Life Updates

⌛ 2023 Mid Year Recap 📖

Kenji Phang • Jun 1, 2023

Q2 recap got moved into its own post because this one was getting too long, you can read it here!

Time flies 💨

Looking back, it’s kind of hard to imagine that we’re already halfway through 2023. I’ve haven’t been updating my blog as frequently as I should. So here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been up to in the first half of 2023!

Some background info about me

What I do

I am currently a 3rd year Computer Science student at the University of Manchester, and I started my placement year last June, so no studies or school for an entire 15 months! At the time of writing, I had just finished my placement, I will share more about it below.

My initial goal for 2023

When the year first started, I went through a “new year, new me” phase and had an entire productivity system with sets of plans and expectations to achieve throughout the year.

2023 for me was supposed to be the year of optimizations, I already had a good idea and foundation of what I wanted to do and I was just supposed to continue along with it and optimize it. But fate has some other plans I guess, what I ended up doing was completely different from what I had in mind.

Q1 - January to March

The productivity guru phase

To start the year off, I started reorganizing my life and continued working on my placement as usual. It was during this time that I had a whole “productivity guru” phase, whenever I was free, I would watch productivity videos, think about my goals for the year, try to build those healthy habits like writing daily journals etc.

My productivity system in the bin
Sadly they're all in the bin now

Hackathons galore

One of my goals was to take part in more hackathons, I’ve never won one before and I wanted to change that. So throughout Q1, I consistently forced myself to take part in as many hackathons as I could! The plan started towards the end of January, I had this insane idea of taking part in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, Google Solutions Challenge and Encode X Solana Hackathon (since I was a Solana bootcamp graduate) one after the other.

Imagine cup logo
The Microsoft Imagine Cup
Solution challenge logo
The Google Solutions Challenge

Sparks of AI ideas and interests

ChatGpt just came out during this period, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn and build something related to the AI during the hackathons, I had some great ideas, I remember pitching it to people and they seemed promising. But when it came time to build them out, I got a huge reality check, the ideas I had didn’t feel so great, I feel like I wasn’t really solving a real world problem that the hackathons were asking for.

A picture of a phone and chatgpt
It all started from here

Reality check from hackathons

I felt that I was finding a problem to fit my solution, instead of finding a solution to fit a problem, not to mention I was really new to AI at this time as well. So instead, I spent a bunch of time educating myself on world problems, and learning about how technology could have the potential to solve them, I would read books, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and ultimately learn this harsh reality:

If you are not the one facing these problems first hand, then you shouldn’t be the one trying to solve them. Only build something if you are the one facing the problem.

Sounds pretty harsh and demotivating right? But it’s true, you just don’t really understand the problem if you are not living with it and its hard to build something you’re not passionate in. So I just ended up deciding to build something cool I would use for fun, I focused all my remaining time left in just the Imagine Cup to build a tool that would extract useful information from a conversation using Gpt, you can read more about it here (My Failure 😔 with Imagine Cup 2023).

Spoiler alert: I didn’t submit it on time by 1 minute

Life as a Microsoft Gold student ambassador 😎

Well, Q1 is not all bad, I got promoted to a Gold student ambassador in the MLSA program, and from there I had a lot more opportunities to get involved with the community. To start off with, I went around different places sharing my experiences about being a student ambassador with other students, some for the UK ambassadors and some even in places overseas!

A picture of me sharing my experiences
Sharing my experiences with students in Turin Polytechnic University, Tashkent

Microsoft MVP Mentoring

The MVP Program is back and of course I took part in it again, this time I was fortunate to meet Sam Cogan, who was a specialist in all things Cloud! Since I was already somewhat familiar with cloud and infrastructure technologies, I decided to focus my mentoring sessions on more practical things like advanced cloud concepts and system design.

Over the course of 6 weeks, we pretty much just went through system design on different layers like compute and data, then proceeded to architect a system using only real Azure services.

A diagram of our system design for a recomendation system
What we worked on: a recommendation system using Azure services

Overall, it was pretty nice to just have someone really specialized in the cloud you can ask questions to, I definitely kept those questions coming and managed to learned a lot.

Some quick fun: Microsoft Hack together

After the hackathon incidents above, I had some free time over a weekend and found this rather chill Microsoft Hack together hackathon focused on Microsoft Graph and .NET! I worked with .NET in my work, so I was like why not give it a go?

It gives you a badge for submitting anything and so I decided to make a simple GPT powered productivity tool that extracts tasks from your speech and adds it to your todo list using Blazor Server and Micrsoft Todos.

A picture showcasing speech 2 todos
Speech 2 Todos App

Wasn’t super fascinating but I will do anything for a nice badge 😂 View the project here: Speech 2 Todos

Quick look into the world of algo trading

Somewhere in February, me and my friends found out that Optiver was doing an algo trading competition, I thought it might be worth checking out properly given that I was trading cryptocurrency in my first year and I was somewhat familiar with the concepts, and so we did!

A gif of the optiver ready trader go competition
Ready Trader Go!

This was a lot different than the usual hackathons, I had to learn algo trading from scratch, and it was a lot of fun! It was the first time I was learning statistics and mathematics in a practical way, and for some reason it was a lot more effective than school, guess this is the power of project based learning.

I learned a bunch of stuff like

  • mean reversion using Bolinger and Kettler Bands
  • momentum trading using MACD
  • pair arbitrage trading and market making
A chart showing mean reversion using bollinger bands
Mean reversion using Bollinger Bands

It also let me practice on my rusty numpy and pandas skills.

Mini rant: Not all “hackathons” are fun

Not all hackathons are good, one of my worst experiences of 2023 is taking part in the MedTech Foundation Hackathon. It was a weekend hackathon focused on building medtech solutions, but it was actually an ideathon for pitching nonsensical ideas for medical students.

For example: bioreactors, futuristic chatbots that can detect eating disorders, and mental health apps that already exist.

We decided to build a chatbot workflow for helping users with diagnosing during telemedicine consultations, it is backed by a research paper we found and we thought it was a plausible idea.

A picture showcasing VEXA
VEXA (Virtual EXaminations and Assessments)

TLDR on why it sucks:

  • We got last place, even though we are the only team that actually built something
  • Our idea was feasible but not as impressive as the other teams because we grounded our idea in reality
  • The program is to recruit students to join their subscription based program
  • It was in Leeds and I had to travel there, and me and my team was homeless while we were there

As a person who has an understanding of the tech and startups, I was left dumbfounded by the ideas that were being pitched, and the fact that they were being praised by the judges.

Maybe the real treasure isn’t about winning but it is the friends we made along the way…

A picture showcasing VEXA team
A couple of boys who are homeless in Leeds

Guess this is goodbye to medtech, it is not for me… 😂

Q2 - April to June

Alright, this blog post is getting a little too long, I will move Q2 stuff to its own blog post, which you can find here: 2023 Halfway Recap: Q2

Here is a sneak peak: I got into the XR space and I have found my project calling! See you in the next blog post!