Life Updates

⌛ 2023 Mid Year Recap 2 📖

Kenji Phang • Jun 2, 2023

Q2: April - June 2023

Focus Change: Deep dive into AI and XR

Q2 was significantly different compared to Q1, my focus changed completely once again. I’m not sure how to best share about this as it spans across so many different points of the year, so I’ll just share about it here starting from the beginning.

I will now go off tangent and dedicate a huge portion of the blog to this, skip to the next heading if you’re not interested in this.

🔍 Some background 🔍

For some context, I’ve had a strong interest in AI when I was a teen, watching OpenAI 5 destroy Dota 2 players and reading the book Life 3.0 amongst others really left a strong impression of what potentials the future would bring. It was even the whole reason why I did computer science in the first place.

Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark
The book that started everything: Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

But over the course of my first and second year, the interest I had kept on fading as it was replaced by blockchain and Web3 dev from my side hustle, which led me to taking the software engineering route instead as it was more practical at the time. We all know how that went, blockchain kinda died and so did my interest in it.

✨ Sparks of interest ✨

But things have changed ever since I found out about ChatGpt and the new OpenAI offerings at the start of the year. Everything suddenly felt possible, it felt like we were finally at a point where we had all the components, and we just needed a system instead to put it all together. And it just so happens that the software engineering skills I’ve picked up over the past 2 years was the final piece.

OpenAi's logo
Sign that something big is cooking

Coincidentally, I was also actively researching and brainstorming for the countless hackathons at that time, everything overlapped perfectly as all the ideas I thought off seemed plausible and bounced off each other with the new AI offerings.

🔥 Sparks became embers 🔥

And so, I got myself busy with reeducating myself, catching up with everything I missed out on AI. I’ve started watching videos and getting my hands busy with the AI services on the cloud and of course OpenAI’s apis. I soon caught up enough to build something, and so I built AI powered apps for the hackathons I was participating in, it felt great building these things that I could never possibly imagine before this.

An AI powered app
Chatnalysis: Speech to insights
AI powered app features
All built with the power of GPT-3

A lot of the newer material was just so much better, such as the FastAI Practical Deep Learning for Coders 2022 course, maybe my machine learning knowledge from my Year 2 ML course also kicked in, everything felt rather intuitive to understand 😎

❤️‍🔥 Embers became flames ❤️‍🔥

Then it became a burning obsession, I was learning more than just AI at this point, I would start watching this guy called David Shapiro preach about AI, get really into computational cognitive sciences, learning how to build a brain, cognitive science theory and the like. Eventually, I started reading papers to fuel my curiosity, I was hooked. I was certainly treated with a feast as there were new AI papers coming out everyday compared to when it used to be like just one or two per week.

Cognitive architecture diagram
MARAGI Cognitive Architecture Diagram by David Shapiro

Open source AI projects were popping up everywhere like LangChain, AutoGpt, LlamaIndex I remember feeling so excited to be up to date building alongside them, and I just felt alive!

👓 Chance encounter with XR 👓

In all honesty, I never expected myself to get into XR, I tried developing for VR before this but it was just too much of a hassle.

Cognitive architecture diagram
The guy who worked out through Beat Saber and Thrill of the Fight

But somehow, I stumbled upon XR videos from Caydengineer, I’m no stranger to VR but AR glasses looked like the next big thing, and so I reached out to help out with Team Open Smart Glasses as I wanted to contribute in making it a reality!

At this point, I just shared about the AI projects I had been working on and we both ended up discussing on how we could potentially collaborate, and the rest was history, I’ll continue this in its own section below.

🌟 Other Inspiration 🌟

Now that I think about it, looking back, there was something else that really got me interested in all this 🤔.

Kamen Rider Zero-One (仮面ライダーゼロワン)

Kamen Rider Zero One
Kamen Rider Zero-One (仮面ライダーゼロワン)

Yes, I am a massive Tokusatsu fan, this series was sets place in a world where AI is so advanced that it has AI robots called Humagears that act just like humans, and of course depicts mature themes such as futuristic conflicts between humans and AI. Concepts related to AI, robots and XR were all deeply interlaced here, and really left its mark on me.

The Humagears from Kamen Rider Zero One
The Humagears
The ZaiaSpec from Kamen Rider Zero One
The ZaiaSpec

What does this all mean?

I guess I am just trying to convince myself that this is my calling, and this is where I’ll be heading towards. Might be copium, but I can’t see anything going wrong if I stick with this path!

Intro to Azure Speech services

What else did I do with my increasing interest in AI? I decided to do some sessions on them as well. I cohosted a session on “Introduction to Azure Speech Services” with my cohost Hadil as part of the post Microsoft Student Summit events. I’m no stranger to the Azure Speech Service, so it was quite fun to share about it along with my experiences using it with the audience.

