As summer approached my second year in SMU, I was unsure of where I wanted to go for an internship; the IT industry is broad in general and filled with a diverse range of opportunities across countless sectors – finance, e-commerce, logistics, information security, operations, healthcare, education, research, consultancy, government agencies – you name it. With that in mind, I began weighing my options carefully. At first, I naturally gravitated towards well-known organisations as I thought it would be great to have another prestigious, well-respected company on my resume. However, after substantial research and consideration, I decided to embark on an internship stint at a startup.
So why a startup?
Trying out Various Paths – One of the greatest disadvantages of being in a structured, corporate position is that I’d be fixated on a handful of main roles and would not have the opportunity to explore and branch out into other areas of interest. As I have yet to figure out what I want to do in life (do people ever figure that out anyway?), considering that I am still quite young and have 2 more years to graduation – I would like to develop a horizontal skill set before diving into an area of specialisation.
Flexi-time, Flexi-wear – Forget ties, suits and blazers. Go to work in whatever feels comfortable – like T-shirt and jeans. On second thoughts, singlets and shorts would do just fine. Shudder at the thought of waking up at 7am for a nine-to-five job? Why not get more sleep, avoid squeezing on trains with everyone else and head into work at 10?
More Opportunities, Greater Impact – Needless to say, a startup would not pay as well as most larger corporate companies, but the rewards are not measured in dollars; but rather the skills and experience to be acquired. What are a few extra hundred dollars in such a short stint anyway? Furthermore, being in a smaller company empowers one to make a larger impact as the work is distributed among fewer employees.
The Search Begins
With that, I chanced upon Call Levels on a startup job portal, Glints, and a brief description of the company piqued my interested immediately – It was a 2-year old startup, and a perfect combination of finance and IT. As I previously attained a Diploma in Banking and Financial Services prior to pursuing Information Systems, I figured this was an excellent opportunity to put my knowledge of financial markets to good use; and at the same time honing my technical skills and learning about investment from experienced traders.
My interview with Call Levels was not one that I had anticipated. I arrived at the office dressed in office attire to be received by a man in shirt and bermuda shorts, which I found to be pretty amusing at that time. I surveyed the room thoroughly as I patiently waited for my interviewer as he scurried across the room, making quick conversations. At first, it didn’t look much like an office – there were sofas, TV, an Xbox, dumbbells and gym equipments of all sorts lying around the floor, and half the room was dimly lit with guys on their headphones staring intently at multiple monitors. It looked much more like a living space. Instead of a standard interview with HR, I was involved in an almost-hour-long technical discussion of the company’s information architecture with the software engineer, conversing about the directions, goals and expectations of my internship. Their enthusiasm and ambitious strategies for future expansion assured me that I was certainly going to have a meaningful experience at Call Levels.
One of my first tasks was to ensure reliability of the Call Levels app through regression testing and monitoring live market prices – A necessary assignment which quickly became repetitive and monotonous after a while. Under the guidance and supervision of my mentor, a software engineer, Ron, I began writing scripts using Ruby on Rails which I had to pick up simultaneously to automate the task. Within the first week, the process had become semi-automated. The learning curve was steep at first as the only programming language I was familiar with was Java and a little bit of Ruby. I spent the subsequent week improving and optimising my code through modularisation and reducing complexity, and subsequently fully automating the task. Along the way, I also picked up another programming language, GoLang, concurrently.
From time to time, I would receive ad-hoc tasks from my colleagues, all of whom were extraordinarily helpful in clarifying my doubts and supportive in assisting me overcome a multitude of obstacles faced along the way. Even as interns, we were treated as full-time employees to come together to discuss new features of the app, providing constructive feedback to the UI/UX and be actively involved in developing the product roadmap.
Building upon my application, I deployed instances of similar applications to monitor internal data streams of financial data from different exchanges such as SGX, BATS and Bitcoin across multiple deployment environments . I felt deeply integrated within the team, as well as contributing to the company. There was never a dull day – I was continuously learning new technologies and frameworks every day, every minute, and pushing myself beyond boundaries.
