Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in Hwa Chong’s Undergrad Alumni Forum to share my experiences studying at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, and to answer any questions that the students had about studying in the US and pursuing Computer Science as a degree. I was a student at Hwa Chong Institution from 2010-2015, during which I made many happy memories and learnt a lot about myself and the world.

I had personally found these sharings really helpful back when I was still a student, and am very grateful for the chance to pass it on and hopefully help to inspire and encourage some of the participants to pursue their education overseas. It has personally had brought about incredible personal and intellectual growth, and exposed me to people and ideas that I would otherwise never have had the chance to meet.

The format of the sharing was virtual, which meant that I was able to participate as a speaker even though I was halfway across the world in my apartment in New York City (for the international audience, Hwa Chong Institution is in Singapore). This is another silver lining of the pandemic, where the proliferation in adoption of digital communication tools meant that geographic distances no longer matter as much. In fact, 3 out of 4 of the presenters in our session were dialing in from overseas during the sharing!

The turnout of around 45 people was great (in the past when this was in-person, everyone would not have been able to fit into a classroom!) and I was impressed by the thoughtful questions that the students asked during the Q&A. You could tell that they were really thinking hard about their futures. However, I also have to add that I felt slight concern after seeing a question about Leetcoding to prepare for interviews, which is really something that they should not be worrying about already. Fortunately, tech interviews are trending towards asking questions that can create a more holistic assessment of candidates, and hopefully this will not have to be a game that people have to play in the future.

If there was a single thing that I hoped that people took away from my talk, it would be to dream big and never let your circumstances prevent you from doing what you want. In particular, I would really encourage girls, ethnic and gender minorities, and other under-represented groups to consider pursuing Computer Science if this is something they enjoy, even though it is still very much a male-dominated field that may feel intimidating and inaccessible. To share some perspective, many top firms are actively taking steps to hire a more diverse and representative workface, not only for equitable reasons but also because of studies which have shown that it has a positive correlation with business output. However, the current problem is that if the top of the funnel of the talent pipeline is small, which is the number of people taking up Computer Science in college, then unsurprisingly the pool of candidates at the end of the funnel will also be limited. This is why it is so hard to remedy this situation in the short term. It is my hope that we continue to actively support and sustain the winds of social change that is steering the world into a fairer and more equitable future. This is something that we cannot take for granted, or years of progress will be undone.

For participants and other interested readers, the slides used in my sharing are given below. As always, I am happy to hear any feedback from readers!