Azure Speech Service promo image
Ah yes, giving a talk again! Watch here 👆🏼

Talks are good, I gain public speaking skills, presenting skills, demo skills, and a great story to tell! Win-win! 🥳

Done with my placement 🎉

I didn’t really talk much about my placement experiences this entire recap, so I’ll just dedicate a section to it here.

I feel that my experience overall was a very unique one, I was sat in a place surrounded by the heads and directors of the tech division, which made it really easy for me to talk to them and get advice about anything I have in mind 😉.

As a whole, I felt that the placement went really well, I learned a bunch, did a bunch, got to work on all kinds of stuff from main products, internal tools, on prem, cloud and even production issues.

Really went through the whole fullstack experience huh? 🤔

I’ve actually did a blog with the company here if you’re interested in reading more about it!

People of Interact banner
Favourite moment of my placement: People of Interact!

Magpie Syndrome ➡️ Burnout

I want to go off tangent and talk about the struggles I faced as well…

TLDR: I finished my placement a month and a half earlier…

Unfortunately, from all my previous side projects done over the past 4 months, I eventually developed a strong case of Magpie syndrome, a syndrome where you’re only chasing the next shiny thing, I soon struggled to pay even basic attention and focus on my workplace, resulting in a burnout. It came to the point where I just had to tell my manager and my boss about my situation and handed in my notice letter.

Fortunately, they were really understanding and I was able to leave on good terms.

The trio interns
The trio interns

Youth WellTech project

Another promising opportunity was ongoing in the MLSA community, a pilot project involving Microsoft Research to learn human centered design and build solutions for mental health among youths. At this time, I was so obsessed with AI to the point that I was considering going into research and so I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by.

I did a whole blog post about this before, so I’ll just leave it here if you’re interested.

Youth WellTech thumbnail
Read: My experiences with the Youth WellTech project

But in short, it was an experience that once again complemented really well with the project I was already building towards, I was able to overlap it entirely with my gamified productivity system project, and it really helped me with everything from understanding the problem to designing it to prototyping it, killing 2 birds with one stone.

Smart Glasses ChatGpt

Not long after talking to Cayden, it was decided that I would contribute by being an alpha builder on top of their SmartGlassesManager platform. We bounced off different ideas on what to build and we eventually went with something simple like bringing ChatGpt into the Smart Glasses.

And that’s what I built, I’ll probably dedicate a separate post for the full details of this project, but for now, you can check out the repo here:

GlassesGpt, a system that takes in user voice input, sends it to the ChatGpt Api, and outputs the response back to the user.

It had different commands for different settings that you can find out more in the repo here. It’s true power lies in its “system prompt customization” feature which allows a user to define what the bot does with just prompt engineering.

An inside look at what is displayed
An inside look at what is displayed

With the right prompt, it wouldn’t just be having a pointless conversation with ChatGpt, we can do things like:

  • summarize conversations
  • build simple programs like a background filler word counter
  • a program that suggests what you should say next based on the conversation

This project really helped me get out of my comfort zone, even going so far as to filming in public!

Kenji filming in public
Filming out in the public? 😱

And just recently, the project was also able to partner up with a bunch of smart glasses companies, so it will be exciting to see where this goes!

MLSA - Ambassador Projects Gold Lead

As part of my ongoing 🥇 Gold student ambassador role, I also took up the role of being a gold lead for the ambassador projects team. I took part in a social impact project last year and it helped me a lot so now I hope to return a favor!

I am now responsible for running the ambassador projects and organizing any activities that can help the participants in their projects. I guess this is kind of similar to running a 3 month hackathon in the background 😀, excited to see what people will build!

GitHub Campus Expert

And finally, I got accepted into the GitHub Campus Expert program! 🎉 I really wanted to dive deeper into community building and really get involved in the Open Source space. I can see it complementing well with everything I am already working towards, like the Microsoft Student Ambassador community, the AI and XR community etc, so hopefully it won’t be too much extra work.

GitHub Campus Expert logo
Yay, I got in 🎉

Free month?

I’ve had a lot of time now since I’ve finished my placement role. Since I’m free now, I’ve just been focused on doing more learning and side projects, I had been learning stuff like Supabase, NestJs, GraphDBs, AI models etc.

Android logo
Something is cooking

Recently, I’ve been doing more of Android and Unity, something out of the norm for a web developer like me, but the reason will be revealed soon enough 😏

How is it even possible to do all this?

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how am I even doing all these activities at the same time, let me just go off tangent here and explain, there are lots of concepts:

⌚ Extra time and freedom ⌚

I am now doing this full time, since I am not working anymore

🏛️ A productivity system filled with productivity hacks 🏛️

I have been practicing productivity hacks for a while now, and have somewhat of a functional gamified productivity system that I am using to manage my time and tasks. It is backed by a lot of scientific research and I am stacking all of them together.

