From video games to Computing Honours

Having come a long way since his days at ITE, Nicholas graduated on 13 July with an NUS Honours degree in Computing

“Computing is my lifelong passion,” said NUS Computing graduand Nicholas Ooi, who professed to having a love for computers and computing subjects since the tender age of eight.

Video strategy games involving elaborate characters and extensive simulation drew Nicholas in, with Red Alert — a real-time strategy game involving battles between armies — being the one that sparked his fascination. On 13 July, this interest culminated in a Bachelor of Computing with Honours degree in Electronic Commerce from NUS Computing.

The journey was not all smooth-sailing though. The subjects in primary school did not excite Nicholas, and he found it challenging to excel in something he had no interest in. From Primary Four to Secondary Two he also struggled with a three-hour daily commute from Johor Bahru to Singapore, which saw him waking up at 3.30am on weekdays to catch the school bus. “Traffic and custom delays were inevitable, so I was frequently late for school and too exhausted to pay attention in class,” said Nicholas.

After completing a Normal (Technical) course in secondary school, Nicholas was posted to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College, where he could finally indulge his passion for computers. The Information Communications Technology course exposed him to software development and programming, with the keen learner picking up other computing skills independently. His academic performance saw a vast improvement and he was presented with the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship to Encourage Upgrading Award offered to outstanding ITE graduates. The award served as a catalyst and helped him progress onto the next stage of his educational journey at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of InfoComm Technology.

An old hand at computing-related competitions both locally and in the region, Nicholas has represented ITE, his polytechnic and NUS in software and application development. His award-winning projects include a multiplatform infotainment application for patients, doctors and nurses; as well as a web application that allows sellers to list their products on various online portals with a single click.

My co-founders and I set up bantu because we had the same vision to empower the social service sector using technology. We discovered that non-profit organisations had trouble using technology to champion their social mission.

At the age of 17, the entrepreneurial Nicholas set up Towards Technology to provide IT services, with his first client being a property agent. Tasked to develop a website, Nicholas completed the assignment in a single day.

At NUS, Nicholas joined NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) where he spent one year in Silicon Valley, US in an entrepreneurship immersion programme. “I signed up for the NOC Silicon Valley programme because I wanted to experience global studies in NUS. I also wanted a real experience in Silicon Valley because I have seen many technology breakthrough start-ups on the Internet coming from Silicon Valley and wanted to know how they make it happen,” he explained. He learned a lot from his overseas stint, while the interaction with people from different backgrounds and cultures provided him with a different perspective, he added.

It was during his NOC stint that he met fellow NUS Computing graduand Han Lynn; Janelle Lee, NOC New York and NUS Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) alumna; as well as NOC New York alumnus and FASS graduand Joshua Foong. The four of them established bantu, a social enterprise which aims to provide technology solutions for the underserved social sector. Bantu means “help” in Malay.

The idea behind bantu was seeded during a 48-hour hackathon which Nicholas participated in during his year in Silicon Valley. There, Nicholas led his team to victory for their early-days business model for bantu.

“My co-founders and I set up bantu because we had the same vision to empower the social service sector using technology. We discovered that non-profit organisations had trouble using technology to champion their social mission,” said Nicholas.

“We are venturing into volunteerism first because we realised that many non-profit organisations face difficulties in retaining volunteers. Hence, we wanted to revolutionise the volunteerism scene by empowering the non-profit organisations with technology tools and creating a social action network platform for volunteers to co-create actionable solutions with the organisations, in order to have community-driven volunteerism,” he shared.


Nicholas (left) with his bantu co-founders (from right) Han, Joshua and Janelle

Setting up bantu was no walk in the park. “We managed to come together after achieving many small successes from customer validation to product development. Each win brought us closer and we were prepared to face the uncertain challenges together,” he said of the team.

Validating the concept took the team one year. The company’s volunteer management system — Workspace — a single platform that unifies and automates the many processes in managing volunteers was launched on 20 April. To date, more than 15 organisations, including Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre and Over-The-Rainbow, have signed up to use Workspace.

Nicholas has a bold vision of transforming at least 70 per cent of non-profit organisations throughout Southeast Asia into smart organisations with their technology solutions in the next three years. If the tenacity Nicholas has shown thus far in his journey is anything to go by, bantu may just hit their target.

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