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In Challenging Times, the Tide Changes

Geeks are So In

In the early 1960s when he was choosing a career, Professor Chamberlin recalled, technical people were respected and well paid. Money, he said, was part of the equation. “But the bigger part of the motivation for me,” he said, “was that I would be doing exciting and important work and that my contributions would be appreciated.”
--With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King? [nytimes.com]

The universities in Singapore have release information regarding the grade profile of students entering each course of study. [NTU] [NUS] [SMU]

A comparison between common courses at the various universities at the 10th percentile (letter grades are for GCE A-Level grade combinations, and floating point numbers are the polytechnic diploma GPAs):

CourseNTU(H2/H1, GPA)NUSSMU
AccountancyAAB/B, 3.71AAA/B, 3.64ABB/A, 3.60
BusinessAAB/B, 3.63AAB/B, 3.50ABB/B, 3.49
EconomicsABB/B, 3.48BBC/C, 3.39BBB/B, 3.30
Law-AAA/AAAA/B
Information Systems, NTU Comp Eng, Computing (IS)BCC/C, 3.38BCC/B, 3.54BCC/B, 3.16
Social Sciences, Psy, SocioBCC/B, 3.39BBC/C, 3.39BBC/B, 3.28
Reproduced from [Jay Lim's Blog]

Some observations: Computer Science/Engineering has the one of the lowest admission cut-offs, except when considering polytechnic diploma GPA for NUS (at which point, CS actually has a more stringent requirement than even Business).

It is true - we simply do not get the best and the brightest in Computer Science. And while I imagine it would be very difficult for an entrepreneur with solely non-technical background to create the next big thing in software and Internet technology. The faculty in NUS routinely relies on foreign students to prop up the quality of the student base - an illustrative example is a fellow Singaporean in Google who had my PhD supervisor as his supervisor for his project. In the first meeting between the professor and the student, the professor simply assumed the student was not Singapore and asked, "so, which part of China are you from?".

Geeks make money - No?

Do not fill young people's heads with too much nonsense like how they have to look cool. Sell the cool ideas they work with. Teach them to see that you can make money and be rich only if you have something worth selling, and that is where engineers come in.

Years ago, engineering was the top school to go to.

Today, everyone wants to be in business and make money and that is why our young flock to anything and everything to do with business, finance and economics.

-- Straits Times Forum Comment - Focus on engineers' 'cool' ideas, not their image [straitstimes.com]

As my colleague (in Google mind you) likes to quip: "If you are in software engineering for money, you are in the wrong business."

If you are the gahmen, hear my plea

Singapore might want smart and hardworking generalists to be to civil servants by enticing them with extraordinary salaries. But if you want a striving science and technology sector, specialists have to be nurtured. And my last rant: uhm, propping up A*Star scholars like trophy dogs is not the way to go, simply due to the overemphasis of look-at-my-scholars-with-their-high-grades, aren't they adorable sense of it all.
Rejected by Harvard? Not a problem. You're in good company.

The list is, well, impressive. Investor Warren Buffet, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass,
Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner, NBC "Today" show host Meredith
Vieira, former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw, New Yorker magazine
editor David Remnick, CNN founder Ted Turner, folk rock legend Art Garfunkel,
Matt Groening, creator of the animated television series "The Simpsons," Sun
Microsystems chairman Scott McNealy, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
president Harold Varmus, and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger
round out the list.

-- Non Ivy League Graduates

Reader Comments (5)

hi, i am wee sun's student/RA in NUS too. i have been reading your blog for quite a while but this is my first time commenting.

beside the fact that SOC intake is getting worse each year, I also feel the the standard is dropping. every year, our basic programming module seems to get dumbed down more and more. many of my peers will agree that it's possible to graduate from SOC (with IS/EC degree) without knowing how to code a basic java/c++ program.

i was discussing this issue with a few friends, and one person remarked,"actually, does it matter? sg's IT jobs hardly need good students in CS anyway, IS/EC students can easily do a business IT job in sg". what do you think?

-shaowei

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersleepysnail

Thanks for reading! I guess you have some time to kill between classes. ;)

Personally, I prefer to focus on the good engineers rather than the bad - there will always be people who slip through the cracks somehow. Yes, I do know of students who graduate from a four year degree from SoC and quite happily proclaim to me that they are unable to code. Meh. If that's the way they want to spend four years of their life, so be it.

On the other hand, the status and culture of computer science and software engineer careers will never be developed if there are no good people around.

Does Singapore lack SWE / CS people? No. Look at the number of graduates from SoC. :)

Does Singapore lack good SWE / CS people? Surprisingly, I believe the number is no too - I have met many good students in SoC, and there are many Singaporeans in top CS / SWE schools all around the world doing very well. Furthermore, for a such small population, there are a disproportionate number of Singaporeans in Silicon Valley companies, leading me to believe that there is plenty of talent, but the dearth of opportunities means that these individuals would rather work elsewhere.

All these government money going into setting up start-ups? I am not sure if they will work, but the elitism mentality that degrees/grades matter more than ability and passion mean that, well, perhaps not the right people get that opportunity.

I would like to be proven wrong - hey, I wouldn't mind going back to work.

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryj

i hope my supervisors don't see this. i'm supposed to be doing research instead of surfing blogs. haha

yeah. u r right. the lack of good cs/programming jobs in sg really make cs students like me quite disillusioned in sg. =S previously, i was a web programmer and most of my time was spent on debugging html and javascript. i also once joined an IT security dept and all i did was install IT security products like symantec at the client's side. i seriously think i rather be a social worker/sec school teacher than do such IT jobs.

i am actually going mcgill for my master in cs. i remembered that you did ur undergrad in waterloo right? are there good cs/programming jobs in canada?

by the way, do you know that wee sun is in MIT now? he is staying there until oct. perhaps you can visit him in Boston some day. =p he's really a great supervisor.

May 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersleepysnail

Hey i am having some problems choosing between NTU computer science(georgia tech integrated program) and NUS computer science..

please help!

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua Tan

I am not clear about the circumstances, but all else being same (fees, transportation, housing, etc.), I would go with the NTU-Georgia Tech Integrated program because it offers the opportunity to study in another institution for an extended period of time. NUS School of Computing should have opportunities to study abroad, but you would have to apply for placement at some point of time later while in the course. No biggie either way.

In any case, make an informed choice - decide what you expect out of you education and choose the more appropriate school. Life is about complex choices and straddling uncertainty. Finally, do the best you can in wherever you choose - don't groan or bemoan the choices you made, but rather make the best of any situation.

March 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteryj

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