“Do not be afraid to try new things and more importantly, do not be afraid to fail. Once you figure out what drives you intrinsically, you are definitely on the right path to success.“
Can You Tell Us a Little Bit About Yourself?
I am passionate about the intersection between business and technology. I chose to study Mechanical Engineering(ME) under the Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP) at NTU, did Mechanical Engineering (ME) in GLOBE at UC Berkeley, and a master’s degree in technology management under REP. Being the bridge between the technical space of technology and business strategy has been a great interest of mine and hence I took up internships across both spaces.
What made you want to apply to the GLOBE program?
My undergraduate program, Renaissance Engineering Programme, works closely with UC Berkeley, specifically for the GLOBE program. My program requires us to study abroad for one academic year either at Imperial College London, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, and others. UC Berkeley is a strong choice for me mainly because of its location within the Bay Area and the college’s culture.
I was fortunate enough to visit San Francisco when I was 17 after winning a national entrepreneurship competition. It was then when I realised that the fast paced nature of technological start-ups highly appeal to me. UC Berkeley being in the Bay Area, has a strong foundation in tech.
Next, I also realised that the general mindset in Berkeley is quite different from other colleges. People constantly hone in on applying acquired theoretical knowledge to practice. For instance, even for highly research based classes, the professors and students will discuss how to apply those theories in industry.
GLOBE is a great program in allowing students to experience the campus for 6 months. 6 months sounds like a short period of time but it is definitely enough to take home a highly rewarding and game-changing experience. The special appeal of GLOBE is the strong support system present. There are student advisors whom we can connect with to better understand important matters like what classes we should go for and other experiences we should pursue. The faculty has also been greatly supportive in that aspect as well.
What did you like about your experience in Berkeley?
My overall experience has been great. I met some of the smartest people that I know in Berkeley. They are really talented and driven people who strive to make a deep impact in areas that they are passionate about. The great thing about GLOBE is that I got to meet the best and brightest students from all over the world. That international experience has been pretty unique.
Do you find the classes here to be interesting/engaging? How were the SCET courses?
I love The Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (SCET). I think SCET is one of my favorite things about Berkeley. In SCET, the courses equip us with the foundational skillsets to create start-ups. The most memorable course that I took was IEOR 135, Data-X. It helped me not only to understand fundamental machine learning techniques but also pushed us to apply those in a venture application. The course requires students to form a group to solve a real problem using data science techniques. My team went on to compete in the Collider Cup and pitched our project to panelists made up of venture capitalists and technological leaders.
I heard you founded a Health Consulting Group in UC Berkeley, can you tell us a little more about this group? What inspired you to do it and how was your experience with it?
Healthcare Consulting Group, HCG, is another key highlight of my Berkeley experience. HCG works with startups in the medical-tech space and focuses on early stage companies. Some of the problems that we help to tackle are Go-to-market type problems like companies who want to commercialize their product or even growth-related strategies where startups are trying to grow both vertically and horizontally. One of my most memorable projects in HCG was working with a team of brilliant students to figure out how to help a prosthetics start-up go to market. They managed to develop an affordable prosthetic without compromising on the features found in expensive alternatives but are facing a barrier in getting the tech into the hands of as many people as they can. We worked directly with the CEO of the company and co-created a solution we think would work best at that point in time.
HCG was a great space for me to give back. I had an amazing time working with passionate and driven folks to tackle difficult problems. I was also able to transfer what I learned over the years while working for start-ups and consulting firms to the student population in Berkeley.
Another unique point about HCG is that we welcome students from all backgrounds and do not focus on business folks primarily. I fundamentally believe that an important tool kit that applies to most jobs is learning how to think in a more structured manner. Structured thinking not only helps someone to process information more efficiently, but also enables one to communicate more effectively. One of the greatest successes I experienced at HCG was seeing engineers and scientists come in with minimal business knowledge and developing a full market entry strategy for a fast growing Series A start-up at the end of the semester. The intense training program developed at HCG enables this to happen.
Did you have some start-up ideas during your education here or in Singapore? What inspired you to do it? Any challenges you faced during this process?
As part of the Data X class, my team was looking at solving the notorious problem of queuing at amusement parks. A queue forms when there is imperfect information causing demand and supply mismatches especially during peak periods. When we see the high amusement park ticket prices coupled with the long wait times, we felt that the experience could be a lot better. A person spends on average around $100 for a one-day ticket at Disneyland. By spending 50% of the time at the park in a queue, an equivalent of $50 is lost.
Our team tried to apply machine learning to figure out the best itinerary a person could take to minimize their queue times at an amusement park. It predicts in advance what the queue situation looks like at each ride for a specific point in time and subsequently creates the best route for the user by taking into account their ride preferences. We were thrilled when we were selected to represent the Data X class in the Collider Cup and clinched 2nd runner up.
