Intern-view: Rico Tiongson on Kalibrr

Hey there, dear readers, Justine here, and I’m excited to introduce today’s Intern-view because it took forever to get him to sit down and write for us. He’s one of the busiest people I know, and his name is Jose Enrico B. Tiongson from Ateneo de Manila University. A double major in Computer Science and Mathematics, and a former double major in Applied Physics and Computer Engineering, Rico interned in Kalibrr, Inc. last April-May 2015 as a Data Science intern. 

Rico has had a very interesting life prior and after his internship at Kalibrr. For starters, as a freshman, he sat in on a final exam for juniors and aced it. He broke the curve, and was promptly thrown out by the students actually taking the exam.

But because he perfected the final comprehensive exam, without studying the material in a class beforehand, he was exempted from taking that class and the 2 prerequisites needed for it. So, he got 9 solid units of A for waltzing into a class and taking an exam meant for higher level computer science majors. 🙂 Great.

Rico also happens to be the number 1 collegiate level programmer in the Philippines, number 9 in South East Asia, and is part of the top 85 of the world. But his interests aren’t wholly in the computer science and mathematics fields. Rico is able to play the guitar by ear through a summer where he self-taught himself to do just that. 

He is an incredibly slow reader, so to “read” all his requirements on time, he types them into .doc form. This is his only weakness. In the last 2 years, Rico has flown out of the country 4 times to represent the Philippines in international programming competitions. 

Oh, and by the way, as of writing this article, Rico’s only 19 years old. The median age of his competitors is 23.

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Rico post-world finals at Phuket Thailand. His team ranked number 85, placing better than the likes of CalTech, Carnegie Mellon, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, University of British Columbia.

Someone please tell me I am not the only person who feels like killing him after reading all that.

I could keep going honestly. He’s done other things like co-author a thesis which was entered into Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and placed second at nationals, or that he authored a paper on virtual reality, which resulted in him getting called way too often for job offers from startups. And with Google, Microsoft, IBM, HP, and Accenture calling him up too. He also joined a program for eye tracking technology filled with PhD’s as the only undergrad in the room.

This June & July, he’s doing double internship duty, with his physical presence at P&G as part of the top 23 seniors from the top 3 universities, while working with the Philippine Port Authority to decongest the ports.

I’m going to stop now because I’m starting to feel very demotivated as I write this.

When asked what his dream job is, Rico’s reply was,

My dream job is a job that directly converges work, life, and play. If possible, I want a job that is not limited by a single company, maybe something that affects a more general community through computer science. Something research-based, perhaps?

But his initial reply was “To be a househusband to my girlfriend lol.” So sometimes, Rico is a human being too. Sometimes.

Before I finally start this Intern-view, for those who don’t know, I’m Justine, my partner who is currently hard at work at Unilever is Betina, and this is The Border Collective, the Philippines’ premiere blog on interning and the job hunting process for everyone under 21.

Thanks for reading, and hope Rico answered something useful for you!


How did you find and pick this internship?

When I was a freshman, I joined Joan Magno, Tim Dumol, and Patsy Lascano for a game development contest which doubled as Joan’s thesis. The first two joined Kalibrr after their graduation the year after, so by the next summer, they asked me if I wanted to intern at their company.

 

Why did you choose to intern?

At first, I didn’t want to. I live in QC and Kalibrr’s office is in Makati, so I thought that it was a hassle to drive back and forth because of the hellish traffic. Money-wise, I was already doing a part-time tutoring job in Katipunan that was giving me more money, so I didn’t really want to trade it with the less-paid internship in Kalibrr. Weighing things logistically, Kalibrr was a no-go.

What really changed my mind was the support I got from my parents. They told me that Kalibrr offered three things I would love to have in my profile: work experience, life experience, and work life experience. Work experience because I can put it in my resume. Life experience because I would learn about new cultures, meet new friends, and learn more about myself (trust me, internship is the best way to learn more about yourself). And of course, work life experience because I would be stimulated by a work environment.

These three “experiences” might sound really really weak as motivations, but at the end of the day, they pushed me to apply for the internship. At first, it would seem like one can get these “experiences” anywhere, but little did I know that I would be overwhelmed by the actual experiences Kalibrr would teach me along the way. They won’t even touch the tip of the iceberg.

