The math person myth

I have been tutoring my sister about basic math for TPA exam. The story goes all the same, most of the time she struggle with math to the point where I feel that how can one not know such basic things? It’s either she forgot the concept behind it or she’s not careful enough. Turns out my sister is not alone.

There is common stereotype among men and women that women generally are bad at basic math. And what I mean with basic math are those skills of algebra, trigonometry, logical deduction, or maybe a bit of calculus. That might be the reason why less and less women pursue education and career in math or STEM field. I was curious to see why and when it all started? If women were not born with math inability (of course they are not), when did they see themselves failing? In fact, as far as I can remember back in primary school it was quite the opposite, of all friends who were good at math were girls -and they are excel at other subjects too. According to one article in Psychology Today, things get flipped around during adolescences time.

Most of us, especially in adolescence, want very much to be romantically desirable. Girls in particular are socialized to see this as an important goal, and both sexes attempt to achieve the goal by conforming to cultural norms of what women and men are “supposed” to be like. Women are expected to be communal and nurturing, and to pursue careers that allow them to express those qualities – like teaching, counseling, and of course, nursing. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be dominant, independent, and analytical – qualities well-suited to business, finance, and science.

That was not surprising especially in this hyper-connected time where girls turned being adult faster than ever -thanks to the romantic movies and social media hype. My preposition if the above hypothesis holds true is the earlier girls enter their adolescence, the earlier they believe that math is just not for them. While it’s true that women are wired to be wanted and desired, what is not true is the assumption of qualities behind of being wanted. That being math and science nerd is mutually exclusive with other womanly type. I tell you, they are not. Two years ago, when I pictured my ideal type of women, she would be an intelligent, polymathic book-lover, cultured and with PhD in math or science, and funny. Well today I realize my fiancee is having lesser qualities than those. But she’s great!

Now can the situation change? Of course. Carol Dweck, in her book Growth Mindset, presented two alternatives belief about one’s ability and intelligence.

  1. You have certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it.
  2. You can always greatly change how intelligent you are.

While I belief that there are few prodigy kids in math or other fields who were fortunate to start doing what they are doing since very early, and there is no way I can be smarter than Terence Tao for instance. But Dwecks idea is not about who is better than who. It’s about answering this question “how can I become an inch better in this skill today than yesterday?”. I care about this issue because I belief that math is very important skill as much as reading and writing for children regardless of their career they later pursue. A good foundation in math would make any future intellectual pursuits easier. And to women of today who think math is not for them, think about what would you pass down your children to believe about this very important skill, let alone to teach them.

I want to close this with the story of my early childhood who got introduced into math education -thanks to my mom and my dad too. One of the heartbreaking story I was told was, my mom knew she wanted to study math education in IKIP Surabaya (or UNESA as of today). She wanted to become high school math teacher. But she should face a high wall from her conservative parents, thought that college degree is expensive, long, and useless as for at the end she would end up being a housewife anyway. So she went to diploma, a much shorter degree, to become primary school teacher instead. Life was not always easy for her but the spirit to provide good education remain still. She purchased me lot of books. She was my first math teacher. And more importantly she introduced me that math is not that difficult.

Let’s Talk about Imposture Syndrome

Source: Todayonline

Bulan Mei lalu berita yang ditunggu-tunggu akhirnya keluar juga, saya berhasil diterima di program Master of Science in Computer Science, School of Computing NUS. Nampaknya saya bisa meyakinkan dewan admission NUS bahwa saya akan bisa thrive di program S2 CS meskipun dengan latar belakang S1 EE dan 2 tahun pengalaman kerja. Layaknya semua berita baik, semuanya terasa berjalan cepat dan kemudian menjadi biasa saja. Mengutip Andre Agassi, a win doesn’t feel as good as a lose feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last long as the bad. Not even close. Maka kemudian yang tersisa sekarang adalah perasaan imposter syndrome dan berpikir bagaimana agar studi S2 saya jauh lebih berhasil dibandingkan saat S1 dulu.

