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48. Journey of Resilience: From Hackathons to Military Service with Tech Whiz Hisyam

· AI,podcast


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Podcast with Hisyam Part 1




Discover Hisyam's gripping journey from winning hackathonsand developing an innovative AR app to overcoming military service
interruptions, all while passionately pursuing his tech dreams. Tune in now!

Hisyam shares his technology passion and hackathonexperiences, online networking during COVID-19, an award-winning AR app project
disrupted by Singapore's military service, and personal growth gained therein.

[00:00:00] Hisyam: Hi, awesome. I thank you for invitingme. I feel really good today.

[00:00:04] Andrew Liew: Okay, so as mentioned in ourshow, the idea is to allow our audiences, especially the young graduates, the
mid career teachers the students, they really want to learn more about the
world of digital, the world of startup, the world of AI. Share with us a bit of
your background story about how when you were studying your polytechnic gaze,
how do you eventually do your freelancing and then eventually intern and
eventually got a job?

[00:00:29] Hisyam: Yeah. Thanks for the question. Yeah.So for before I started with Polytechnic, actually went to gc. I think that's
not quite a known fact. I actually went to JC for year, didn't do that well. So
I decided to actually move on to pursue something I was interested in. After
junior college, so that was actually going to Miam Polytechnic. Yeah, so back
then I was more interested in a mix of business and information technology. And
back then it was like, I think it was 2012. So there was not much development [00:01:00] computer science wasn't that, wasn't ashot as it was now. After you take your GCE O Levels so you have two choices. Go
on to Junior College or go on to Polytechnic. Junior College is actually a pre
university where you get actually less years. It's a maximum span of 2 years or
3 years, depending on how well you do during the first 3 years. Yeah, and at
the same time, for Polytechnic, it's a full 3 years. At the end of it so at the
end of Junior College, you do get A Level Cert. And at the end of Polytechnic,
which is the other route you actually get a Diploma. Yeah, so at the end of
both pre university routes, you actually have a choice to actually go on to
pursue University Studies after that.

[00:01:38] Andrew Liew: Why you decided to move from onepath to the other path

[00:01:41] Hisyam: Yes, so for myself at the end oftaking my GCO levels I wasn't that sure on what to specialize in. So I think
that was one of the main characters that made me go with Junior College first.
Being new to junior college studies, I wasn't really prepared [00:02:00] at that time because I wanted to exploreboth my interests and at the same time do well in studies. But I think based on
the time factor and also the immense workload that you have to go through.

[00:02:09] Hisyam: For junior college, I think you, youcan either choose one, either explore an interest or focus on study. For
example, for me, I actually tried to do both, but at the end it didn't work out
so well. It, I decided, at the end of JC, because I actually explored a few of
my interests.

[00:02:25] Hisyam: And so this can be as simple as doingJC when I was in classes setting up the AV, or working on websites, very simple
websites back then where I don't think you, you have very good frameworks back
then actually exploring very basic like HTML, CSS to actually build websites
back then.

[00:02:44] Hisyam: Yeah very simple things helping outeven helping out the class with organizing events having a simple website to to
I don't know whether you have this in Taliberg, but they actually have choose a
date plug in Taliberg, where a lot of the students, [00:03:00]yeah, so it was something like that.

[00:03:01] Hisyam: Ah. Yeah, so over there, so this isjust very simple things to actually explore. My interest in this particular

[00:03:07] Andrew Liew: area. So you believe in exploringinterest. That means you place some greater value on exploring your interest,
learning more about yourself, and therefore you switched path. Okay. So tell us
more along the line of once you're on the path of polytechnic how has that
eventually got you to hackathons or i internship at university

[00:03:26] Hisyam: Continuously like this?

[00:03:28] Hisyam: Yeah for it was quite a big, yeah thecurriculum difference is actually quite huge. Because for polytechnic wise, the
curriculum is actually less cramped as compared to general college. I was
actually introduced to the modular system where you're supposed to build... For
courses for example this particular semester, there are a few courses where you
have to pick based on the whole syllabus of three years.

