It all boils down to being prepared when opportunities knock. Take this from NUS Computing alumnus Nicholas Foo who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics (Honours) degree in 2019, with a Distinction in Business Domain Applications Knowledge Area.
Nicholas was prepared when Revolut knocked on his door – and now he is helping to solve financial crimes in one of Europe’s leading financial technology companies. His job as a data analyst with the company’s Financial Crime Department involves taking data across practices such as AML (Anti Money Laundering) and CTF (Counter Terrorist Funding) and coming out with analytical systems to better assess them.
Working in a fast-paced and high-growth industry has always been his dream job. “Revolut being global, a large part of my job involves working with counterparts from Revolut’s London and Poland offices. Working with team members from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds has introduced a variety of perspectives and thinking that could only come from being part of such a globally-diverse team,” he said.
Having what it takes
“NUS offers lots of opportunities for students to prepare themselves for the job market ahead. However, you need to know how to make use of them. You have to learn independently and lose the expectation that knowledge and skills can be spoon-fed to you. In order to excel, you have to take learning into your own hands. This came as a culture shock but was definitely a turning point and tough adjustment for me during my university years,” Nicholas recounted.
He saw his offer from Revolut as a challenge and wanted to see if he had what it takes to join them. “In my opinion, Revolut offered me a career-changing opportunity to join one of the fastest growing tech companies in Europe. It would also allow me to marry my initial interest in finance with my new found passion for tech. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take it on,” said Nicholas.
To clinch the job, Nicholas had to go through multiple rounds of interviews, which included a home task and several online interviews conducted from London. “One of the more memorable interview questions was to pick a mathematical or statistics theory and explain it to them in the simplest way possible,” he recalled.
Ingredients for success
Nicholas attributed his technical abilities and communication skills as the main reasons for being able to secure the job with Revolut, crediting the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme for the opportunities in honing these skills.
“Being able to communicate my thoughts clearly was something that I learnt during my stint with NOC where I had to present my ideas at work meetings during internship and entrepreneurship classes in Stanford. It was through such a platform that I gained the confidence and skills needed to articulate myself,” he said.
“Apart from attending classes, we also got to intern at a start-up. That was where I honed my skills in Python and SQL which are critical skill sets for data analysts. Having a chance to be on such a programme, with its heritage of prominent founders of companies like Seedly and Carousell, really puts us in good standing when entering the industry,” he added.
Why Business Analytics
“I decided to pursue this programme as I would not only be able to learn more about business but also pick up a lot of technical skills at the same time. This combination would allow me to carve out a niche for myself,” Nicholas said.
The course was almost everything he expected. “It was multidisciplinary and I was exposed to different types of business problems in many different industries. I took business modules from Marketing to Decisional Science. I also learnt coding from scratch and developed an interest, appreciation and passion for technology along the way,” he said.
“For our final year, we also have a Business Analytics Capstone Project where we work with real companies solving real problems. This gives added depth, commercial experience and pushes the boundaries of our technical knowledge,” Nicholas explained. His team worked with media and digital marketing communications company Dentsu Aegis Network to create a machine learning and analytics model to uncover meaningful business and market insights for strategic business planning.
Advice for freshies
Go for hackathons or case competitions, urged Nicholas. “This allows you to learn new skills in a fun setting and it is always the best way to diversify your experience to different technology stacks. It builds important skills as well for the work industry such as communication, strategising, teamwork and working under pressure. It is also a good idea to grab some of your friends and try out for these events together! I have made friends for life just from participating in these hackathons together,” he said.
Take part in extracurricular activities and internships to learn new skills beyond the curriculum, he advised. “When you know what you want to do as a career, think of the skill sets that can get you there. Reverse engineer that and think of what it takes to attain those skill sets. You can subsequently search for events like meetups or extracurricular activities to acquire these identified skills and knowledge.”
Nicholas’ cohort is doing well in the job market. The Joint Autonomous Universities Graduate Employment Survey showed that nine in 10 fresh NUS graduates secured employment within six months, while the median gross monthly salary of those in full-time permanent employment increased to $3,600 in 2019, up from $3,500 in 2018. See press release about the survey.