Imposter syndrome adalah perasaan dalam diri bahwa keberhasilan yang kita capai adalah karena keburuntungan -dan bukan karena talenta atau kualifikasi yang seharusnya. Misalnya bisa saja professornya ngantuk saat menilai berkas saya. Perasaan tersebut kembali datang ketika hari sabtu lalu saya menghadiri acara graduate students formal dinner yang diadakan oleh NUS Graduate Student Society. Saya berkenalan dan ngobrol banyak dengan beberapa mahasiswa dari India dan Pakistan. Ada mahasiswa MBA yang bahasa inggrisnya mirip orang amrik meskipun ternyata dia orang pakistan, so smooth, fluent, and confident. Ada arsitek yang sudah bekerja di banyak negara seperti Dubai, London, dan Chicago, namun memutuskan untuk melanjutkan studi master di bidang urban design. Saya bertemu dengan alumni IIT Bombay -the most competitive school in India, their acceptance rate is less than 2%, even smaller than MIT- yang akan PhD di bidang Biomedical Engineering, yea I could smell his intelligence right away. Saya juga sempat berbincang dengan seorang mahasiswi PhD di bidang South East Asian Study asal India dengan background 1 bachelor dan 2 master di bidang ekonomi dan public policy. Gelar terakhirnya didapat dari London School of Economics, that’s a huge one! What is this place? Satu sisi saya senang bisa satu ruangan dan mengambil inspirasi dari orang-orang luar biasa ini, sisi lain saya berkata, do I really belong here?

Sekeras apapun saya pada diri sendiri, ternyata itu tidak akan mengubah apapun. Suka atau tidak, merasa pantas atau tidak, faktanya saya sudah terdaftar sebagai mahasiswa S2 NUS. Mulai saat ini saya harus percaya bahwa mereka juga senang dan bangga bisa kenal saya, udah yang penting percaya aja. Saya juga harus terbiasa mengabaikan perasaan imposture syndrome dan mengubahnya menjadi motivasi. Put it this way, imposture syndrome adalah pertanda bahwa kita merasa inferior terhadap orang lain. Orang yang tidak pernah merasa demikian berarti antara dia tidak pernah bertemu orang baru diluar sana, atau dia tidak lebih baik dari yang sebenarnya dia pikir. I may still have imposture moment, but not an imposture life.

5 Things I Like About Living in Singapore

Living in Singapore for the past few years has been a great learning experience for me. I had been to Singapore prior to working here, mainly for business trip and short vacation. Till that moment I knew Singapore is great country, clean and well integrated public transportation, and many great places to visit, but to have stayed with the locals is another experience I can’t find in tourism brochure. Here are 5 things that I like the most about Singapore.