Even based off the activities above, if you realized, all of them overlap to some extent, and usually I only need to do half the work to achieve twice the results.

🧠 Exponential learning skills 🧠

The more you learn, the more you learn how to learn

I’ve been practicing lifelong learning for a while now, everything in tech overlaps to some extent, and I think I just learned enough to derive new knowledge from existing concepts. Learning in tech is exponential as well, check out the Matthew’s Effect.

Matthew's Effect chart
Matthew's Effect chart

⌛ I technically lived longer in online time ⌛

Time is relative, online time can be sped up

My ultimate hack is to learn faster, I consume videos at 2x speed and have my own extension that exceeds up to 4x speed. I spend the same amount of time as any other person in front of the computer, the rest are just the exponential compounded gains.

⚙️ Resourcefullness ⚙️

Use ⚙️ tools and automation to speed up your workflow

I’ve been leveraging ChatGpt heavily, learning how to prompt really made the experience a lot more efficient and I can get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time.

😴 Trading off sleep and social life 😴

20s is for grinding, 30s is for chilling

I am trading off my sleep and social life for this, well its not like there is much to do anyways, I don’t club, game or watch anime. I just sleep, eat and use the computer, if I were to consume entertainment, I would resort to watching recaps, so I can avoid binge watching/reading.

🏗️ Still a work in progress 🏗️

The gamified productivity system is still a work in progress, there is definitely a lot of room for improvement, maybe I’ll write a blog post about it in the future.

What’s the point of doing all this ⁉️

I feel that this is just something I am passionate about, and I am doing something useful and impactful with my life. Of course, one day I would like to get rich from doing all these, I’ve already come this far, and I don’t see a point in stopping now, I want to see how far I can go.

What’s next?

Even more AI and XR projects

I’ve got some really exciting projects lined up, but I am unable to share about them yet, but I’m sure you’ll find out about them soon enough 😏

Based off my work history, all the signs point a few things, everything seems to revolve around these themes:

  • Gamified Productivity
  • Human Augmentation
  • AI chatbots, Android robots and cognitive science

So I should be working on something within these domains I guess…

Summer Internship at Goldman Sachs

Surprise, surprise for Q3, I will be doing a summer internship as a software engineer at Goldman Sachs, I honestly have no idea what to expect yet, but its Goldman Sachs, so I’m sure it’ll be a great experience!

Goldman Sachs logo
Yay, I got in 🎉

Maybe YouTube?

I’ll probably upload stuff relevant to the projects I’m working on, but I’m not sure if I can create original content specifically for YouTube. Right now, videos are only part of the post project completion flow. But if I get enough requests, then I will do them, only time will tell…

Check out my YouTube here btw: Kenji Phang

Hello world from 1 year ago

Final year project

As part of commiting myself into the world of AI, I have decided to take on one of the toughest AI projects available in the project list, which is to use stable diffusion with scored based models.

I honestly have no idea about it yet… or even the prerequisite knowledge, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out along the way, I’m just excited to be able to work on something that is really interesting and am looking forward to the challenge!

No more hackathons?

From the differences between Q1 and Q2, I guess you could tell that I am not really doing hackathons anymore, this is somewhat true. I feel like I don’t really gain much from them right now but I’ll join only if I am able to encounter a problem that I am really passionate about solving or if there is some large scale hackathons like the Microsoft Imagine Cup, Google Solution Challenge, and the like.

Passion profit and aptitude venn diagram
I'm coming for you
Passion profit and aptitude venn diagram
And you too


Wow that was an eventful 6 months, it feels good to look back and reflect on how far I’ve come. If this all happened within just 6 months, I’m even more excited for what’s to come!

💭 What I’ve learned 💭

I learned a lot throughout the past 6 months, I found out what I like to work on, what I don’t like to work on and how I like to work. I want to work on something modern, futuristic and of course impactful at the same time.

I also learned that I wouldn’t mind taking a paycut as long as it interests me, I now see value in other currencies like experience, knowledge, network, and the like. It would be ideal for me to be my own boss, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet, I still need to learn a lot more about the world and how it works.

Passion profit and aptitude venn diagram
You've got to know what you want

The opportunities I’m looking for are hard to find and require a lot of advanced and specialized knowledge, the best option I can think of now are working in startups. Other than that, I will need a lot more knowledge, kind of like a researcher, but I don’t want to be a researcher, I want to be a builder, so I’ll be looking for opportunities that allow me to do both.

What I’m trying to do is not something that is really common, so I’ll have to pave my own path and see how it goes. I’ve got no clear idea on what I’ll do but I’m excited to see where it takes me!

My Way (2008 Remastered)

Final words

I feel ready to take on anything, and have all the pieces I need to bring all my ideas to life. Watch me, I’ll make sure to deliver something that will blow your minds away! 🤯

Signing out, KenjiPcx 🤙