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Moving to Medium

Hello Again

Moving to Medium

  • By
  • Tzen Szen
  • on November 9, 2016 11.15am

  • It's been awhile since my last post in June. In these 3.5 months, I've been kept occupied with many things, namely, getting involved in research, hospital placements, recruiting new student ambassadors for Doctorpreneurs, recruiting research groups for NSAMR, on top of keeping up with my studies and learning to code.

    In the period between summer and now, I have been reflecting about my previous work on this blog. I came to a conclusion that I still want to continue writing and produce the highest quality work that I possibly can. To do so, I'm moving over to the blogging platform, Medium.

    Medium is simple

    There are many reasons for this but the biggest reason for the move to Medium is because of its simplicity. All I really want is to write and create content for others. It's easy to setup, write a story, embed images, and publish stories. Medium has the right tools to get the job done and allows me to focus on my writing.

    Medium looks great on every device too. Whether you're reading from a computer, tablet, or smartphone, a good experience of reading Medium articles is guaranteed.

    That being said, this blog will now serve as my archive of all my previous work. I'll still be focusing on writing articles about medicine, technology, and my occasional opinions on topics I find interesting. I'm really excited about where this is going and I do hope to share more of what I write about with you!

    3 Important Lessons From 90 Minutes With Sam Altman

  • By
  • Tzen Szen
  • on June 19, 2016 3.46pm

  • I was fortunate enough to catch Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator (YC), at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (what a location!) in London about 2 weeks ago. The talk and Q&A session (organised by Mosaic Ventures) saw many seasoned and budding entrepreneurs alike gathering to listen to him speak about technology, startups, the future, and everything in between.

    Y Combinator is a seed accelerator based in Silicon Valley and they provide seed funding (the earliest stage of venture funding) for startups. Twice a year, they invest $120k in a fairly large number of startups. The startups move to Silicon Valley for 3 months, where YC works with them (everything from working with ideas to dealing with investors) to get them into great shape. At the end of each cycle, the startups present their companies to a carefully selected group of people during Demo Day.

    A big part of what makes YC very cool is their alumni network that continues to help founders during the lifespan of their company and beyond it. YC is largely successful, with their companies having a combined valuation of over $65 billion. Their companies include big tech successes like AirBnb, Docker, Stripe, Dropbox, Cruise, and Reddit.

    The talk and Q&A session brought up many important talking points and it was a joy to listen to Sam speaking about them. Naturally, there are always lessons (be it about startups or life in general) to take away from an event like this, so here are my top 3!

     photo IMG_20160607_150438_zpswtvz3h9q.jpg

    1. The importance of perseverance

    Sam mentioned during his talk that the YC partners ask startup founders why they're working on their startup and even at that high level, they do still get a mix of good and bad answers. Even at medical school interviews, potential medical students are frequently asked, "so, why do you want to study Medicine?".

    A reason I believe that this is such a huge question that appears frequently is because when you're going to attempt something very challenging, which has large consequences on others (eg: the lives of patients for future doctors or future customers and investors for startups), people need a reason to see that you have the grit and perseverance to get your mission done. And that grit and perserverance usually doesn't come from external motivations.

    It's so easy to forget why you're doing something so it's always important to go back to the roots and ask yourself why. Are you doing "A" because you like it? Are you doing "B" because you want to make money? Or did a group of people pressure you into doing so or you're doing it because everyone else is doing it?

    Sam revealed that raw intelligience of the founders of a startup used to be his top criteria to invest in a startup. While it is still in his top 5 criteria, another criteria that he mentioned is perservance. That is why YC actively looks out for hints of that in founders and I believe a good way to begin is to ask them why they're doing what they do.

    2. There will be haters and that's okay

    Can you believe that even today, some people still think YC is a bad idea? With more than 1000 startups funded since 2005 and having a combined valuation of more than $65 billion plus a portfolio that includes successes like AirBnb, Docker, Stripe, Dropbox, Cruise, and Reddit, you'd think YC is doing something right at least.

    But according to Sam, he still gets people giving him shit about how YC is still a bad idea. I do note that it's important to take in constructive criticism but there will always be people who won't like what you do or don't agree with you.