  1. Singapore is well connected. It is designed to be connected all around the city without people having difficulty to locate from one place to another. Public places are always easily accessible with public transportations. MRT Station is connected with shopping center which is connected with public library and sport center within a walking distance.
  2. Pedestrians walkway is everywhere, sometimes equipped with a canopy on top of it that surely makes people rather safe and convenient for walking. The city seemed to be designed to encourage people walking as many places are close each other. You know why most of the Singaporean having slim body? I guess because they have engrained a habit to make significant number of steps everyday, it’s 5674 daily steps in average according to survey by USA Today.
  3. Singapore Library. I really love library, I wish I could have one in my house. What can I say about singapore library, from the building side, it’s pretty simple building with 2-3 floors of books collection yet it feels just right. There are another 4 revamped library buildings recently open in Sengkang, Bukit Panjang, Tampiness, and Bedok. I went to try my self in Bukit Panjang, and the architecture was amazing. With the ornament dominant color is whitish and grey, the book shelves follow the maze shape of discovery. There are some spaces for reading dedicated to different ages; adult goes to a stacked of floors with half rounded table each, kids got quirky sloped sitting areas which makes interesting spot for reading with their parents. There are also many events in library like the one that I missed so regretfully -a talkshow with Physics and Chemistry nobel prize winner. All information is accessible through NBL apps.
  4. Singlish. Singlish is another kind of english with mix of mandarin (or hokkien) accent, the sound and sentence forming follows it. It’s weird the first time I listened to it because I struggle to understand clearly so much so that I frequently asked my friend to repeat every time they speak. Sometimes I laughed when everyone laugh of someones jokes in Singlish, just to not look like idiot. Now that moment is over, I got used to it already. I can talk Singlish as much as Singlish can. Apart from the famous words lah, lor, leh, I can now understand few slangs or expressions like; walao eh (frustration maximum level), wa piang (despair expression), paiseh (sorry), kena hantam (got hit), cheem (difficult), shiok (nice, great), and many else. I would say Singlish is very effective form of daily english where you only care about the important message on the sentence. For example; this also can, how come like that, …then how ah. Now the best part is even Singlish seems to be ‘broken’ english, most of Singaporean I meet speak good english in formal occasion, good use of grammar and common idioms. It seems like they have two modes of english; formal singlish and conversational singlish.
  5. Food variety. Singapore is home for many great local foods, from chinese, malay, and indian, all blend together making its own uniqueness. It’s very often I visit Food festival all around the city; Thai Food Festival, Malay Food Bazaar, Singapore Food Festival, Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar (this one is so shiok) are among few I can recall. I also like attending evening live music on the lane park in CBD area, it’s served with local and western foods and drinks. Enjoying food with friends on the evening like this, where acoustic music gets in, was one of the best scene. And the fact that halal food are not difficult to find makes it even better.

There are other things that I love like having interaction with local community club, volunteering to non profit organization, or exploring jogging trail and park in the northwest border of Singapore. Of all many things I learnt from is that I understand being minority is not easy, all you hope is to meet nice people surround you, and being kind to them. Dump all stereotype and society generalization, people are more complex than that. When you experience good things being minority, you will make sure good things happen to the other end when you’re being the majority.


Pagi tadi di sepanjang MRT menuju kantor saya membaca sebuah pertanyaan di Quora tentang Happiness. The question is summarized as following; What is happiness? Why would we want to be happy? And how to be happy?

To answer those question one need not to be philosophical. And it turns out to be simple answer. It’s the hope. It’s that hope that made a child is so excited about being Astronaut. It’s the same hope that make us believe for a better tomorrow.

There is one line that keep me thinking along the way.

Funny thing about hope – hope itself is often better than what you are hoping for.

Never lose hope! Not only that is a source of happiness. It’s also what drive me motivated everyday!

On Choosing

I’m 25. And I’m in a good age to be confused by life.

Beberapa bulan terakhir ini saya sering ‘galau’ tentang masa depan. Ada beberapa pertanyaan yang mengusik, misalnya;

  • What is my career goal(s)?
  • How would I achieve it realistically?
  • Do I need backup plan?
  • When am I gonna get married?
  • How would we compromise our dream each other?

Berbicara tentang career goal bukanlah hal mudah, terlebih karena saya pribadi memiliki ketertarikan akan banyak hal. Saya suka programming dan problem solving. Saya sangat suka mengajar dan berbagi. Saya tertarik dengan dunia bisnis dan startup, saat ini sudah ada 2 ide bisnis yang sedang saya garap prototypenya. Akhir-akhir ini saya juga tertarik di dunia public speaking dan effective communication. Dan satu lagi, saya suka dunia literacy. Duh! Apa yang salah disini? Bagaimana saya memutuskan karir mana yang bagus untuk saya, dan untuk keluarga saya kelak?

