ISTD Sophomores Welcome 2016

Posted: 16 September 2016

I was honoured to be invited as an alumnus to give a speech. I thought I’d share what I said here. The story from Art & Fear really struck a chord with me.

Good afternoon Professor Aditya, ISTD Head of Pillar. Faculty. Staff. PhD Students, and Undergraduates. I am honoured and flattered to be invited as a speaker for this welcome session. It is great to see the ISTD community growing strongly year after year, with the largest intake ever this year. I asked Professor Aditya what I should talk about in this speech. He gave me one word. Opportunities.

I decided to interpret this word as a question:

“What opportunities are available to an ISTD student upon graduation?”

Well, there are many opportunities that are available. Let me just name a few alumni to give you an idea of the diverse fields that ISTD graduates are in:

  • Aditya, co-founder of Codomo, a company that teaches kids design thinking through engineering and programming.
  • Kevin, co-founder of Techki, a software company focusing on chatbot and AI apps.
  • Edward, Graduate Consultant at IBM.
  • Kenneth and Ching Yi, Management Associate at Singtel.
  • Joshua, Management Associate at Citibank.
  • Gautam, Management Consultant at Impakt Consulting.
  • Delia, Game Designer at Koei Tecmo.
  • Yong Cheng, Software Engineer at Skyscanner.
  • Liza and Swayam, Software Engineer at Pivotal Labs.
  • Avery and Perry, Research Engineer at CSIT, a government body.
  • Benjamin and Natalie, PhD Students at SUTD.
  • Wei Liang, Web Developer at Tinkerbox Studios.
  • Clarence, Air Traffic Controller at Changi Airport Group.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. How did we all end up in such diverse fields? These opportunities did not look for us. We looked for these opportunities. A natural question to ask next would be:

“How do we prepare ourselves for these diverse opportunities?”

Well, the sad truth is that there is no formula. However, I do have three tips for you to follow. If you follow these, then it will better prepare yourself for the opportunities that lay ahead.

First, learning is not confined to the classroom, or even the school. Remember that your final year examinations are not the be all and end all. Just because you have studied everything required for the final year examinations does not mean that you are ready for a proper coding interview. If you’re fast in algorithms class, which the Sophomores are taking this semester, and BFS and DFS are too simple for you. Start looking at Dijkstra and Bellman-Ford. If you even find those easy, start looking at Prim’s and Kruskal’s algorithm for minimum spanning trees, even if it isn’t included for final year examinations. Whenever you think that there is nothing new for you to learn, ask the faculty, they would be more than happy to pass you a textbook, or point you in a certain direction. It is always good to learn more.

Second, keep an open mind to all opportunities that come your way, but once you take it up, give it everything you’ve got. Take ownership of the opportunity, think positively, and don’t give up on it halfway. These opportunities could include internships, exchanges, UROPs, UTOPs, Fifth Rows. You never know when you will find something that really interests you. Once you find your interests, work hard to being the best in it. If your interests change, explore other opportunities. Having these diverse experiences will definitely help you in future.

Third, always have a small ISTD related side project running. This side project is something that you are really passionate about and want to see it happen. For example, 2 alumni, Javier and Yong Cheng, built CoLab and beourguest, both web apps, as students in SUTD. CoLab failed, but beourguest is successful and they are thinking of how to grow it now. Having these side projects lets you work on something you are passionate about and at the same time, develops your skills in an area, which will definitely help you in future.

Lastly, maintain your own website to document all that you have done. You can do all this and compile everything on your LinkedIn with short paragraphs on what you’ve done, but that’s not very impactful. Blog about your project and talk extensively about what you’ve learnt in each project, the thought process behind each decision, the mistakes you’ve made, and everything about it. This forces you to consolidate your thoughts once in awhile, and hones your writing skills as well. Why do you think we submit project reports for modules? More importantly, it will be more impressive than a header and some short paragraphs describing the project on LinkedIn.

If you do the 4 things I mentioned above, which is non-exhaustive for sure, then I would say that this would prepare you for the diverse opportunities that lay ahead, as you will gravitate towards a specific opportunity based on your experiences. I can say all these now because I have made the mistakes and learnt from them. I also know that strictly adhering to these tips is really hard, and I still do make the same mistakes at times. However, I try to always keep this in mind and be conscious of it. In doing so, it will develop into a habit eventually and be second nature to you.

I am coming to the end of my speech soon, and in most speeches, people sometimes drift away. For the ISTD Sophomores, if you don’t remember anything I’ve said before this, remember these three things:

  1. Start a website with GitHub pages.
  2. Do side projects.
  3. Blog about everything you do.

If done properly, this portfolio will help you a lot when applying for any opportunity in future.

To conclude, there are many opportunities available for ISTD graduates. Do not worry about that. I have also talked about how to prepare yourself for these opportunities. But I would like to end this speech with a story from the book “Art & Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. This philosophically captures the essence of what I want to say, and I’ll leave you to your own conclusions.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot “albeit a perfect one” to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work “and learning from their mistakes” the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”