    That brings us to the story of AirBnb. Quite a fair bit of investors and even some YC partners thought they couldn't make it, as the idea of renting out your personal space to strangers sounded pretty crazy and wouldn't work. But the founders of AirBnb stuck with their idea, executed it, and the rest is history.

    I guess great ideas falls into a Goldilocks zone between a bad idea and good idea; bad so others won't try to compete with you but good enough so it's worth pursuing. I'm sure we are all quite glad Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky, and Nathan Blecharczyk didn't take the advice of the people who said AirBnb was going to fail and they should jump ship.

    3. Tech isn't just software

    When I personally speak to people about tech, most of our conversations will naturally shift to software. While great software has exploded in the last 20 years and is playing a great role in our everyday lives, it is important to remember that tech isn't just all about software.

    I liked how Sam mentioned in his talk that YC doesn't just fund software companies; YC helps startups build products that people want, regardless of their industry. He also spoke about 3 industries that are going to be huge in the future. Those industries are energy, life sciences, and artificial intelligence (AI).

    The sustainable energy problem remains as a huge barrier to solving many of our other problems and universal access to clean, sustainable energy will be another great equaliser for humanity. Breakthroughs in life sciences will see us living longer and healthier lives. Truly capable AI will be one of the most important things that humanity creates and it should be decentralised, which is one of the reasons Sam started OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence research company, with Elon Musk.

    Although software will continue to play an important role in our lives, the technological breakthroughs that will help us solve our largest problems isn't going to be just based on software alone. We have to remember that tech isn't just software because there are lots of exciting technological breakthroughs in other industries too.

    From gene editing tech CRISPR to more efficient ways of producing solar energy to better batteries, there is plenty to be excited about. While an app that allows you to take photos and videos and disappears after sending them to your friends is cool, I still struggle to see how that is more valuable than a cure for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, better antibiotics, sustainable energy, and a way to get to Mars.

     photo IMG_20160607_152637_zpsbjhq7teg.jpg

    And that wraps up what I've learnt from 90 minutes with Sam Altman. Being a medical student at the event saw me sticking out like a sore thumb among the crowd, but the experience of listening to Sam's insights about Y Combinator, tech, startups, and the future was sure as hell worth it!

    Top 4: Announcements from Google I/O 2016

    Top 4: Announcements from Google I/O 2016

    My favourite announcements from Google's annual developer conference

  • By
  • Tzen Szen
  • on May 30, 2016 5.09pm

  • It's just over a week since Google I/O 2016 and the dust has finally settled down over the latest news and announcements from the search giant during the conference.

    For those of you who aren't aware, Google I/O is Google's annual software developer-focused conference. It is during Google I/O that Google shows off and/or announces its latest products such as the next version of Android, new updates in current products, new tools that help developers build apps, and most importantly, the direction the company is headed in.

    This year's conference marks the 10th anniversary of Google’s first developer day, hence, the change in venue from San Francisco to their own backyard at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. I/O 2016 also marks the first official conference hosted by Google under the new Alphabet corporate structure with Sundar Pichai's first I/O conference as the new CEO of Google.

    I/O 2015 was pretty lacklustre by Google's standards but there was lots to get excited about during this year's conference. It's just impossible to talk about everything in one post, so here are my 5 favourite announcements (in order) from Google I/O 2016:

    1. Project Soli updates

    The announcements about Project Soli during Google I/O was truly a standout for me. Project Soli is Google's attempt at touchless interaction. It is currently being developed at Google under Google ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects), which is a division at Google that aims to develop new radical technology. They are a small group, pretty much the merry band of pirates of Google and they "like epic shit".

    Being anounced at last year's Google I/O, Soli has since been released to a selected group of developers around the world for them to tinker with and the results have been very impressive so far (check out the video below!). Soli works as a new sensing technology that uses miniature radar to detect touchless gesture interactions. Radar is used for motion tracking of the human hand and the sensor tracks really minute, rapid motions at great accuracy. This allows people to interact with technology without even touching it.