[00:03:51] Hisyam: So it actually splits into six sixsemesters over there. There's supposed to be four courses for each semester,
and you can actually choose what you want to specialize in.[00:04:00] Yeah on top of those six courses you canactually pick more. Based on our interests. Back then, I think I took a lot of
language courses.

[00:04:08] Hisyam: I think those were the best.Introduction to Mandarin. Or introduction to French. That kind of process. Yeah
it's, I thought it was great. I speak by school, so it's it's quite a good
learning experience for me. And at the same time, I think it's also for me,
because I think a very big importance on networking.

[00:04:24] Hisyam: So I would go to those classes andactually make more friends than my batchmates. Yeah. So I think that was one
area that you know that I always look forward to. Other than the first. Few
first few hours of first eight hours of classes. Classes, other classes.

[00:04:40] Hisyam: I think definitely it was quite a goodbreak to actually go for this language classes Yeah. So since Polytechnic was
more spaced out we actually have the ability to actually work on various sub
projects. Explore more on our interests when I was in Polytechnic, you can
actually enroll in extra classes sports clubs and events.

[00:04:59] Hisyam: [00:05:00]I, during the second year, I think, I enrolled in entrepreneurship club. And
that was, I was trying to explore more on being an entrepreneur. And over there
I, During the first year it was more to getting to know people in the club and
the second year I actually decided to go for or apply for the treasurer for the
second and third year for the entrepreneurship club.

[00:05:22] Hisyam: And over there I actually learned alot about planning events inviting speakers one of the speakers I think that we
invited was actually the Carousel co founder. Oh! Yeah I think it was Marcus.
So Carousel back then wasn't that popular. So

[00:05:35] Andrew Liew: we actually brought them downwith For the audience out there Carousel is a second hand app.

[00:05:39] Andrew Liew: It's almost like an eBay orAmazon for second hand goods, right? And it's very popular among Hisham what
year was that? So that they have a rough idea. When was that? So

[00:05:49] Hisyam: it was 2014 to 2015, around that time.Where, I think, over there, back then, there wasn't much startups in Singapore.
There wasn't much tech applications [00:06:00]over there.

[00:06:00] Hisyam: I think that was really, it was reallynew to us back then about tech startups really new. And back then Airbnb just
started out. And a lot of the tech companies in the US are springing up. And
they were not that in

[00:06:13] Hisyam: 2013, 2014, you

[00:06:13] Andrew Liew: know Yes, so coming back to thatpart where you invited Marcus to speak continue, how has that what happened and
how has that evolved you to eventually join Hackathons and

[00:06:24] Hisyam: that kind of stuff, yeah, so I thinkdefinitely when we invited Marcus over to the the, one of the talks one of the
entrepreneurship sub talks, They he shared about how three of them, because
there are three co founders, right?

[00:06:37] Hisyam: He shared about how three of themactually went together and also created Parasol, started. How he, his backstory
of how he started. And at the same time, because he was NP alumni. So I didn't
know back then, but he was an NP alumni. So after Ngee Ann Polytechnic, he
actually went to pursue studies in NUS.

[00:06:54] Hisyam: And then that was where he met histhree co founders. And I think they, they started Carousel after a [00:07:00] trip to I think Silicon Valley. BecauseNUS, they do have this... Program where students can actually get a chance to
go to DUS to actually learn from the startups over there.

[00:07:11] Hisyam: And at the same time, the tech spaceover there. So I think that was a good opportunity for for them to come
together and really work on an idea, a world changing idea. So definitely it
actually motivated me to actually start something. For the community. So back
then, I think we started a organization, a non profit organization called
Backers for Change.

[00:07:31] Hisyam: And, yeah, and me and I think fiveother co founders, we actually started that. What we the first event to
actually teach students on how to do UX and UI with a few software development
tools. And From there, we actually organized, so for the whole year, 2014 2015,
we organized a few events that focused on introduction to Python, introduction
to Java programming introduction to Android development.

[00:07:58] Hisyam: So these are just a [00:08:00] few events that that we did, yeah. So thatwas actually during my poly life. Yeah, and at the same time, so for, after
that, after all the exciting and very exhilarating projects that, that I worked
on we actually, so for my final year we I decided to not pursue the the
organization further.

