Sunday, February 15, 2009

Uniquely Yourself

First and foremost, I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day :)

As my blogging term draws to a close, I believe this short posting will aptly fulfill the role of a full stop.

All of us have our own opinions. 
Most of us began our childhood learning by mimicking the words and actions we observed.
Some of us will develop to have very determined views on certain issues and at the same time be strongly influenced by other great thinkers.
Nobody, however, has ever been truly great by merely emulating the footsteps of others.

the beautiful knowledge oasis muscat

The Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) is a conglomeration of leading IT and innovation companies. A place for them to establish their presence and to contribute to the research efforts and technology industry in Oman. With all due respect, it's a brilliant place, but the first and lasting impression is always "ah.. the silicon valley of Oman". It's unfortunate, but I don't think the KOM branding will ever get the full respect, recognition and identity it deserves...

The point I'm trying to drive here is that, as much as we want to (and should) learn from others, we must not lose our individual roadmaps. Like any successful brand, the uniqueness and differentiating quality is what separates the great from the good.

P.S so go ahead and read the blog postings with a pinch of salt and instead drive your own conclusions :)

P.S.S random pic of SorosUnited members for CS3215 (we are not affiliated to him nor agree/disagree with his actions)

Wishing a great 2009 ahead
- dmon

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Work Like Hell

It's confirmed...

This is probably the most uninspiring and stress-inducing title to start a post.

But yet, this quality is certainly a cornerstone for every legend that the world has come to know of, and for every hero that lives in our hearts. Extracting from an article in CNN - What it takes to be great & other interesting reads:
  1. Warren Buffett is famed for his discipline and the hours he spends studying financial statements of potential investment targets
  2. Tiger Woods started golf at 18 months and is constantly practicing and improving his game
  3. Winston Churchill comments on his speech practice that "If I don't practice for a day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don't practice for three days, the world knows it."
  4. Lee Kuan Yew is a workaholic and we all know that
  5. "Diligence is the mother of good luck." - Benjamin Franklin
  6. Steve Jobs got sacked, continued working like crazy, came back to Apple and took the world by storm and then gets sick (most unfortunately)
  7. The list continues for another 134,487,349 pages (I'll put a cartoon here instead of boring you)

Of course, putting in that extra effort and yet maintaining an interest and staying happy is often easier said than done. But the real point I'm trying to drive is not only should we bury ourselves in our core work (our main job or course of study, etc) but also be active in aspects outside of this core role we have.

I was doing Computer Engineering while in NUS but I went on to take some extra modules "for fun". In particular, I had an interest in Java ME and mobile games and despite a possible risk to my overall grades, I decided "what-the-heck". I took up CS4344 and together with my buddy pieced together something playable and took away some great experience with it. (We created the site a day before submission so pardon the crappy feel and as it's hosted on a really old page, some links might not be working already).

time spent working on Elemental Legend (mobile game for CS4344)

Things get worse when we step into the working society. We have more responsibility, endless datelines, and an inbox that should be labeled as "the only box in my life". And sadly, this is often the time we fail to continue learning. To this date though, I must say I'm probably 50% close to what I envision as working/learning like hell. Despite being a Java person, I'm dabbling with python on the Google App Engine and just monkey-ing around with the iPhone SDKs (YES! I got myself a new Macbook).

So, to have a matching ending to this boringly titled post, it's time to get on with work...

- dmon

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pattern Hunting

Try to recall this: some kids hoping and bouncing away in the malls as they try to skip to the next patterned tile or try to avoid the flooring of a certain color/design. I'm sure most, if not all of us, have encountered such a scene before. In fact, chances are, we have probably done something similar once upon a time. However, there is a high chance that we would have questioned these "antics" rather than gain a sense of familiarity with the skills they are displaying. Most would have placed this important skill in the back seat and some of us might have even forgotten about it. This seemingly innocent act of childishness is actually something much more sophisticated. It encompasses a skill that I feel everybody should perpetually utilize and kept sharpened - pattern hunting.

try to find the hidden tiger in this picture (answers @ the end)

In the field of computer science, it's critical that we discover patterns so that efficient algorithms can be developed. Within the research community, breakthroughs are often achieved after patterns are exposed in repeated tests. Con jobs are done with highly similar methods and yet people continue to be deceived, because tricksters are well versed in human nature (our behavioral pattern). In general, I believe pattern recognition and having the ability to understand and adapt to them can really better our lives and make us more efficient.