    This tech is truly exciting and I'm personally pumped to see it in the hands of more developers and consumers soon. The possibilities are endless and Soli seems like the next natural progression of the user interface. We might be able to interact with our computers like how Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies does with his and that is just the very tip of the iceberg!

    2. Android Instant Apps

    Say you have an app you need to download and use at the moment but don't need it in the long run. It's annoying to have the app on your phone because it's idle in the app drawer as the app isn't your go-to app for something (it's not WhatsApp, Uber, Spotify, etc.). Also, what if you want to try out an app first without having to download it in the first place?

    Google's answer to this problem is Android Instant Apps; a somewhat simple solution to a longstanding problem. Android Instant Apps evolves Android apps to be able to run instantly, without requiring installation.

    Android Instant Apps isn't another app that has to be installed, it's going to be baked into Android devices running Android 4.1+ or higher with Google Play services. Based on one of the demos, let's say a user is sent a link by a friend to a video on Buzzfeed Video but doesn't have the Android app. That user will be directed to that part of the app without having to install it by just clicking on the link. Only the code needed to display that part of the app is downloaded and run on the go.

    High quality Android apps are now only a few taps away instead of a few minutes. This is a win-win for both users and developers; users will get a better user experience on Android as they have better access to high quality Android apps while developers can get more users to their app quickly.

    3. Project Ara updates

    Project Ara is another project under Google ATAP and is Google's first big swing from their hardware division led by former President of Motorola, Rick Osterloh.

    Ara is a modular phone. You will be able to add in modules like a better camera, larger speakers, and an E-Ink display with more modules from 3rd party hardware developers in the future. Here is how Ara works: buy the Ara frame that includes the screen, processor, RAM, battery, and 6 slots, then get modules to fill in those 6 slots. These modules will be able to fit into and work with future Ara frames.

    There has been some negative fanfare about Google's decision to not allow consumers to switch out the screen, processor, and other core components of the Ara smartphone as it prevents it from being a truly modular phone. Personally, I'm pretty happy with their decision to do that for now. Ara is still in a fairly early stage and having too many components that are modular will give Google a headache.

    I like how they are taking a leaf out of the book of the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. It can be summed up in quote of his: "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.". Apple is famous for the tight integration between Apple software and hardware, allowing for a greater control over the user experience.

    This way, Google maintains some form of control while still allowing consumers to customize the phone. When the Ara platform truly takes off, then we can start thinking about customizing the core components of the phone. Either way, Project Ara is still truly exciting and I can't wait to see what developers build with the release of the developer edition this fall before consumers get their hands on it in 2017!

    4. Android apps & the Play Store come to Chromebooks

    It's finally happening! Chromebooks will soon be running Android apps natively, together with the Google Play Store. This is huge news, particularly because it allows Chrome OS (the operating system of Chromebooks) to gain more functionality.

    Chrome OS users will soon be able to get more than a million Android apps from the Google Play Store on their Chromebook. This would of course increase the appeal of Chromebooks to more people as they can get more done on it. This is a huge step in the direction of a more seemless and intergrated user experience between Google's two operating systems, Chrome OS and Android.

    This is also a huge blow to Microsoft that has been trying to create an ecosystem of lightweight apps on a laptop computer from an app store. Google can achieve exactly that when this comes out in fall this year.

    That wraps up my favourite announcements from I/O 2016! There were loads of cool announcements during the conference with didn't make my top 4 but some honourable mentions include major updates to Firebase and the new Google apps Allo (a smart messaging app) and Duo (Google's version of FaceTime) coming out later in summer.

    I was really hoping to see a new version of Google Glass this year but I guess it'll be some time until they have something more polished for consumers. As for now, till Google I/O 2017!

    Doctors Who?

    Doctors Who?

    Notes on a profession that is bringing more questions than answers

  • By
  • Tzen Szen
  • on March 6, 2016 9.50pm

  • I was in London about three weeks back, to speak at conference jointly organised by Malaysian Medics International UK and the Singapore Medical Society of the UK. They are two organisations that represent Malaysian and Singaporean medical students respectively, in the UK.

