Meeting with iDA staff (Oscar, Kiranjit and Eric)

Wed May 11 2016

I'm on the train now on my way back to Bukit Panjang in BPP library. After this I'm going to have a meeting with Khek CO.

I visited Oscar and his bunch of colleagues at iDA. I reached the office at 4pm and Oscar came down to fetch me. The office is super nice, it really looks like a tech company, I saw people in the basement hacking and coding and stuff. The view is also extremely chio. I told Oscar that his office was very nice and he told me that Google/Facebook offices are even nicer--they have hammocks and beer taps(!!). So maybe we want to consider a career in tech. Haha.

In any case, I was introduced to Oscar, Kiranjit and Eric. Oscar is this short fat guy whose reservist unit is the same as my unit, lol (2CSH) He's a super nice guy, very boisterous. Keranjit is this Indian woman who I think is the most passionate and eloquent. Eric is a quiet guy, didn't talk much, he used to work in education. Very logistics-focused. He told me that he could ask companies and schools to give us resources.

They complimented me on my proposal and said that I might even consider selling my training programme syllabus to companies because it's so good. I'm not sure how much of it was flattery and how much of it was genuine. But from the fact that they all concurred it must have been pretty good.

All hubris aside, this is a learning point. It was a good move to put so much time in the proposal because it obviously made an impression on them which is why they were so willing to meet me. So in the future, lesson learned--spend a lot of time on one's proposal.

I also learned that after I emailed Dr Balakrishnan, my email was actually passed around to several ministries before it finally landed in the iDA's hands. Glad that it finally came here--a minister's word means a lot, evidently. Once again, lesson learned--don't be afraid to ask for what you want.

I told them about Ulu Pandan Stars and they were extremely impressed. Keranjit in particular--she was extremely happy when I told her that the underprivileged kids actually won last year's hackathon. Of course, I made sure to say that it wasn't me. But it was good to have the backing of Ulu Pandan Stars and I told them that I was teaching them for this year's competition.

They were very friendly and eager to work with me. They told me that there were a couple of other guys that had the same idea and that they wanted to form a committee. Of course I am okay with that--even though one has to share credit, a better outcome is better for all of us.

They expressed their reservations about my proposal, saying that it could be too ambitious and too hard for first-timers with no prior programming experience. After discussion, I finally have a concrete plan of action. There is this group called the Youth Infocomm Ambassadors (YIA) which is representatives from secondary schools' infocomm clubs. They told me that we could run my syllabus on them, as a pilot test, see if the pace is OK, then iterate and improve.

I think the best part of working with the iDA is that they are extremely powerful and well-connected. Oscar, Keranjit and Eric told me casually that they could get a venue no problem, probably get computers from companies like Apple and Samsung... they have the power to solve my logistics problems just like that.

It was emphasised to me that they want this to be a community project. Their purpose is to help foster a coding community that imparts knowledge to society. The idea is for this community to extend iDA's current school-based initiative, as well as teach groups not covered by the schools (e.g. working adults, seniors and so on). They told me multiple times that they will pull strings to get us media coverage but they will not put iDA on it. Hence they won't steal the credit (their words, not mine). To me, it doesn't matter whether iDA is on the papers or not, but I think it matters to them. They don't want people to think that it's iDA doing this.

We all came out of the meeting with a plan of action. My job now is to think about my syllabus further, and recruit several volunteers. Their job will be to form up the committee and liaise with YIA so that we can set up our pilot class.

All in all, an extremely useful visit and I greatly enjoyed myself. I'm extremely optimistic on where this will go, and I loved talking to them. They were friendly and passionate--not at all the reception I had expected from a cold email to Dr Vivian!

Call to action

Whoever is reading this, please note that as of the time of writing (11th May

  1. I am looking for volunteers to teach Scratch/Python!

The time commitment will not be over a few weeks. (so not one-year long, but if the pilot programme works, then it would be great to have you on).

I will train the volunteers--programming knowledge is preferred but not necessary. What is necessary is the ability to pick things up fast and the ability to teach others.

So please ask around for me ty.