Bagi saya memiliki karir yang baik dan fulfilling sama pentingnya dengan membangun keluarga yang harmonis. Saya akan menghabiskan minimal sepertiga dari waktu saya untuk karir. Saya ingin setiap hari bangun pagi dengan semangat membayangkan hal-hal menarik apa yang akan saya kerjakan, dan pulang kerumah dengan rasa senang bertemu dengan istri dan anak-anak. Memiliki karir yang baik besar dampaknya terhadap keharmonisan rumah tangga.

Saya tipe orang yang ingin istri saya kelak bisa mencapai keinginan dan mimpi-mimpinya, tanpa harus melupakan tugas utamanya sebagai seorang istri dan ibu. Saya ingin dia juga memiliki karir yang bagus, apapun itu pilihannya. Sehingga ini bukan cuma tentang saya, ini tentang kita. Saya percaya bahwa karir adalah marathon dan bukan sprint. Di usia 25 ini, saya sudah membayangkan akan ada usia-usia emas dalam karir, seperti usia 30 yang sudah seharusnya memilih satu bidang expertise tertentu, usia 35 saat dimana saya semakin matang dan berpengalaman, usia 40 dimana saya yakin adalah usia emas untuk menjadi seorang leader dan mentor, usia 50 adalah usia seorang leader mencapai puncak wisdom, kemudian akan ada usia 60, 70 dan seterusnya. Hal-hal tadi mungkin terdengar oversimplified, artinya tidak menutup kemungkinan saat usia 40 saya berpindah karir, tapi itu adalah buah dari proses berpikir saat nanti.

I think I’m overthought about future. I better rest now. And I’m feeling a bit better after writing it down here, at least it doesn’t sound as bad as I thought it was.


Instagram and Fake Identity

I am pretty much sure that you who happen to read this are most likely have Instagram account. Yeah, really? who doesn’t? Now, no matter you are an active or passive user, the question being posed is, what do you use an Instagram for? And how does it benefit you? My intention by writing this is to make sense where I have been up to, and hopefully come up with idea of how to fix when things go wrong. This post is inspired by one of my favorite vlogger Nerdwriter about Instagram.

As you might have known, Instagram have evolved from just being a sharing pictures social media into online business tools into being quick famous celebrities place into updating your daily life stories. It is your choice to decide whom to follow and how your feed might be look like. I was addicted to Instagram. There was no single day I didn’t open it. Scroll down, scroll up, likes, comment, check notification -even though it’s clearly nothing up there, update and watch insta stories, has become never ending daily chain of habit. I suspect, I liked to spend lots of time in Instagram because I was in lazy mood, it’s very light content, it’s easy, and it’s just picture -worth of thousand words they say, and most of people don’t like heavy stuff content to read, that’s why posting pictures with a very long caption most probably garner less likes. If I spend too much time on Instagram, chances are I am getting more and more lazy everyday. What I mean by lazy is, there is an unconscious habit being developed to not like reading, to value pictures and any kind of visualization more than anything, to like a beautiful artist more than humans-of-new-york story post. Well I believe one shall be balance on both side, but developing this habit to diminish another is not a good thing. The truth was I was having difficult time to focus on reading. I couldn’t even go 1 hours straight without a break looking at Instagram. I was that addicted. Or maybe I still am.

I might be biased but judging my less focus over Instagram is easy run-away. True there are many factors such as over-worrying of what people think, anxiousness, or just simply  a wrong mentality. Instagram couldn’t be more wrong than contributing self anxiousness, self insecurity, and social acceptance itself. I don’t believe deleting your Instagram account would solve the problem. I think if you do, you are kind of loser over yourself. So I decided to fix Instagram. How so? First and foremost is to be able to know your value. What makes me valuable enough? Is that number of like that does? What if there is no single like for your Instagram post? I have a friend who is really good in photography and picture editing. I have seen his work, he got the skill I admit. But there is one thing that struck me quite surprisingly, is that his Instagram account got little follower, less number of likes, and he rarely post his greatest picture in Instagram. With his good looking face and his work he could have garnered many followers had he decided to do so. When I asked this, he simply answered, “I don’t care how many likes or followers I got. My skill is not judged by any kind of them. I am more happy to be judged by personal and honest opinion like you” And yes, he spent little time on Instagram.

