most Promising Newcomer" in Asia in the marketing industry (at the 2015 Mumbrella Asia Awards in May). It was my first "big" achievement. I just made sure I continuously add value to the company (Happy Marketer) and its clients, and keep learning every single day - and it paid off! Both my bosses and my clients were kind enough to recommend me and nominate me for this award. My bosses, Rachit & Prantik who've always been my mentors, my friends & family, my clients & colleagues. I just made sure I have fun doing my work :)

Khyathi with her bosses and colleagues at the 2015 Mumbrella Asia Awards

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
I wanted to be an astronaut! Haha! I am still very fascinated with space and stars and extra-terrestrial activities and would definitely like to visit another planet someday (doesn't seem so unreal given all the advancements!).

What are your future plans?
No big plans yet. But 3 things that I want to do, backpack around the world, start a business at some point, help social causes through marketing (as in take up pro-bono marketing projects that can make a difference).

Quick-Fire! Worst fear?
Getting tickled :P. 
On a serious note: losing my freedom

Worst experience with public transportation?
Hate traveling by buses specially double deckers. The constant feeling that you might just be thrown out of the window while moving on the upper deck is scary! :P

Most interesting development in technology this year?
I am very curious about the interesting applications of IoT in store for us!

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