With whatever small amounts of ability I had to hunt and "see" patterns, it has certainly helped in my work and life so far. For the Qatar project, apart from having to use new products and technology (to build a portal in a painfully short time frame), there was also the burden of adapting and assimilating into her culture. In essence, the quicker you see the patterns in the specifications, the protocols and the interfaces of the products, the faster you can develop your custom applications and codes. The sooner you understand the intricacies of another culture and their unique behavioral patterns, the better you can communicate and build a rapport with them.

The same skill is again put to good use when I was sent to Oman. It's a new set of challenges with it's own unique culture to adapt to and I had only two good weeks to make myself useful over there. Naturally, it helped a great deal to be able to spot and recognize the similarities that existed between the cultures of the two nations and also the technical issues experienced.

an Omani friend [i hope you don't mind me posting your pic here :)]

I think that's about all I have to say for tonight (or rather morning...). If you have not been paying much attention to patterns in your life/work/etc, give it a try (what's the worst that could happen? :D).

P.S for the optical illusion, try looking for the text "THE HIDDEN TIGER" on the tiger's body :)

- dmon

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Calculated Fearless-ness

I promised to elaborate more about the National Infocomm Scholarship (NIS) and experiences I had in the Middle East, and through the course of it share some of my guiding principles at work (and generally in life). And to kick it off - Calculated Fearless-ness (you can't google this, I made up this term...).

All of us have something in common - fearful of the unknown, rejection and failure. When I saw the professionally designed NIS website; noticed the unforgiving application details; envisioned all the fluent essays required; and last but not least the thought of an interview with a panel of Simon Cowells, it was just about enough to make me forget about it all. At such junctures, I normally have a habit of asking myself, what's the worst that could happen? - application form gets dumped, application form is accepted but gets ridiculed in the interview, raging fire from the panel of interviewers, letter of discommendation from IDA to NUS (probably not...). I think you get the drift. Essentially, the mind has just been freed of mind-numbing fear since the worst ending is really just not that terrible after all.

Being in my third year, I had the opportunity to apply for the partial scholarship. Although IDA presents the award, the company that you get to join is chosen from a pool of partner companies. The list is extensive and still growing by the year. With a list of companies to select from, it's even more enticing as the bond period can be served in a company we have an interest in.

Besides the extra allowance, paid for tuition fee and a bunch of other stuff, I think the single most important benefit would be the overseas exposure (so the bond is really 1.5 years since the overseas assignment constitutes another 6 months). So, for third year students who see themselves firmly in the IT industry upon graduation, applying for the NIS would be a great option.

Fortunately for me, it turned out to be a happy ending, and I joined NCS shortly after graduation and then off to Qatar after a 1-month warm up period in the Singapore office. It was a blessing that I got an awesome boss to show me the ropes. Being the most junior member and facing both technical and cultural challenges, it was daunting. But my boss resonated with me on this very same habit whenever faced with a tsunami of a challenge or critical decisions - What's the worst that could happen? Normally the fear just melts away and sanity returns to lead us on to better and more effective solutions.

To sidetrack, I'm just looking at the Straits Times (5th Feb) and it says "Gung-ho spirit lacking in many job seekers..." Perhaps, to alleviate the fears, all we need is just to ask ourselves - What's the worst that could happen?

P.S I'll delve into more Qatar stories and write about why we pattern recognition is so important
P.S.S The papers also mention "Blogging is so dated - now you twitter" :p

- dmon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

{while true} HELLO WORLD {end while}

It's a privilege to have this opportunity to share & engage fellow SoCians and interested readers on some of my experiences & thoughts. And for that, I would like to thank James and Juliana for extending the invitation to be as guest blogger for the week :)

For starters, I don't have a personal blog and I don't think I will ever find the patience or enthusiasm to perpetually update one. So instead, I'm going to liken this experience to a mini series of short articles/stories.

First, a bit on my personal background...

After completing my 'A'-Levels, I never had a doubt on my next choice of study, and that could only be the School of Computing! However, the numerous course choices proved to be a major headache, but eventually I settled on for Computer Engineering and started a wholesome chapter of NUS life in 2003.

