3 Reasons Why I Enjoyed the NUS Overseas College Programme in Silicon Valley

One month after coming back from NUS Overseas College in California, I was asked to share on my experience in Silicon Valley at the Engineering freshmen orientation talk. During my one year stint in the valley, I worked as a web developer for Love With Food, a monthly box subscription service for all natural or organic snacks. Being in a technical role, my experience will be skewed towards the technical end, but I do believe that my experiences will also apply to the different roles across the board. Having benefited so much from the programme, I hope that the three reasons which I have provided below will inspire more NUS students to apply for the NUS Overseas College programme.

1. Learning new skills

Although my major is in Mechanical Engineering, I was hired as a web developer by Love With Food, where I picked up Ruby, the programming language, and Ruby on Rails, the web development framework written in Ruby. With a year of actual work experience, I became a competent web developer and have started making open source contributions to Ruby on Rails. The most important part of my one year internship came from the mentorship which I had received. While I might have been able to pick up new skills by onself, what I found was that being able to apply my skills immediately in the real world context enabled me to understand what I was learning better and faster. At Love With Food, I did not feel like I was treated as an intern, but like a full time employee. The one year experience has also allowed me to specialized based on my interest rather than just scraping the surface like most three months internship.

2. Being at the forefront of emerging technology

During my time in Silicon Valley, I was exposed to many new products and technologies which would have seen foreign to me if I was to be in Singapore at that time. When the Google Glass was released, I was lucky enough to be chosen during the limited release phase to purchase the glass directly from Google at their office. However, I did return my Google Glass a month later for reasons which I wrote in this other blog post.

As a web developer, many new frameworks and technologies often make their start in Silicon Valley where majority of the large tech companies are located. For instance, I was fortunate enough to meet and find out more about the latest development for EmberJS, a new frontend web development framework, by one of the EmberJS’s creator at one of the monthly meetups held at Yahoo.

I had the chance to try out the above ‘self cleaning fish tank’ in my office which ended up killing 3 betta and 1 sucker fish.

3. Exchange is part of the package

On top of doing a one year internship, I was required to take three entrepreneurship courses at Stanford University which NUS Overseas College Silicon Valley partners with. In Entrepreneur Thought Leadership, I got to hear first hand from entrepreneurs such as Scott Harrison and Cyriac Roeding about their startup story. In Global Entrepreneur Marketing, I worked on a marketing project with Stanford students where we helped a startup with its marketing efforts. In New Venture Creation, I learnt about Pretotyping and the various steps involved in preparing a pitch to investors. I attended events such as ASVEN where I got to meet and interact with many aspiring entrepreneurs. ASVEN was also the place where I met a product manager from Google which I eventually invited as a judge for my New Venture Creation pitch.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Traveling is part of the package too.

If you wish to join the NUS Overseas College programme

For the non-technical students, there are plenty of non-technical roles required in Silicon Valley such as designers and analysts in venture capitalist firms. Therefore, do not be deterred from applying for the NUS Overseas College Silicon Valley programme even if you do not wish to take up a technical role.

As school and work took up most of my time, most of my learning took place at work. Therefore, I urge you to be diligent in finding out what you really want to learn and pick a company or industry which you think will help you achieve your goals. If you are not sure, feel free to reach out to the relevant NUS Overseas College’s programme director and I am sure that they will be more than happy to help you.

The SGD600 Engineering Intern

The above email sent out by the Department of Mechanical Engineering for the school’s self-initiated vacation internship programme got me thinking about how engineering companies in Singapore are valuing talent. Firstly, they expect you to show an interest in additive manufacturing and finite element modelling which I have not learnt or heard about in 2 years of undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering. Then, they want you to work from 8.30am to 6pm, 5 days per week for SGD600 a month. On the surface, it may not seem like anything is wrong by offering a student, who probably still have no idea about additive manufacturing and finite element modelling, to learn about a field of engineering not taught in school. However, offering SGD600 a month for an intern speaks volume about the perceived value of the student by the hiring company. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the company and came up with a few possible reasons on how they came up with SGD600:

1. The student is inexperienced in the field and therefore does not justify a higher pay grade.

2. He is still a student and his parents are still giving him pocket money.

3. We don’t think he will contribute much and is probably going to be just ANOTHER intern.

4. Our budget does not allow us to pay our interns in the range of SGD1500 to SGD2000 because the few thousand dollars difference would put our financial statement in the red.

5. We are paying him with knowledge.

Pardon my sarcasm because I honestly think that engineering together with innovation will die in Singapore if that is the value we put on our interns. Let me make a simple comparison with the banks in Singapore. Banks in Singapore pay undergraduate in the range of SGD1200 to SGD4000 each month which varies across the different banks and departments. So why do I think that they are paying more? They know that securing talent early in the hiring cycle is important. Like it or not, money happens to be one of the motivating factor when residing in the most expensive city in the world. The problem begins when we have talent draining away from the shipyards and manufacturing plants into the big corporate buildings which provide an air conditioned environment with a much better pay grade. Your smartest and brightest brains end up contributing to another sector which is completely unrelated to their field of study. I think I might have just found the answer to why there is a lack of engineering innovation in Singapore, they are not even in the right sector to begin with!

With a basic understanding of psychology (my own feelings), the price tag that you put on a student makes a big difference to us. A low value equates to ‘You probably don’t think I am up for the job’. This ultimately leads to ‘if you don’t value my skills, why should I put in all my effort for you?’. I think it comes down to the basic principle that if you make something free, people value it lesser. If we put more value in our interns, I am pretty sure they would generate more value than you would ever imagine. Just look at the investment banking interns, they throw in extra hours for free and even sacrifice the opportunity to see the sun for the SGD9000 you are paying them 🙂

Nitrous.IO

‘I’ve got no time to blog’ – The biggest lie I tell myself.

With the small bit of time I found, I attended the SG Founders Meetup held at Nitrous.IO‘s mountain view office. At the meetup, you basically get to meet Singaporeans who are working in the valley or have companies that they started in the valley. Best part of it? Singaporean Food! The roti prata and hokkien mee brought back many familiar flavors to my Americanized taste buds. 

In this post, I want to write about Nitrous.IO which is a cloud based IDE for programmers to work and collaborate on. I first found out about them back in Singapore while I was having so much trouble trying to set up the Rails environment on my laptop. On Nitrous.IO, you basically get to create a ‘box’ which comes shipped with the development environments of your choice. Currently, the available environments are Ruby on Rails, Node.js, django and Go. The thing that initially got me interested was the ability to code on any computer regardless of its hardware. With each box, you can add either more Memory or Storage depending on your requirements.

964282_10151759407191994_2020691645_o

While trying it out, I realized that Nitrous.IO is great for hackathons where collaboration is made easier since everyone can just access the code without having to worry about setting up the environment. Pair programming is another feature that comes shipped with Nitrous.IO, think Google docs for programming. The best feature in my opinion is the ‘live’ local host which basically makes your application available to everyone without hosting it. I personally find it extremely useful because I can now show live demos without going through the trouble of pushing code up or having to share my screen with someone.

1404963_10151759419071994_1683245800_o

O and I forgot to mention, Nitrous.IO was started in Singapore 🙂

Black Friday is just round the corner, time to create my shopping list and enjoy the great deals!