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With Phi, Joan, Patsy, and Tim at Imagine Cup!

 

How was the experience of applying and being interviewed for the internship?

Mine was easy. I only had one interview because Joan and Tim already knew about my work ethic. There were three positions to apply for: Machine Learning, Web Development, and Content Marketing. I applied for the Machine Learning Internship position for the data science. Originally, there was an online test and a hands-on exercise for the position, but since Tim and Joan have already experienced my coding style firsthand, I just had to go through that one interview with my future mentor.

As for the actual interview, my would-be mentor asked me questions about things I put in my resume. Then, he asked me to narrate about my “love life” with programming. Extending the metaphor, I talked about it superficially, like “how we first met” and “how’s the relationship so far”. Overall, the interview felt like a breeze, because I didn’t have to think about abstract questions like “what is success for you” or anything like that.

Related : 11 Things To Keep In Mind for Your Next Interview

 

What would you say were the skills you needed when you applied?

I needed to know basic Statistics and Linear Algebra. Apparently, Data Science heavily relies on Math to accurately model predictions. I also needed to know Python, because Kalibrr’s site ran in Pyramid, which is a Python framework. Good thing I was both BS CS and BS Math, else I would have had a hard time learning the ropes! But for the data science stuff, I had my mentor teach me the basics. He also gave me links to papers for me to learn by myself. I also hung out a lot in the Kalibrr Hackerhouse (yes, they had a legit hackerhouse) to let the Kalibrr techies teach me the advanced stuff.

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Kalibrr Hackerhouse

Did you pick up any new skills throughout your internship?

I learned A LOT. And when I mean a lot, I mean I learned what may equal to more than 12 units (4 sems) of CS and Math. For technical skills, I learned basic ones like regex, data mining, and fuzzy matching to advanced data science algorithms like DBSCAN, tf-idf matching, cosine similarities, and quasi-Levenshtein heuristics. I even learned how to (ethically) hack LinkedIn to mine some data that we can compare with.

Overall, I learned how to have a data scientist mindset. Since Machine Learning is all about making a machine learn from past data and to make predictions for the future, I was so surprised that complicated things I learned in school actually came in handy for my internship. My hard lessons about Poisson distributions and suffix arrays were not for naught. I even had times when had to solve actual vector equations just to check if two words are similar or not!

Even those hectic days of searching for related literature for my English Literature classes became helpful, because I needed to read tons of papers for my code.

 

What was your expectation for the internship? How did the actual experience compare?

If you read about my weak motivation that this was “for the experience”, I really didn’t expect much. In contrast to that, I felt that interning in Kalibrr exponentially reached new heights to the point that I would have extremely regretted it if I didn’t intern in Kalibrr at all. Yes, that much.

Firstly, Kalibrr was better than I expected in terms of logistic expectations. My job was flexi-time and -space, which means that I could work anywhere and anytime. I was fine as long as I hit the 40 hours per week target. I didn’t need to show up in the Makati office every day. Fortunately, my mentor also lives in QC, so we just did work with our laptops in coffee shops along Katipunan and Maginhawa Street. Sometimes, my mentor would even encourage me to work from home. It’s thanks to Kalibrr that I have adopted a kind of work-anywhere attitude, which became helpful for me even in school.

The Data Science Team
The Data Science Team

What did you do during your internship? What kinds of tasks and projects were you given? Did you volunteer to take on a task yourself?

(J: WARNING. What comes next is a highly technical explanation of what he did, that normal people aka people like me won’t understand without extensive google-ing. But to those who understand what he’s saying, Rico displays a skill level most programmers wish to have before they hit 30. That’s roughly all you needed to know.)

Kalibrr is like LinkedIn that is based in the Philippines. It’s basically a web service that helps users land a job. Conversely, it helps companies recruit people they want. To get a job, you would first build your profile. Afterwards, Kalibrr will run its system to recommend you jobs based on factors like your course, your geographic location, your skills, and many others. Kalibrr matches you with the job that is best for you, or so it claims.

But how does Kalibrr really make sure that they accurately “match” your profile with a job? For example, if you’re an Accounting graduate, how does Kalibrr know that a Finance position or Bank Management jobs are best for you? My work involved that. As a Machine Learning Intern, I was tasked to help improve Kalibrr’s user-to-job matcher.