    On the day of the conference, I got to the tube station at Algate East to get to the venue of the conference, UCL. I was due to arrive perfectly on time until I learnt that the station was closed for maintenance. Fortunately, I managed to get a ride from an Uber taxi to get to my destination (thanks Aunty Wei!). As I got into the taxi, the driver introduced himself and began asking the usual series of questions, including: "Why are you headed to this university?", "What are you studying at uni?", and "Where did you come from?".

    It was after answering his initial questions that things started to get interesting. After learning that I am a medical student, he probed further. He asked questions about whether I'd like to stay on in the UK after medical school to continue training and highlighted the junior doctor contract fiasco.

    That conversation I had is what led to this blog post, where I'd like to ask and discuss 2 further questions about the situation as a whole.

     photo Junior-Doctors-Strike_zpsm2cwlfya.jpg

    1. What sort of value do healthcare professionals provide to society?

    Taking care of the ill, preventing deaths of patients, and prolonging their lives should be considered valuable to any member of society. It's easy to say what healthcare professionals do on the job. From assisting and carrying out surgery to consultations to caring for patients in hospitals and the community, that is only a tip of the iceberg of what they do.

    So, why is it that junior doctors (anyone below the level of consultant or general practitioner) in the UK have to resort to industrial action to make their voices heard about the new contract that works them longer hours for lower wages? It's a no-brainer that they should be treated fairly, isn't it? But that is clearly not the case.

    It does paint a picture that healthcare professionals aren't valued for what they do. That is largely due to the fact that it's difficult to quantify the value of their work.

    It's difficult to quantify the value of their work

    Making a mistake in real-life in this industry doesn't mean your business will lose a client or a sum of money; it usually means that someone's life is going to be affected due to your actions and it could be fatal. Is it possible to put a pricetag on the life of someone? How can we measure the value of the hours that healthcare professionals put into taking care of patients? Well, the answer to the questions above is you can't.

    Thus, healthcare professionals do provide great service to society as a whole. However, it's difficult to quantify the value of their work. We can't quantify the work that healthcare professionals do monetarily easily when compared to professionals in other industries.

     photo Silver-Money-Coins_zps6mbsyldf.jpg

    2. Does making money matter in healthcare?

    Here's a contraian truth (a truth very few people agree with): people say they value the work of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals but they are very hesistant to pay them for services. Ask anyone to pay more taxes to fund a public healthcare system or pay high fees for private healthcare and you'll be met with a response of something like, "But it should be free!".

    Money does matter, but only to a certain extent. There needs to be enough funding to keep a healthcare system running efficiently. However, no one is going to give money for free. It'll be given to you only if you can provide value by either providing a great service or generating more money for the people giving you money in the first place.

    As junior doctors and other healthcare professionals are providing good services to the public, they do deserve to be paid fairly. The working hours can be long, some patients are difficult to deal with to say the very least, and there is a shortage of staff a lot of the time - that is the reality of being a doctor or any other healthcare professional, for that matter. Most people who study medicine don't do it for the money. There are better ways to get rich. But that isn't a good enough reason to not pay junior doctors fairly.

    There's a reason why Google, Facebook, and other large technology companies are never short on attracting great talent. On top being a great place to work at, they truly value their employees and what employees can bring to the company.

    Healthcare professionals are the best people to do what they are supposed to do. Doctors, nurses, dentists, paramedics, pharmacists, and all the others involved are great at what they do (although being human, are prone to errors sometimes). What we often fail to realise is that the best people are more valuable than you think.

    The greatest and brightest people will leave to other places where they will be appreciated for their work. It is no surprise that many junior doctors in the UK are thinking about moving abroad in hopes of being paid fairer with better working hours.

    The best people are more valuable than you think

    It can be disheartening to hear about the news that junior doctors are going on strike, leaving the country, or leaving the profession altogether. At the same time, the uncertainly of the the future can also be worrying. The situation seems dire now but eventually this too, shall pass.

    It is easy to daunted by the challenges that we are facing in healthcare (likewise in other industries), but we need to persist and keep trying to make things better. Mark Twain sums it up best with a quote of his:

    It doesn’t matter what the press says. It doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. It doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. Republics are founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe in, no matter the odds or consequences.