I spent the initial years in SoC trying to accustom myself to this new environment (and de-rust the brain after 2.5 years of irregular usage). One of the more interesting activities that took place was a mini competition organized within the CS1101S module to seek creative and interesting fractal designs generated with the scheme programming language. This was my submission and I was fortunate enough to be doing just enough for a prize :)

In retrospect, I could have certainly enjoyed and enriched myself further by participating in more activities especially those outside the scope of regular work. And I sincerely urge anyone who still has that chance to seize every moment of it.

In my 3rd year, as part of the industrial attachment program, I spent some wonderful time with I2R. It was also in the same year that I chanced upon posters plastered over SoC (you might want to spend some time looking at these posters) advertising the National Infocomm Scholarship (NIS) offered by IDA. I made the application, churned the required essays and after some grueling interviews with a panel of interviewers, I received the award and with it, a job with NCS.

The last year in SoC ended with the finale - the Final Year Project, a piece of work where I had the opportunity to work with excellent mentors from DSO. We spent a couple of months even after I left NUS to complete some editing works for the final publishing of a paper that eventually got accepted in the ACM WiSec'08 conference.

As part of the benefits of the NIS, we get to participate in overseas projects of the company. In the traces of a fading memory, yet I recall firmly two of the options presented to me - Australia vs Qatar. I pounced on the Qatar option. It took me a moment before I realised I knew nothing about this country, except that the Middle East region didn't really exhuberate much sense of safety (after a trip there, I can assure that places like Qatar, Oman, Dubai and some others can be even safer than Singapore). So my moment of berserk (and fearlessness) lead me to great experiences with project involvements in Qatar (Hukoomi - a Qatari Government Portal) and Oman and a most interesting encounter with the Middle East.

Allow me to create some suspense here before I start becoming a bore (more importantly I need to catch a wink). I'll share more about the NIS program and a bit more on my experiences working in the Gulf area in the next post :)
Feel free to drop some comments or if you want to know about specific stuff just shoot and I can try to answer them in the subsequent posts. Cheers.

P.S. a photo that I really like...

- dmon

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Shanghai Story

One important lesson learnt in SoC is really as per what Forrest Gump said, "My mama said, 'Life is like a box of Chocolates, you never know what you going to get...'"

One thing that i never really planned to do before matriculation was my overseas experience. I was thinking about doing my regular course over the span of 4 years and graduate and join the workforce. Plain vanilla style. No plans for minor studies, exchange, internship or what-so-ever.

During the beginning of my year 2, i was involved in the Freshmen Orientation Week as Logistic Guy for the 5 day thing in SoC for O-week. During then, got to know one of the Senior (matriculated 1 year before me) whom we call "KC" Anyway, KC and i get along just fine. During my Year 2 Sem 2, he left for NOC(shanghai) for his one year experience, and came back during my year 3, sem 2. He told me stories of the sights and sounds and wonderful adventures and misadventures in Shanghai. KC being himself, will always tell his stories with the 'you-got-to-try-this' kind of enthusiasm. Actually, for me, it sounded more like, 'i-bet-you-can't-handle-this-challenge'. Hehz... Just kidding...

The thing is he got me aware of some amazing opportunities that lies within NUS. I was kinda of bored with computers and writing lines and lines of code. NOC was the like the kind of different experience i was itching for. Especially Shanghai... With that, year 3 sem 2, i applied for NOC Shanghai, and found placement.

On my fourth year, i found myself living a land 3000+ km away from Singapore. That 4th year is what i call the Shanghai Chronicles. In it there are multiple volumes and stories to tell. For SoCians and other folks in NUS, you just need to know that i was engaged as market researcher(intern). I spent 4 whole months on works and projects relating to the financial market in China, and the other time with general consumer trends in the market there.

Well another idea to ponder: Being away from IT for a year helped me to realise that i love IT more. The saying about Absence making the Heart grown fonder is probably right. I haven't done any none-technical job since than...

Well, after coming back from NOC, life had been more than kind to me and it seems many doors had been opened. More importantly, i came back with a clearer understanding that there is so much more that i can and my other areas of improvement as well... It's been 18 months since i got back. It's the second time i'm working in a MNC now, (1st mnc job lasted a year), sort of founded and then put aside a start-up for my current work engagement, had a brief 'fling' with A*STAR with my FYP, tutored 2 semesters of Java in SoC.... and the list is still growing on...

Morale of the story: Anything is possible, we just got to try. Sometimes, we ourselves sabotages our own possibilities and would-be successes. SoC is a community with people who constantly motivates and challenges you to become the better person that you are. Have you take on any new challenges lately.