Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Experience with Specialist Diplomas (Part 1)

I have wanted to blog about this topic for quite some time already. In a few of my previous posts, I have shared that I have been taking 1-year academic programmes. I have been quite cryptic about it, alluding to it but never revealing what exactly am I studying. Well, I wanted to finish two of these Specialist Diplomas (shall refer to them as SD for the remainder of this post) first before writing a detailed post on them.

As the two SDs I took are quite "hot", I would not be providing you readers with the names of the courses, lest you find out my real identity. The two SDs I took are offered by the School of IT and the School of Engineering, respectively, from two different polytechnics.

Rationale for taking SDs
I hail from a social science background and have zero programming/IT knowledge. Out of curiosity and interest, I began taking up programming courses through Coursera during my free time. Wanting more opportunities to improve my new-found programming skills and finding out that there are interesting tech courses offered by the local polytechnics, I signed up for it!

Furthermore, as a Singapore citizen, SDs offered by the local polytechnics are heavily subsidized. You pay around $1000 for 1-year worth of classes. Not a bad deal, right?

I was also certain that the polytechnics should have a certain standard and rigour in the syllabus. So, why not?

I managed to get in, even though I'm neither from IT nor Engineering? For the IT SD, I had to undergo an interview though.

Application is free. Yes, you can apply for more than 1 SD at a given academic intake, ranking them in order of your preference.

I have met plenty of interesting people from the two SDs I attended. The majority of them are working within the given SD's field. Initially, I was quite unnerved by this fact. This would mean that I am the noob-iest in class! Well, not quite. There were others who intended to use SDs to make a career change. And then there's people who take them for entertainment (*cough*soundslikeme*cough*). I have met one person who used it as a networking tool. Just come to class to look-see, look-see, make friends, and hand out his name card to promote his business. Then there's the interesting founder-CEO chap as well. A month or two back, various financial bloggers were sharing about the fintech solution he has recently launched.

As group projects are commonplace in SDs, you will get to know your group mates well. Normally, the people within each group will stick together throughout that 1 year (which comprised of 2 semesters). But ya know right? Singaporean students are competitive and do not take too kindly to dead weights on their teams. I have seen a group split up across semesters, since there is no binding commitment to remain on the same team.

Do note that there is attrition as well. By the end of the first semester (first half of the course), 1/4 to 1/3 of the class would have dropped out for various reasons. They may do so out of a change in their work commitments, the course not meeting their prior expectations, etc. So, you may like to work with your teammates but find that they will be leaving the course after the first semester. Time to find new group mates then!

The age range in class is generally quite wide. From mid 20s onwards to 50s. No, you won't be the odd one out. No need to be pai seh.

Course Content
As I am a total noob in IT and Engineering, I can say that I learn a lot from the two courses. For those who are already in the field, a fair bit of the course content for each individual module would serve as a refresher. The remaining portion of the module would drill deeper into the subject.

There are recommended textbooks for each module. I found that the information contained within the textbooks are okay to know, but not necessary. Reading the lecture notes and doing tutorials should suffice. If you require additional assistance, you could ask/email the lecturer your queries. If you still want to refer to the textbooks, better head down to the school library early, preferably before the first day of class. People will still borrow the textbooks, and you may find yourself without those resources.

There are, of course, bo liao aspects in each module. In the IT SD, a fair bit of time was allocated to class discussion. No, not the productive kind. The ones where the lecturer tried too hard to think of a generic topic to get people to talk and discuss. Of course it fell flat. Then there's fluff that could totally be removed from the syllabus. Anyone who joins "hot" courses do so because they hear exciting stuff about the potential of the course's topic. We do not need to be shown youtube videos introducing the hotness of a hot topic. Furthermore, we could do that at home or wherever else.

Since this is becoming a wall of text, I will continue sharing my experience in part 2. Until then, stay tuned!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Zen on the MRT (and other related stuff)

Two other bloggers have already blogged about their thoughts on the recent spate of train faults. As I have some time today, here are my thoughts on the matter as well.

There are many things to fret about in life. When we were young, we fret over our grades. As we grew older, academic grades ceded its importance to career prospects. When we reach a marriageable age, our responsibilities and priorities shift yet again. Once we start a family, our lives does not just revolve around ourselves alone. It has to take into account our parents, in-laws, spouses, and our kids. Besides trading some concerns for a new set of concerns, we also take on other worries into our lives. Some of these concerns are perennial, they wither our psyche over the long haul. Others are daily hassles that are pointedly acute, pricking us awake from the mundanity of our daily lives.

The repeated pricking is being felt. More are awakening from their slumber and their rage is palpable. Amidst the furor, I came to realize that there is a silent minority. They are unfazed and totally nonchalant about the whole thing. They go through the same experience, yet they seem to suffer none of the negative repercussions. Why is this so? I scratched my head and then I realized why.

They have managed to come to terms and accept the uncontrollable and control the controllable. This is not limited to just one facet of their lives; it permeates their being and guides the way they respond to negative stimuli in their lives.

Will increasing your heart rate in utter indignation accelerate the repair of the train? Will joining a community of keyboard warriors engaging in grotesque mud-slinging ensure that you get to your destination faster? As is often the case, the negative emotions will feed on one another, ballooning it out of proportion. The silent minority knows that this is not good for their psychological health, and they stay away from such people.

What could be done, they have done (bringing a book to read, taking the off-peak train, taking alternative transports, etc). What cannot be avoided, they face it stoically (train break down and the cabin doors are closed). The ability to distinguish the former from the latter is critical. In the former, there is a range of options that are available to them; they are free agents who could pick from any one choice. Conversely, there is no room for maneuvering in the latter (pun not intended).