Moving to Analytics
Halfway through my internship stint, I expressed interest in analytics and was quickly put in charge of researching into a new technology, Microsoft Azure, to improve upon the efficiency of the current architecture with a fellow data engineer, Kang. I spent about 2 weeks reading up on big data solutions on an integration cloud platform and set up an infrastructure for processing data on Microsoft SQL Server with R. We hit several roadblocks along the way and I remembered staying up late (eating cup noodles in the office) to get it up and running!
As I worked on the platform, I eventually picked up R, a powerful language for processing statistical computing and graphics and started using it to analyse and visualise data to gather insights. I am also glad to say that R is now officially my favourite programming language. In the process, my boss, Daniel, also shared with me the basics of analysing financial time-series data – It was an enlightening experience to receive trading tips from the co-founder himself! The greatest challenge was my struggle with statistics – it was one of my weakest subjects and unfortunately I returned most of it to my professor after I was done with the module. Revisiting the subject with hands-on experience on the job definitely provided me with a deeper understanding of application of statistics in the finance world.
Environment and Culture
Be prepared to stay on your toes the entire time – the environment is fast-paced; and as if that was not enough, I joined the Call Levels at one of their most crucial expansion phases! There is always work to be done so you’ll never be bored – time always seems to pass by so quickly too. However, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – these guys know how to have fun; company bonding sessions such as street soccer are held once in awhile! I must also mention that they are huge fans of TV shows, in particular, the Game of Thrones series.
Street Soccer @ Lor Chencharu
You Know Nothing
I am, too, a big fan of the TV series, and it so happened that the latest season was ongoing. I had yet to catch up on the latest episode – On my second day of work, my so-very-considerate colleagues were gleefully discussing the plots out loud – in particular on how Jon Snow came back from the dead – and I was just sitting there, getting ‘spoiled’ but wearing a poker face with a broken heart. From that day on, I made it my life goal to catch up on the latest episode every Monday night.
Of Sprints and Runs
Call Levels adopt an Agile methodology software development process, Scrum, where daily stand-up meetings are held at 11am on each day of a ‘sprint’ where each of us would take turns to answer the following 3 questions – What we accomplished yesterday, what we were going to do on that day, and finally, list any impediments in our way. This allows the entire team to have a good understanding of one another’s progress and more importantly, it is a meeting where members make commitments to each other.
Aside from tech ‘sprints’, we also make an effort to run twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep fit (and also to pass IPPT, but that being secondary of course). Remember when I mentioned seeing weights and other miscellaneous gym equipments in the office? That’s right – these dudes take breaks in-between coding sessions by working out (Sometimes stand-up meetings are conducted in plank position) You know what they say – Healthy body, healthy mind!
Random workouts in the office
The Finishing Line
As my 12-week internship approaches an end, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to intern at Call Levels, which allowed me to grow tremendously (literally, I put on 4kg from eating all the time) and here are some of my key takeaways:
- Getting out of my comfort zone – I learned to push my boundaries, especially in learning a new hard skill by exploring and experimenting on my own. It is not about learning a particular skill; but rather the ability and willingness to learn. It sounds paradoxical, but the more you know, the less you know – because deeper discoveries in a domain leads to bigger questions.
- Greater confidence in career path – I wanted to make full use of this internship opportunity to try out as many areas of interest as possible, and I am glad that I now have a more lucid idea of what I would like to pursue; as well as the opposite.
- Time management – As with any job, I’ve been given multiple tasks, and having to balance them between my school work, community service, social life, exercising and self-learning has been quite a juggle. It really forced me to prioritise and make full use of my time to make every minute count.
- Ask questions if you are unsure – I believe that there is no such thing as a ‘stupid question’. I would much rather find out about a task thoroughly as opposed to skipping steps and making a fool out of myself at a later stage. After all, I am here to learn – better to look ‘dumb’ now than later!
- New connections – I am thankful knowing that I will be walking away from this internship having formed friendships with people from different walks of life who would provide me with advice and make a hell of a good company – This would definitely be the biggest takeaway for me!
Ivan Tan Yong Siang is currently pursuing a degree in Information Systems with a second major in Marketing Analytics from Singapore Management University (SMU). He is passionate in the field of analytics, big data and machine learning – where he can potentially solve problems in different industries by extrapolating data-driven and actionable insights for critical decision-making. In his free time, he enjoys watching TV shows (Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are his favourite thus far), playing the piano and jogging.