[00:08:20] Hisyam: So what I did was I actually took astep back and focused on my studies because that was my last year my deciding
year to actually get into university. So I decided to focus more on my studies.
So that was where I think that was where I met you at 2015, was it? In the DPS

[00:08:36] Hisyam: And then for my final, I think for myfinal project, we did something with your company, right? Kickstart. That that,
that was really exciting and definitely was one of the highlights of our poly
life. Yeah. So that was that, that summarizes my my, my poly life.

[00:08:53] Hisyam: Yeah. And at the same time before mylast semester, I was actually internship. I didn't really [00:09:00] go out there because. For Polytechnic,there is a program where they actually choose for you, your internship company.
So you do actually have to source it itself sometimes. Then I was actually
attached to ibm.

[00:09:12] Hisyam: Oh, the tech companies out out thereback then. Yes. Yeah, definitely. They were into, back then, they just sold off
their their server unit to Lenovo. Yes. Yeah. And there I worked in the Chinese
business part. I had to actually go down, so there are two locations over
there. One is the server staging department and the other one is actually the

[00:09:35] Hisyam: I had to I had to my, my job scope wasactually to visit both at the same time. Where we actually help, if they need
more help in the staging department, I actually go and help out over there. If
they need help with the HQ, then I will I will go help out over there.

[00:09:49] Hisyam: So definitely a lot of, at first I wasexpecting a lot of software development, but actually there wasn't too much on
that aspect, because, yeah. Because for my diploma was [00:10:00]actually specializing in business and IT we actually had, we actually, during
the internship, I actually had to see see both sides of the Both sides of
business and IT itself.

[00:10:11] Hisyam: Because the department that we were inwas actually dealing with clients. One side was the clients and then one side
was the technological side. Where we did with configuring servers and
networking and all that stuff. Definitely there wasn't there wasn't much room
for server development.

[00:10:25] Hisyam: So what I did was I found a processthat was actually quite slow. The current process that there was back then was
actually the staging department actually had to send the servers. The, from the
servers were sent to the staging department first. And then, over there, we
assembled it, and we configured it, and then it will be sent to the client.

[00:10:45] Hisyam: Yeah, so that is the whole process.And then the thing is, for the staging development at that point of time, that
the, my manager was actually updating the the staging and also the the [00:11:00] parcels manually. So when they actuallycome to the staging staging department, the parcels, they will actually...

[00:11:05] Hisyam: He would actually manually call the HQto actually quite slow, because it's quite a manual process. So what I did was
I talked to my manager, and then I asked him like, okay, why not we work on a
software to actually improve this process, and my manager agreed. So I, during
the last three months of my internship, I actually worked for a lab, and I
actually came out with a beta version let them test it out internally.

[00:11:26] Hisyam: And then, yeah, so it was actuallyquite my manager liked it, so that was what got me a quite a good break from my
internship over there. Yeah, so I think definitely for internships, definitely
it's not about the which intern company you, you come from. I think, at the
start you can intern anywhere.

[00:11:42] Hisyam: Doesn't have to be sharing companies,learning tech companies but again, because you can make So definitely the first
company that you start out definitely go all out and also identify the areas
that can be improved and also make proposals to your manager build a rapport
with him build a [00:12:00] rapport with theteam see where the processes that can be improved and then take the initiative
to actually go out there and do it to improve it. Yeah, so I think that was one
of the highlights

[00:12:09] Andrew Liew: of my internship. Hold it there,one second, let me save because okay one second. Great, so Hisham Sharing with
us about that time from your poly to getting an internship at IBM Tell us
especially for students when they are in their Polytechnic days or high school
and they want to get an internship with a big company they most probably be
feeling uncertain and anxious.

[00:12:33] Andrew Liew: What was going through your mind?What was the advice that you give to these kids? to to apply to try to get an

[00:12:40] Hisyam: Yeah. So I think mostly forPolytechnic, it's very it's a very sheltered environment. It's very different
from university or any other higher education institutes because Polytechnic is
very sheltered where they actually do Actually, I'm quite surprised.