I see the exact same thing in school previously. The smart students secure their honours year supervisor way ahead of time. They discuss about the potential topics and their respective constraints. They think of logistic issues that might impede the smoothness of data collection and so forth. They submit their research proposal to the ethics board way ahead of the deadline.

Meanwhile, the easily-triggered ones freak out over the ethics board's "slow response." Guess what? Will any additional ounce of worrying lead to a prompter response? Well, they could have submitted their proposals earlier, since that is one factor that is squarely in their control.

At a personal level, I am learning. When faced with negative stimuli, I think of alternatives. If there is no cost-effective alternative, I just accept it. Most of the time, negative stimuli just makes our schedule slightly more uncomfortable. In the grand scheme of things, they are just sio dai ji (teochew for small issue).

Friday, August 18, 2017

Claiming your SkillsFuture Credit

As requested by Sy in my previous post, here are the steps I took to claim my SkillsFuture Credit.

Depending on who your course provider is and how they handle claims (either you pay first and they reimburse you later or the government pays the training provider directly), your experience in claiming the SkillsFuture Credit may vary. In my case, the prevailing arrangement is that the government pays the training provider directly.

For my course, there is both a tuition fee component as well as an "other fees" component. It is explicitly stated by my training provider that the SkillsFuture Credit could only be used to pay for the tuition fee component. I would have to settle payment for the "other fees" component on my own (Fortunately, I am able to use my PSEA to offset the "other fees" component).

First, I had to use my training provider's e-payment system to declare the amount of SkillsFuture Credit I am going to use. After declaring the amount on the e-payment system, I was given a receipt of the course fees.

Next, I proceeded to the SkillsFuture Credit Claim website to submit a claim application. You will end up on a similar looking website.

Click on "LOGIN" (circled in green above). Once that is done, you will be directed to your SingPass Login page (as shown below).

Provide the necessary SingPass ID and password. Following which, you have to undergo another round of security (two-factor authentication). Once that is done, you will end up on the SkillsFuture Credit Claim website (see below).

Select "Submit a Claim" and you will end up at the following screen (see below).

First, you have to select a course.

A pop-up window will appear on your screen (see above).  You are required to put in the course commencement date, course title, and training provider and search for the course in their database. Once found, select the course and click "Done."

You will be brought back to the "Submit A Claim"  page. Under "Fees Payable by You (incl. GST)" and "Amount of Credit to Claim", I put in the same amount, as instructed by my training provider. Do note that I keyed in only the tuition fees amount; "other fees" are not claimable under SkillsFuture.

Once that is done, I uploaded my receipt of the course fees as it is the only documentation I have from my training provider. Finally, I submitted my claim application.

Head back to the Account Summary page, and most likely you will observe that your claim has been approved, annnddddd it's done!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Small issue with SkillsFuture Credit Claim

I have just received my course fee payment letter today. In 2 weeks' time, I'll be done with my 1-year academic programme. Following which, I have already applied and secured a place for yet another 1-year academic programme which I need to make payment for.

This time round, I intend to use the SkillsFuture Credit to make payment, since it makes more sense to use it earlier compared to the PSEA account or other free resources (see here). Previously, I avoided using the SkillsFuture Credit for payment as I had to pay out of my own pocket first before being reimbursed by the government.

Based on anecdotal evidence I hear from friends, there have been some changes to the SkillsFuture Credit claim system. Instead of paying out of my own pocket first, I can now notify both SkillsFuture and the training provider on their respective systems. Both parties will liaise with one another, without requiring further input on my part.

What I did not know was that claims on the SkillsFuture website could only be made within 60 days from the course commencement date. Being someone who likes to settle stuff early, my claim got rejected (my course starts in more than 2 months' time). Supposedly, at this juncture, my training provider will be chasing payment from SkillsFuture while SkillsFuture would indicate that no such training claim has been made. <Facepalm>

Once I'm done with my course, I will share my experiences on taking these 1-year academic programmes: Are they worth it? Do employers recognize them? How useful are the skills taught?, etc.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Is your family on the same page?

My mum knows what I am going to do in a market crash. I am going to empty my bank accounts in all their entirety and dump it into the stock market. This is not news to her. I have shared with her plenty of times my plan of action. However, I think it didn't register in her head until recently when she clarified what do I mean when I say I am going to empty my bank accounts.

Is it a figure of speech or is it a literal statement?

When she realized it was the latter, she became momentarily concerned. Am I out of my mind?

To allay her fears, I shared that it is for this purpose that we have an emergency fund in place. Of course, the larger the emergency fund, the greater the peace of mind it provides. Only extra cash, above and beyond the emergency fund, is allowed to be used in market crashes. The emergency fund is to be used only for the purpose it was designed for.

My mum and I share an interesting arrangement as to our emergency fund. Yes, we both contribute to and tap on the same fund. While she has been the major contributor for a long time, I have since began taking a more active role in contributing. Currently, our emergency fund stands at around $11000. For two people, it is indeed underwhelming. Psychologically, she is more comfortable if the figure is around $20000 instead. Hence, I will be redirecting more of my work income into the fund from now on.

To further mitigate her fears, I reminded her of our collection of pet rocks. Last I checked, our pet rocks are worth around the $20000 comfort figure. So all is not too bad.

It is for this reason why I don't include emergency funds as part of my net worth. First, it is shared. Second, it makes no sense to delude myself into thinking that I have a higher net worth than what I really have. My personal understanding of an emergency fund is a fund that is deployed to serve a defensive function. It is not chump change which I can use for any of my whims and fancies.

So what constitutes an emergency, since we are into definitions? We reached some pretty common agreements as to what constitutes an emergency:

- Accidents
- Hospitalization
- Emergency medical treatment
- Urgent home repairs
- Job loss

Note: we have insurance. We are referring to cash-on-hand to deal with any exigencies before the insurance companies pay up.