Did you find your experience here to be helpful for internship?
UC Berkeley is a campus that is really well-known so it is definitely significant in job hunting, especially if the recruiter is an alumni of the school. The Berkeley academic rigor is also really well known in industry. This results in recruiters generally being more comfortable in Berkeley students taking up more challenging roles at a company. Moreover, experiences outside the classroom like at Healthcare Consulting Group allowed me to hone my practical skill sets which greatly helped me in my job search.
Advices on finding internships, studying abroad, jobs
Internship experiences are really important because it allows you to further develop on skill toolkits that aren’t necessarily developed through classes. The advice I would give to students is that you should chase after a skill you really want to learn more so than other vanity metrics like salary or brand prestige associated with the role. This is especially important for internships where building up skills and knowledge is the key.
What I learned is when you hone in on developing your skill sets, you will become more knowledgeable in the space and you become better suited for the job. This enables you to then take on more challenging roles as you are now more confident to replicate success because you have significantly grown from your past experiences. Eventually, once you start to create value, you have a better shot at getting the job you really want.
Is there anything you would have done differently in the program?
I initially spent a decent amount of time studying because to me, the courses are really interesting. However, if I were to turn back time, I would probably spend less time studying and try to meet more people beyond the clubs that I am in.
What challenges did you encounter in the class in general or through education? How did you overcome them?
The main challenge for me is when you choose a technical study like in STEM and are looking at more business type roles, it gets a bit more tricky. It becomes harder to convince others that despite your focus on building up technical knowledge, you are able to perform as well outside of the technical sphere. This has been a great challenge for me at the start when I was trying to develop my business and skill.
I overcame the problem by enrolling in a multi-disciplinary programme which allowed me to explore modules outside of my technical focus. Moreover, I greatly relied on internships to develop skills that I deem are important to learn but am not getting the opportunity to develop them in college. My internships have been crucial in helping me in that aspect, especially early on in my undergraduate years.
I also met great mentors like Justin Lee (CPO at ShopBack) and David Sng (Growth at Stripe) who took a leap of faith and granted me opportunities to accelerate my learning. Before my first internship, I didn’t even know how to use excel but they were willing to give me a shot. Going to a fast paced start-up also greatly helped me where the resource constrained environment pushed me to be responsible to deliver rather than just focusing on the processes.
What are your future career goals?
I am joining Mckinsey & Company as a business analyst. Mckinsey has always been a company that I look up to because of the incredible learning opportunities. It will be a great place for me to continue learning how to communicate clearly and how to think more logically. In the near future (~10 years), I hope to take the plunge and develop my own start-up. It will probably be in the data space because that’s my area of interest.
What was your experience with internships?
My first ever internship is at an e-commerce start-up in Singapore, ShopBack. ShopBack is and always will be a special place for me because of the incredible learning experience I had and the brilliant people that I managed to work with and learn from. I worked there for close to a year before going to university. I started out as an intern in the product team where I knew close to nothing and had no tangible skill sets. However, being in a fast-paced environment and being expected to pull my weight and deliver, I took up the challenge and accelerated my learning. Henry (CEO of ShopBack) and Justin (CPO) also gave me the opportunity to take on the role as Product Manager which has been an absolute game changer. I was able to ramp up my development really quickly and I gained a lot of skills at a fairly young age.
After ShopBack, I was lucky to be roped in by David who was leading the portfolio company growth team at that time at SGInnovate, a deep-tech venture capital company based in Singapore. The VC internship broadened my perspective and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the start-up ecosystem and its inner working mechanics. I also took on internships with Accenture Strategy and Kearney to learn more about the consulting industry and learnt how to think quickly and logically from incredibly smart co-workers.
Do you have any advice for future GLOBE students?
I would say follow your passion. It is the best guiding light in helping you figure out what skills to develop and what choices to make. If you haven’t figured out what you are deeply passionate about, don’t worry about it. It is a common occurrence to see college seniors getting really stressed out because they are trying to figure out which is the best path to take among the many divergent routes. My advice for that situation would be to take a step back and zoom out. If you see your life as a marathon which it really should be, the decision you make does not matter as much as you think in the grand scheme of things – so take the time to find your passion. Do not be afraid to try new things and more importantly, do not be afraid to fail. Once you figure out what drives you intrinsically, you are definitely on the right path to success.
Dennis studied mechanical engineering under the Renaissance Engineering Programme at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He is an alumnus of the GLOBE visiting students program. He is an incoming business analyst at McKinsey & Company as a consultant.
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