Hindsight is 2020 (#HI2020) is a ground up initiative founded and led by SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business Class of 2020 graduate Jessica Lee Yi Ling. In this series, she uncovers personal stories of resilience, courage and love amidst the crazy year that was 2020. Through the reflections and learnings shared in #HI2020, she hopes to empower internship and job seekers to improve their status quos and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and volunteers to pursue their passions in 2021.
By Jessica Lee, Alumna, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business
An aspiring software engineer, Yash Gadodia believes in the power of having ideas and technology’s ability to change the world. On top of contributing to the SMUMods’s 10x growth since he joined as a Backend Developer, the Year 3 SMU School of Computing and Information Systems (SCIS) student also doubles up as its Project Lead and has helped grow the SMUMods family from three to 14-member strong. Read on for his review of 2020!
Here are three key takeaways from Yash:
- A small group of determined and like-minded people have the power to make history.
- 80% of life is about showing up.
- You cannot connect the dots moving forward, only backwards.
SMUMods is about encouraging the SMU Community to give reviews of courses. How about you give us a review of 2020 and tell us how Covid-19 has affected you professionally and personally?
Covid affected me quite a lot. Like many others, it was not easy adapting to “Zoom University”. Working remotely over summer for my internship also meant saying goodbye to the on-site experience I had eagerly looked forward to. Every day seemed to blend into the next.
The lockdown helped me to realise how the simplest things in life were so important—being able to meet new people and experience different things. I kind of had an existential crisis when that realisation hit me.
During the lockdown I read a book titled “Moonwalking with Einstein”. Here’s an excerpt that stuck with me—”Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why it’s so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”
I understand that you are currently SMUMods’s Project Lead and the Development Student Club Lead. Tell us about the roles.
SMUMods.com is a student-run and non-profit initiative that aims to redefine the college experience. At SMUMods, we aim to make the lives of students better. We ask ourselves how we can help the SMU community; as long as there is a need, the team will try its best to implement the most viable solution.
We are currently used by most of the SMU student body for professor reviews, buying and selling of textbooks, and analysing past bidding trends. We have lifetime page views of over 2 million at this point, with 400k hits per week during peak bidding last semester.
Developer Student Clubs (DSC) are university-based community groups for students interested in Google developer technologies. By joining a DSC, students grow their knowledge in a peer-to-peer learning environment and build solutions for local businesses and their community.
I was recently the head of the Singapore Android Weekend 2020, which was an event across all the DSC Chapters in Singapore. We had four speakers from the industry give talks about Google technologies like Android and Kotlin, with a fireside chat after for students to ask questions directly to our speakers.
What motivated you to join the SMUMods family? Was this your first time working in a student-initiated project?
The site was only 2-man strong when I joined; they were the co-founders, Gabriel and Zachery.
The story of how I joined is funny. I’m part of Hack, a special interest group in SCIS. Gabriel, at that time, was looking to get fresh people on-board as both founders were about to graduate. We invited him to conduct a short presentation to Hack on what SMUMods is all about.
The website left an impression on me because it was so beautifully designed and solved such an important problem. That winter, at the start of the holidays, I asked around and got Gabriel’s telegram contact. I sent him a cold message and basically told him ‘Look, I have zero skills. However, I’m passionate and I will work hard’.
Turned out, that was exactly the kind of person the founders were looking for. I joined as a third member and we are now 14-people strong and growing!
Essentially, I had an idea to start something that improves student life at college. Since someone else had already started working on a similar idea, and had the platform up with real users, it made complete sense to join them.
What kind of challenges did you face in growing the platform?
There are two main challenges that I’m trying to tackle at the moment, and they relate to how we can ensure the sustainability of our site—both in terms of financial resources (we are paying for servers out of our own pockets, which is about USD 50 a month) and also its long term sustainability as its founders have since graduated and are working in full-time jobs.
Financially, we have started getting site sponsors and have also set up a donations page. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a start. We’re also looking for ways to raise more money. Ideally, I’d like to give back the money we earn to the team, so they can pay for courses to upgrade our own skills. We are also exploring students to develop other features for the site. But for now, we are all taking personal time out of our busy schedules to do this as a passion project.