[00:12:55] Hisyam: They actually do everything for you.

[00:12:56] Andrew Liew: Wow! What do you mean by doeverything for you? Give

[00:12:58] Hisyam: us a bit of idea. For example [00:13:00] No, sorry, this is just the internshipprocess wise. They actually have everything prepared for you already. You just
have to actually go, I'm not sure for other courses, but I can actually say
this for the course that I was in back then.

[00:13:49] Hisyam: And I think but applying to companiesthat you have and have inert interest in. I think that's one of the things that
that I did was actually to apply for companies that I'm interested in. [00:14:00] Yeah. And I think I will show you later onmy uni education. What inspired me to actually go to apply for various industry
companies was actually because in Polytechnic, I actually did a lot of
hackathons also.

[00:14:11] Hisyam: I did one hackathon with you we are inDBS. And then I did some with my friends with IRAS where we won. I think for
DBS, we won second runner. And then for the IRAS, we actually won second place
also. So over there, when you actually get to meet network with other people,
you actually get inspired by what some of their speeches.

[00:14:30] Hisyam: Some of the live stories, backstories,I think that, that's one of the things that inspired me to actually apply for
the, for those companies. Ah. Yes Actually networking is very important. Let us
ask the let's, let me ask the question so that the audience can really

[00:14:44] Andrew Liew: Let me repeat a bit, so theyremember what was the backstory. You're saying that you applied it on your own
and you also got... The Polytechnic school officers to get internship for you.
And, how do you manage to get some of the internship is through first [00:15:00] discovering your passion, and the way todiscover your passion is to network, and one of the ways to network is to
participate in hackathons.

[00:15:07] Andrew Liew: Am I right to say that?

[00:15:08] Hisyam: Yes, I think that's one of the, one ofthe ways to you know, one of the better ways to network with. People that are
maybe not the same age as you, but also to actually go out there, go out of
your comfort zone, to actually meet people who are already in the industry,
already doing this kind of Hackathons are the best time to work with this kind
of people, people who are in the industry and actually various kind of people.
In Hackathons they actually have it's actually like an open call to to anyone
in, in in the public that can actually come to actually work on an idea
together based on a problem statement.

[00:15:43] Hisyam: So I think there was designers, therewas UI UI, UX people over there, there was programmers, software engineers an
array of people there. There were even project managers there are a array of
people that that you can work with, so I think it's a good opportunity for you
to to get to know more [00:16:00] on, aboutthese people and at the same time about how they do their work day to day in
their own get to know their work style, get to know more about what it takes to
be in that position so I think definitely for Hackathon is a good way, but
there are other ways to, to network too.

[00:16:14] Hisyam: Yeah. There are other events that areorganized. I think for when I was in JC itself, there was this entrepreneurship
event organized by Nivo where I actually met a lot of the the budding
entrepreneurs in the junior college and then we, which I'm even keeping income
back now, and some of them has gone to pursue.

[00:16:33] Hisyam: Various businesses, started variousbusinesses. I think that was actually a good way to actually network with
startups, entrepreneurs. And then at the same time get inspired by their life
stories. Yeah, I think that's,

[00:16:45] Andrew Liew: that's the best, yeah. Okaythanks for sharing with us.

[00:16:47] Andrew Liew: An interesting question I alsowanted to ask is because back then there was no COVID 19. So you can network in
on site, meaning physical places like a Changi Business Park, or maybe [00:17:00] in some of those hackathons organized inChinatown but now. Ever since with COVID 19 in a cyclical manner, sometimes
you, sometimes we, in Singapore we have circuit breaker, but in a lot of other
countries they call it lockdown, on and off, on and off, right?

[00:17:13] Andrew Liew: How then do students actually, isable to network in the digital

[00:17:18] Hisyam: world? That's a very good question.For, yeah, since back then there wasn't any endemic or pandemic as huge as
this, that we're experiencing now where it's the COVID 19. So definitely, back
then it was easier because for me personally, I would, I prefer or I would I
would always love to meet new people face to face.