    When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move. Your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth and tell the whole world: “No, you move.”

    *The views expressed in this post represent me only and not the organisations I represent.

    Impressions: Tesla Model S

    Impressions: Tesla Model S

    40 minutes inside the car that is changing the automobile industry

  • By
  • Tzen Szen
  • on January 30, 2016 3.20pm

  • The Tesla Model S is an epitome of human engineering, an excellent example of the harmony between software and hardware.

    Late last December, I had the chance to have a ride in a Tesla Model S P85D (85 kWh battery, "D" for dual motor), with my dad at the wheel (you have to be over 25 to test drive it) at Harrods in London.

    Here are a few key things that truly makes this car compete in a league of its own.

    The best 40 minutes that I ever spent in any automobile. Period.

    From a passengers point of view, I've never sat in car that silent and comfortable as the Model S. As my dad zipped around the South Kensington with the guide of the enthuastic Tesla Product Specialist, Tom, I couldn't help but notice how quiet it was in the car.

    With the car being all-electric, it doesn't have the internal combustion roar like other traditional cars. There wasn't even a hum of any machinery, nothing.

    As the car was put through its paces, it handled every turn and bump on the road as smoothly as a hot knife cutting through butter. Being a first timer driving the Model S, my dad had no problems with getting used to the car.

    The Model S is also known for its acceleration and oh man, it doesn't disappoint. Again, being an electric car, the torque in this car is almost instaneous, unlike a regular car where there is lag as you step on the gas pedal to actually accelerating. Going from zero to sixty in around 3 seconds was definitely the highlight of my 40 minutes in the car. Tom telling us to get ready as he was going to floor it was just a formality; you can't be prepared for what is coming.

    Just close your eyes and imagine an airplane accelerating as it is about to take off. Multiply that by 10 fold and that is the closest that I can put the acceleration of the Model S in words.

     photo IMG_20151221_115153_zpsut0s7sa9.jpg

    Other perks of the Model S being all-electric is the amount of extra space you get with it. The lack of an engine in the front combined with just batteries and electric motors powering the car, allows for a lot of storage space in both trunks (front and back). Coupled with the lack of a normal transmission and gearbox, there is more open space that you can't get in a car with gas engine and tank. There is no need for much maintenance with the car except for changing the wiper fluid.

    The 17 inch touchscreen that acts as the center console of the car is a console that car owners everywhere deserve. The screen has enough pixels to allow the driver to control all aspects of the car from the music, doors, locks, lights, navigation, and it also includes a web browser.

    You can swap these on the touchscreen to any configuration. For example, you can have Google Maps navigation and music on top of each or you could have an entire application take up the full screen.

     photo IMG_20151221_114009_zpsazwtkcyk.jpg

    The 3G-connected touchscreen houses a custom built OS by Tesla. This allows the car to receive over-the-air updates directly from Tesla just like how iPhones get updates from Apple or Nexus phones from Google.

    One of the coolest and most significant updates in recent times is the Autopilot update which is another step in the direction of self-driving cars. While we couldn't try this feature out ourselves due to the busy traffic in London, we spoke to Tom about the direction that Tesla is moving in order to have a commercially available fleet of self-driving cars. He's pretty much convinced that Tesla will be the first to get there, just as much as Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, is; I love how driven they are about that.

    Tesla is a tech company just as much it is a car or energy company

    The underlying software and technology in the Model S is nothing short of impressive. To top it all off, the design and attention to detail of the car itself is phenomenal.

    Model S itself is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. On top of that, it's designed in a well-thought-out manner from the car having one of the lowest drag coefficient of any production car to the door handles popping out automatically as you approach the car or even the carkeys shaped like the Model S itself.

     photo photojoiner_zpsmu87lfby.jpg

    It was those small little bits of attention to detail that impressed me so much about the Model S, sometimes just as much the big bits.

    The journey towards a future of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market is well underway. As Tesla gears up to release a more affordable car soon, that future is not looking very far away.

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