We try to run the site operations like a pseudo CCA / startup at the moment. So, we have heads for each branch of our team (Marketing, Product, UX, Frontend, Backend). These heads are sort of the most experienced members in their respective domains, and they help to mentor the other members. Once a head graduates or moves on to other projects, someone else can takeover. That’s how I structured our project to ensure that every part of our operations can be sustained over time, because this isn’t like a project we do in our mods—complete it in one semester and then chuck it aside. There are real users who depend on us now. We have different stakeholders involved and we can’t just disappear overnight.
Tell us about your most unforgettable experience.
Great question. I think it would be the first time I felt the ‘imposter syndrome’ hit me like a truck.
SMUMods is working with Outside app, a startup, to develop a feature called Tasks. The idea is for students to list small tasks like ‘help print notes’ or ‘help buy lunch’ on the app and others can help you to complete tasks and be compensated for it.
When the CEO of Outside reached out to us for a potential collaboration, I was still really new. When the founders and I went to meet them for breakfast at SMU’s Koufu, it felt kind of surreal to be a part of such discussions with C-suite level members.
How did you go about recruiting and growing the core team?
Trial and error. When I first recruited people after I joined as the third member on the team, I was reaching out to only my close friends. Some of them stuck with it, but most of them left after a bit as perhaps there wasn’t a good fit. Then, when I recruited the marketing team, I did an open call on ask.smu for people to reach out to me. From there I got five new recruits—one of whom is Casey, a marketing legend. He now leads the marketing team and has been doing amazing work for us. From the group of five, only Casey and Zack continued with us.
“We don’t look for skills necessarily, more of a willingness to learn and work in a team.”
From then on, we realised we were growing and people were actually reaching out to us, so we could sort of ‘choose’ people and started having a hiring process. We don’t look for skills necessarily, more of a willingness to learn and work in a team—we’re all unpaid after all. So now, how recruitment works is each team head will create their own ‘interview’ process for a fresh hire. That has really helped a lot, because now every one of our hires recently has been a hit. There has been zero misses in the last recruitment cycle.
Yash (top left) with members of the SMUMods team
In the capacity of a leader, how do you encourage the rest of your team to stay innovative and hungry to improve the SMUMods platform?
I constantly ask my team to ‘help me better help you’.
I also try to do bonding activities so to build bonds. For example, we always do a fun activity at the end of each weekly meeting and that has helped break the ice. Also, each weekly meeting is now led by a different person on the team so I’m not the only one talking. I try to organise team dinners so we can get to know each other on a personal level. I think knowing one another as friends is really important.
What have you learnt as the new Team Lead?
I’ve learnt so much! One of it would have to be the importance of having amazing people working with you. When the team is good, everything tends to fall in place. I try to create an environment where everyone feels like an equal (because they are), where everyone feels like they are heard and can contribute, and where everyone expresses themselves. It’s all about people at the end of the day.
Having gone through this experience, what would you say are traits one must have to survive in a startup?
Hustle. Grind. Learn how to learn. Move quickly and break things. Do whatever it takes to get it to work. In a startup, you get to wear many different hats. I learn marketing, project management, public relations, on top of coding.
“Hustle. Grind. Learn how to learn.”
What’s next for SMUMods and how can the community support you in your efforts?
We have so many features in the works and the team can’t wait to launch them:
- Forums for freshmen / students to ask common questions
- Communities, an integration with telegram that shows telegram groups for people with similar interests to meet.
- Tasks, a feature built in collaboration with Outside.
- Notes, a marketplace like smumods.com/books but instead for notes.
If students wish to pay it forward, they can leave reviews, list their textbook (they keep 100 per cent of the listed price, we don’t take a cut just in case you’re wondering!). And perhaps if they can afford it, pay us the amount of a cup of coffee? That’ll be the best way to help us—the team is trying to figure out how we can create a ‘pay it forward’ culture where users each donate $1 for using the site. We’ve seen such a culture in other universities around the world, but that culture doesn’t exist here right now. We’re hoping to change that. Students supporting student-run initiatives is the best way to grow. But we’ll see.
This article has been adapted from LinkedIn for republishing on The SMU Blog with permission. Learn more about Hindsight is 2020 here.
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