Second thing that helped me go through is to understand the motivation behind every activity on Instagram. Why do you post what you post? Why does it matter to you? I believe that every single reason that backed my activity on Instagram could be reflected to the audience. Social media is very powerful tools to present the conception of who currently you are or who you want to be perceived you are. The system has been built even to fake things up, as it is judged by number of likes or comment The more likes you get the more true it is. When it comes to reasons, I simply avoid such things that could make people being anxious by seeing at my activity as I would feel the same way by looking at other activity. This is very hard because I cannot control people as they cannot control mine. I am myself still learning this mastery though. But one thing to be clear is that to be true to myself, to my own value, that I share something that I think is worth sharing. For instances, I like sharing activity with how-to-information, knowledge, and opinion. Well a little bit of my self picture here and there so that people don’t forget my face, lol. I don’t share too much information about me, about my achievement, about me having fun last night, about what I had for dinner. The worst part of that is actually because we tend to make and exaggerate things up as if trying to say, look I just had fun with boyfriend, I am the happiest person alive and you better envy me, rather than giving proper information to audience. I know few people who clearly are the opposite of what they tend to share, or at least not that of the happiest. Why are we happy making people jealous? Bet because we happened to be jealous a while, and this is the best revenge, my friend!

If you are like me who sometimes are tired scrolling up and down lazily on Instagram, I would suggest to move on to another social media which I think is healthier. They are such of Quora, Youtube, Steller, and Reddit. Really, they provide knowledge and information in abundance. Reddit is clearly my favorite. Think I would write about Reddit separately why they have improved my life. Cheers! 🙂

What have I done for others?

Today I have been thinking about the question I don’t get the answers

What have I done for others?

I have done many things in life sure, but of all those things, how much did I dedicate to better others life? I am not a doctor who could volunteer delivering medical aid to people of war or epidemics. I am not a teacher down in the middle of nowhere who work tirelessly for a better future kids. I am not a president whose policy could change people’s life in seconds. I am just an engineer who work for myself -sometimes for my boss, in a pretty normal office day nine to five seven -sometimes more, creating smart card solution for people around the world but have no idea how exactly it benefits them -cause it’s all about business, well it’s not wrong and nothing wrong about it either. I think we all should be able to distinguish what matters in our activity by knowing how much impact we can deliver. Can they live without it? Can they survive? Can we talk with people we claim to have helped? I came to understand this lately, and the answers of these questions would definitely change my perspective about what does it mean to work.

I remember when I was working in previous company, I was responsible to improve the portable solar light solution for rural people around the world. At that moment business was high and fierce; company was left behind the race and trying to catch up. I needed to come out with other design which was much simpler but not entirely pulled off the quality to put them in a more competitive price. My mind was getting clattered of what matters and not. Until I knew that company decided to use the product I and team had been working with for CSR activity in the nearest island having no electricity. Back then I heard company was successfully installing hundreds of solar lamp in every corner of island, people was content and grateful for not worrying about electricity in the night anymore. Too bad I had left company I couldn’t interact with the people of island -I still remember watching from video their hilarious clap and laugh moment waiting for the first sensory light coming out right after the sun was set. I am not trying to be exaggerating but the feeling when your work bring happiness for people was something that couldn’t compare with anything. It was that good.

Currently I am still doing good stuff in job, perhaps a little bit. But let’s aim higher. There are lots of opportunity out there to be pursued to make us more human and valuable. We can teach kids, being a volunteer to a disable community, visiting and listening to elderly people, giving access for free education on internet, and countless things more. And let’s not limit ourself to a nine-to-five confinement to do something for community. This is I am talking to my self.