[00:17:38] Hisyam: I think that's the best kind ofnetworking out there because there was a lot of people, there was you get to
mix around really fast. And you get to network really fast because you guys are
the people are already there in the physical venue itself.

[00:17:52] Hisyam: So I think networking is much, much easier.You can just go up to, for example, if you were a stranger, I could actually go
up to you and give me give you my [00:18:00]name card or introduce myself that kind of thing as a freelancer or as a
student and get to know more about, about you, so I think that was really easy
back then. For the new norm that we have now is COVID 19, there was, there's a
lot of networking happening online and because, okay, so for me personally, I
think online networking is very difficult because you don't know the you can't
interpret what the person means when he types something because There's no
emotions involved in physical text or in text.

[00:18:33] Hisyam: There's no emotions, so you can't you,it's harder to decipher whether the person is joking, the person is happy, the
person is sad at the time of writing that message. So I think that's one of the
challenges. Yeah, that's one of the challenges that, that we we are ever
learning every day on how to interpret.

[00:18:50] Hisyam: Yeah. I think then comes the but Ithink emojis really. Help with getting those emotions out of text. Yeah, so I
think emojis really play a part. [00:19:00]Definitely for online networking it is definitely harder. And I think one
advice I have is actually just for online meeting new people online or meeting
future, doing online interviews.

[00:19:13] Hisyam: It's always best to have your cameraturned on and really speaking to the person face to face. Yeah. And then at the
same time, really, I think definitely a solution to this barrier is actually
video calls because I think that's the closest thing we can actually get to a
physical lighting section over there.

[00:19:31] Hisyam: Yeah. So definitely for me myself, I'mstill learning on how to network. Professionally and at the best online I'm
also learning every single day on how to do this.

[00:19:41] Andrew Liew: Okay, no worries. Let's continue.After the hackathons MP Sandbox what happened after that?

[00:19:48] Andrew Liew: Yeah I once, just before Igraduated me and two of my friends actually went to the actually attended the
MP Sandbox Hackathon. That was where we developed an automated reality
application. A beta version. Where [00:20:00]because school notes are really boring. We actually did there's all text
there's just a bit of pictures all of that.

[00:20:06] Hisyam: So what we did was actually to tobridge the gap between interactive learning. And and the current state of
learning in schools where we are given school notes. So what we did was to
actually integrate. The augmented reality aspect into school notes back then.
And over there, students can just take out their phone and also view those
notes in 3D or in AR on their phones.

[00:20:29] Hisyam: So that was actually one of the Ithink we actually were quite proud of that product, yeah. So over there at the
end of it, we won first prize. Oh! Yeah, so empty sandbox. Shout out to them,
they're really great. And I think Neon Polytechnic is really KB on innovation.

[00:20:45] Hisyam: They actually have an innovationoffice. In school. So definitely over there students who are pursuing
entrepreneurship innovative projects they are given they're given funds to
pursue those. So definitely a very entrepreneurship [00:21:00]friendly polytechnic. So I think that was what made NP

[00:21:03] Andrew Liew: special.

[00:21:03] Andrew Liew: So along that line, so do youmanage to spin off a startup from that augmented reality application?

[00:21:10] Hisyam: Yes. We we wanted to, we really wantedto but, however after, especially for male... For male students what happens
after pre university is a mandatory national

[00:21:23] Andrew Liew: service.

[00:21:24] Andrew Liew: Oh, okay. Here, sorry. Yeah, Igotta stop here. To all audience out there around the world, other than you, if
you are not in Singapore, guys, once you turn 18, you are obliged to serve
national service, right? Hi, can continue, please. Yeah.

[00:21:35] Hisyam: Yes. We wanted to actually do it butfrom the.

[00:21:39] Hisyam: Moment that we won, had to come to toour graduation month was actually a month away. And then after that, during our
graduation month, I think most of us, most of the people in the team actually
had to serve MS. Already. So they're getting called up during that point of

[00:21:54] Hisyam: So we decided not to actually pursue astartup in this area at a point of time. [00:22:00]Yeah, so definitely I think there are various companies. Right now, we're
actually pursuing that, including Snapchat. Snapchat back then, it was just
starting out definitely and they actually bought for example, I think if we
were to pursue that I think that It would be quite a different conversation
that we have right now.