Along with the data science team, design possible heuristics (machine learning), collect data (data mining), test it with our current system (black-boxing), and finally launch things if they’re approved (launching). It’s like a lab report, except that we finish something every so days. Success or not, we try another heuristic based on our previous work, and the cycle goes on for two whole months. It’s not always exactly the same process, but the same goal remained. We literally aimed to make the “Kalibrr machine” learn.

For the specifics, at first, I was given the task of creating an algorithm to clean user data (e.g. misspellings of user input). Afterwards, I was asked to run tests to compare clustering methods (e.g. K-means vs. DBSCAN). And then came the hard tasks like creating my own matrix formula for <I won’t tell the rest because of the non-disclosure agreement hehe>.

Being a data scientist is a multitasking job. While doing the “lab report” to make sure the matching system gets better and better, we also model statistics of the current system and present them to the other departments (we called these “Business Intelligence” sessions).

One time, I had to write an algorithm that generates a heat map of users in NCR for a certain job cluster, which I had to present to the content management team within an hour! My work was all about fast-paced coding. Though I didn’t have to talk to huge crowds, I always needed to be ready when data-related things were asked on the spot.

 

What would you say were the best parts about your internship?

I was able to learn new things that I wouldn’t have learned in school, my part-time job, and maybe even in other I.T. companies. You may not know it, but Kalibrr as a digital company actually houses powerhouse elites in the fields of web development, software engineering, UX, brand management, and data science (i.e. ACM world finalists, Ateneo de Manila School Of Science and Engineering summa cum laudes, people who leave Google to go to Kalibrr (I mean, who leaves google lel)).

It’s the best because I get to be surrounded by people better than me in my own field of expertise. You don’t get to experience that every day!

Wait, can I add another best thing? Another best thing is… the hackerhouse pets! I had the pleasure of having a little cat lie on my head while coding a KD Tree hahaha~ There was also a beagle and a toy dog who do R18 things on the couch… wait, I shouldn’t have said that hahaha.

Overall, my internship experience was both fun and informative. Not only do I get fruitful knowledge from professionals that work with me, I also get to hang out with them and learn about their lifestyle. I really liked it, and at the same time, I wanted to crave for more. Indeed, what my parents said about garnering work experience, life experience, and work life experience in an internship is true and should not be underestimated.

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Free meal for onboarding interns!

 

What would you say were the worst parts about your internship (or interning in general)?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in a can of sardines? You get to experience that through an internship at Makati! Through the MRT during rush hour…

The good thing is, I got to intern during the Ateneo academic calendar shift (April to May 2015), so I was able to work full time without minding acads. For the actual internship, I get to learn everything on the way anyway because I got to have amazing mentors and good internet.

 

If you could go back in time to the first day of your internship, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself?

Well, for me, I said something really plastic during my interview. Something about how I wrongly compared machine learning and web development. One piece of advice, never be plastic in your interview, especially those about the job descriptions. Remember that the one you’re talking to is an expert of what you’re talking about.

 

What was the most interesting thing you did at your internship?

The most interesting thing I did at my internship was when I accidentally crashed the Kalibrr server (lol). Apparently, there was a major bug in my data cleaner that made an infinite loop while recommending a job. Fortunately, our nocturnal group found the bug during midnight. We were able to fix it immediately, but the web development team got really mad at me (especially Tim) because it affected their department.

 

What would you say was your greatest learning from interning?

Always grab any kind of opportunity. Don’t focus on minor things like logistics. These things tend to resolve on its own. Aside from “you should not crash the server because it affects everyone in the company”, interning taught me that great things come from opportunities to do great.

Doors only open if you turn the knob. Results happen because you allow them to be brought upon. The CD was invented because scientists were brave enough to control laser light, something no one liked at first because they were too busy writing papers about the potential dangers of lasers. In reality, nothing comes from whining, only more future whining. This is the same for interning.

J: This is the kind of lifestyle a programmer must accustom himself too.

 

What advice would you give anybody who wants/is about to start interning?

Do something that you really like doing. If you don’t know what you really like, that’s okay. Interning will allow you get to know new things, not only about your job, but ultimately about yourself. Interning gives you an idea of your likes and dislikes in the workplace. It’s the best time to get to know what you’re passionate about. In my case, Kalibrr made me realize that I like research-like jobs like data science and machine learning.

