From Business to CS to Research

Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

Bill Bryson A short History of Nearly Everything

This is one of the queerest opening lines that I have ever read, and yet it fits perfectly as an opening line for myself in this setting. From one who was all geared towards the business world until my Sophomore year, and eventually aspiring to become a computer science researcher, my transformation, as I now reflect upon it, is the journey of self-discovery, and keep asking myself what matters.

From Business to CS

Lunch with Associates at PwC Just as Nick Carraway in the Great GatsBy was eager to gain a foothold in Wall Street, I was eager to get a head start in business after coming to Hong Kong for University. A tax internship at PricewaterhousCoopers was exactly what I desired. But soon enough, when the clanking of metro transportation and the smell of morning coffee at the office ceased to be a new sensation, I found myself mired in documents proofreading: a left-out indentation here, or a semicolon changed to comma there. The question arose in me, why automation had not disrupted the landscape of accounting yet? Is repetitive labor even meaningful? I derived much pleasure answering the questions myself: I wrote a Microsoft batch program to help automate the scanning and copying process, so no more manual categorizing, grouping or renaming. For the first time, the power of computer science manifested to me personally: it creates value.

When computer science appears at a set of business activities that I participated in, I knew that it will be my way forward. My team won the championship of HSBC/HKU International case competition partially because of my experience developing Android and Apple Apps; In Boao Forum of Asia where I served as a volunteer, world leaders talked more about ground-breaking technologies; I helped my startup won the HKUST one million dollar international start-up competition because of my computer science backgrounds to communicate to prospective investors. The last event that pushed me to CS was autonomous trading, a middle ground between CS and business. As I stayed longer in the trading team HKUST, the sense of agnosticism and helplessness rose. No matter how well the Fundamental Analyses were performed upon firms’ financial statements, they were not able to direct the trading strategies for the following day; For Technical Analyses, there were always anomalies unaccountable. Traders in the industry even admitted to second guessing. I eventually came to decide that CS is the right path ahead for myself.

HSBC/HKU case comp championship Volunteering at Boao Forum of Asia HKUST one million dollar entrepreneurship competition
HSBC/HKU case comp championshipVolunteering at Boao Forum of AsiaHKUST One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition Winning Awards

From CS to Research

It was only through another two internship experiences that I realized my passion towards reasearch over the industry. In my sophomore year summer, I interned at Oriental Overseas Container Line HK data science team, where I performed time series prediction on container release-return. After testing my model, I witnessed the procedure of a model being deployed to practice. It was a fascinating experience to witness machine learning in the industry.


Junior year second semester I interned at Sensetime HK working on Reinforcement Learning. Immediately, the systematically rigorous research procedures adopted by my supervisor amazed me: observe experimental evidence; coming up with questions; bring forward hypothesis; test the hypothesis with indicators; and looping. This is essentially the pipeline that natural science subjects like Biology and Chemistry adopt, and I had never thought that Computer Science researches could be conducted in a same way. Besides enjoying the procedure of scientific discovering, I have come to nurture a sense of personal ownership: the research project that I undertake is my own thought child. This sense of recognition is a feeling that I had never felt before in either business or the industry. Furthermore, it was reassuring to me that there is meaning and value pushing forward the frontier of science. The inner voice that kept asking me “what is the point of you doing this?” when I was exploring business or Industry finally subsided.

For this I sincerely thank Sirui Xie for leading me onto the path of research, and setting up a model of what a good researcher should be like when I first started on this journey.

Closing

So I say this to myself at the end of my university life: “Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that Gary you could make it and find truly what you like and matters to you. Now you have a life-long researching goal and you have a research area that you love, work hard. No matter how the PhD application goes, I am sure you will keep pursuing your goal.”