[00:22:17] Hisyam: Yeah, that's true. Definitely, yeah.Then after

[00:22:19] Andrew Liew: NS, let's move on. What do you doin NS? Are you just an infantry soldier or something like that? Yes.

[00:22:26] Hisyam: For National Service, I was a I was...Because I was quite overweight back then,

[00:22:32] Andrew Liew: so I had to actually... So whatdoes overweight mean? Because to the audience out there, some of them may find
this a new term.

[00:22:36] Hisyam: Ah, I see. So overweight means thatit's you have a DMI from above 25. Ah. So that's what overweight means. So
extremely overweight was that you actually have a DMI over 30. Yeah you want to
guess where, which area that I was

[00:22:52] Andrew Liew: attached to? I don't know, man.Please tell me.

[00:22:55] Hisyam: Yeah, so I was actually identified asextremely [00:23:00] overweight back then.

[00:23:00] Hisyam: I had a BMI over 30. I was a hundredkg back then. Wow. Yes. So based on, so every, before every male student
actually goes on to do ms. They actually have to go through a bmt, which is
basically the training. So it can. Spend from a minimum of two months to to So
it depends, the

[00:23:21] Hisyam: duration actually depends on howoverweight you are when you actually enter so at the same time, so I was, since
I was the right at the end of the spectrum, it was extremely, so I still
actually go on to over there I was actually introduced to a lot of A lot of
interesting personalities. I think for NS definitely you can actually share
your stories too. You meet people from all walks of life and the best thing
about it is you, no matter whether you love them or hate them, you have to work
together to achieve a of NS. You're you are you learn how to adapt. I think
that's, That's the one thing that

[00:23:58] Hisyam: I learned throughout the what [00:24:00] motivates them. I think that's one of thekey areas, what motivates them. Because by learning what motivates the team or
what motivates the, your your section mates or your platoon mates sorry, these
are new terms, but section mates and platoon mates just means that.

[00:24:16] Hisyam: It's just, you're just part of eithera person team or a company where you have different, a company is made up of
different platoons and sections. Maybe for example, a company may have four
platoons, and in each platoon, they have four sections, something like that.
Definitely a lot of it's a new...

[00:24:33] Hisyam: Environment that you have to adapt toand I see that a lot of a lot of personal growth in those two years because you
are you are actually supposed to be independent. You're actually you actually
need to... You need to do a lot of missions together together with all these
different from all walks of life.

[00:24:52] Hisyam: So definitely you, I think youdefinitely, it's a wake up call. You definitely grow up faster in those two
years. So definitely I [00:25:00] think NSS hastaught taught a lot on time management. Personal development, and also mental
strength. I think that's one of the areas that that I've learned and if you
were to ask me to do it all over again, I would.

[00:25:13] Hisyam: Because definitely, those two yearswere the best. Years of my life honestly. Ah, so you're saying that, let me
repeat a bit for the audience. So in n as you learn about time management
personal development learning to work with others what about your physical

[00:25:27] Andrew Liew: Do you get better doing ns? Yes.So

[00:25:30] Hisyam: I actually lost a total of 30kilograms Wow. For the first five months because they were actually have very
Very good training in terms of the physical aspect where know we have to do we
do all sorts of things. For example we do the normal exercise in the start the
day, and then we move on to the, in the middle of the day when, you know when
the sun or when the temperature was the hottest.

[00:25:55] Hisyam: We actually go on to do somestreaming. I think that [00:26:00] was one ofthe curriculum that we did. And then at night also, there's also or, nearing to
night time, there's also another exercise session. So I think there was a lot
of a lot of physical training involved definitely for if you ask me any
training to be a training to be someone in the military, definitely there comes
a lot of physical training over there.

[00:26:19] Hisyam: Yeah, you have to keep fit. Sodefinitely I, I was, the fittest time that I was at in my life was actually
those two years, because every day was all fully physical training. And working
on becoming more healthy. Definitely over there was it was an experience not to
be missed.
[00:26:38] Hisyam: It was quite a good stepping stone,yeah.