Intern as early as possible. After all, you can only do these experimental things while you’re still a student. It might be too late if you intern after graduation; you might end up wasting your time knowing about yourself than your job. I know a friend who graduated latin honors but ended up studying again because they were not able to like the job they thought they wanted. Of course it’s not the same for everyone, but we don’t want to take chances, right?

 

Do you have anything else you want to say to the readers?

Interestingly, my girlfriend was interning in Citibank by the time I joined Kalibrr. (She was also another reason why I didn’t mind going to Makati often.) Her office was along the same street, so I looked forward to spending busy times with her, chilling in coffee shops or going to lunch together. We were able to do that when both of us weren’t busy then, but at the end of that summer, she went on to intern at another company down the street while I went back to school.

She was often busy at her new internship at Philip Morris, so I was always inviting her to have dinner with me and to cool off. Maybe she needed time to let out steam, I thought. However, she always declined my offer. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she’s the type of person who wants to be left alone when she’s busy. I’m the opposite. I’m someone who wants time to let out steam with people I love when I’m busy.

At first, I couldn’t understand why she was always declining my offer because I thought that “everyone wants to let out steam like me when they’re busy,” so at the end of a week of this, we had a huge fight about it that started with her wanting to kill me and ended with her explaining “do not call me, I will call you when I’m not busy anymore”. I was guilty about making her cry from extreme frustration because I wasn’t understanding her when she said “I’m busy”, and I vowed to try my best not to do it anymore. So far, I haven’t made her cry from extreme frustration again.

ANYWAY, the moral of this story is that for those who have significant others in the course of their internships, whether they are the ones interning or if you’re both interning or something along those lines, keep in mind that IT’S OKAY to be busy. It’s OK to not hear from them for a week. They’re probably still alive.

Being busy means that you’re both doing great for the sake of your future careers. It is not always the case that the other needs you if they’re stressed. Therefore, make sure to be supportive when they’re busy by giving them time to do what they need to do. In the same way, your partner should also respect your time if you have a tough deadline by the end of the day, right?

Remember that the less time you bother them, the more time they will gain to finish their work, ergo the earlier you can get together for a date once you’re both done with that deadline. If they say “I’m busy”, don’t take it as a sign of rejection, like I did, but as a sign of respect because they don’t want to waste either of your time since they cannot give you their full unadulterated attention. It’s better to be fully present during a 4 hour date 2 weeks from now, than to be absent minded and irritated during a phone call at a bad time for one of you.

On a side note, if you’re on this blog to look for internships, Kalibrr actually posts about internships in their job board! Try it out by visiting kalibrr.com. If you want to know about companies who want to hire interns, just create an account, fill in your profile, and browse categories under part-times and internships.


And that’s it for this week’s Intern-view with Rico Tiongson! If you’re looking for a different type of startup or tech internship, we Intern-viewed Charles Justin Lim on Saperium a while back and Toni Garcia on her multiple internships!

We have been immensely busy the past few weeks because as soon as school ended, we had to get ready to go to work. When you intern for solid internship programs, there are a lot of requirements like getting NBI clearance that normal internships don’t require. And it’s totally cool, at least now I know how to go through the process and I will be sharing it with you when I have time. Which isn’t going to be very soon. 😀

Reminder that The Border Collective is looking for an intern, so that we will have time to actually write instead of thinking about writing. So if you know someone younger than us, who is willing to share with you what s/he will learn from working for us, then refer them now to the job! Whoever will be our first intern will have a great work life ahead of them, since Betina has personally promised to reverse headhunt them to a great job. 

And also, I wanted to ask a question to all of you who are interested on actually talking to me.

What is it about The Border Collective that keeps you coming back?

I’d love to get your thoughts on that, so if you can answer that either in the comments down below or in an email to me, and let’s chat.

If you have anything you want to ask, say, or comment about to either Betina or me, email us at either justine@thebordercollective.com or betina@thebordercollective.com! For partnerships and business deals, you can email us at admin@thebordercollective.com!

While you’re at it, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram as well@ChaiXingJun, which happens to be my Chinese name. Like us also on FB at The Border Collective to keep up with the latest happenings here because work never ends for The Border Collective.

Thanks for reading and hope Rico answered something useful for you!

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