Artificial Intelligence, Real Heart
A world-class education can prepare one for all sorts of challenges in the working world — from learning how to build a chatbot from scratch over the course of one weekend, to becoming a start-up’s first full-fledged chatbot developer.
Mr Quah Pern Jie, first full-fledged chatbot developer of Pand.AI.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has helped to answer some of life’s greatest conundrums ranging from “Which outfit suits my body shape?” to “What’s the meaning of life?”
And now, AI can help to plan your finances too. Pand.AI is Singapore’s leading chatbot creator for financial institutions around the region, covering banks, insurance providers and asset management companies.
As the Head of Product at Pand.AI, NUS alumnus Mr Quah Pern Jie (’16) is always in the thick of the action.
Since his university days, Mr Quah’s exceptional talents were on display.
Beyond academic excellence, the all-rounder helmed leadership roles on campus. His achievements earned him the Lim Hong Chin Memorial Scholarship in 2012. Thereafter, he graduated from NUS with First Class Honours before heading to Cambridge University for his Master’s degree.
Most would assume that a career in a tech giant or a unicorn would come next. But not Mr Quah.
Recalling his job interview at the then-fledgling tech company, he said, “Knowing that Pand.AI specialised in chatbots, I decided on an approach that would leave a strong impression. I learnt to build a basic chatbot from scratch over the weekend, and showed it to my interviewers. The chatbot could answer any question they had regarding my CV.”
In 2017, Mr Quah became employee number one at Pand.AI, which is a play on the Malay word for clever — pandai — and AI.
From day one, Mr Quah took on multiple roles — client support, business development and human resource. He even designed the company’s logo and name cards. His main role, though, is being Pand.AI’s first chatbot developer.
“Within my first month, I had successfully developed a chatbot for our very first client and was already representing my company in pitch meetings with large financial institutions. Being the company’s first chatbot developer, I had no mentor nor guidelines to follow. I was carving my own path, and had to make decisions trusting my best judgment,” stated Mr Quah.
Like a solo explorer on an adventure, Mr Quah ventured into unknown territory — one fraught with neverending challenges. But his time at NUS had prepared him well.
“The technical knowledge gained through my coursework helped me to fulfil the obvious prerequisites of my job, but the more valuable lessons from NUS were the larger projects I had to work on — be it school assignments, internships, or my Final Year Project,” he elaborated.
“Learning to structure a project, delegate tasks for an optimal group output, and present ideas effectively — unbeknownst to my previous self, these were all training that allowed me to understand the working habits and team environments that I operated best in. These experiences served me well, as part of my job involves building and managing my own teams.”
For Mr Quah, the Lim Hong Chin Memorial Scholarship he received was a launchpad to greater things.
The grant covered his tuition fees, which reduced his family’s financial commitments. His parents — an educator and a former Vice President of an IT company — had to support his two siblings, who were studying in overseas universities.
The financial support opened doors to exciting opportunities, such as an overseas internship in Italy and a Master’s degree at Cambridge University. These experiences enriched Mr Quah in different ways.
Today, the tech whiz has led the development of chatbots for over 10 financial behemoths in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.
From a team of three stationed at a co-working space in Singapore, Pand.AI has since expanded to three countries with over 25 employees.
As a way of paying it forward, a grateful Mr Quah initiated a partnership to take in NUS software interns at Pand.AI.
“I personally mentor them throughout the internship and allow them to experience, to the greatest extent, what our development cycles have to offer. Upon the completion of their internships, I attend their graduation ceremonies whenever possible, and some have even moved on to full-time positions in our company,” he said.
His aim is to groom the next generation of software developers. He shared, “I learnt how much of an eventual impact providing guidance early on can translate into. That’s one of the reasons I strive to be a good mentor to those fresh into their career.”