Posted on: 02 November 2019Farewell Monash eSolutions (and Monash)

To be honest, I don’t really like saying goodbyes and usually hope I can just disappear quietly. Yet, at the same time I realise that I have to do this otherwise I’ll probably regret it in a couple of months. So I’m writing this to reflect my time at Monash and what I have learnt along this journey.

In case you didn’t know, I’ve decided to take an offer with Google as a Test Engineer in Taiwan, and will begin next January.

The original MonPlan Team (Dec 2017) - from left to right: Saurabh Joshi, Josh Nelsson-Smith & Eric Jiang

I started back at Monash back in December 2016 to work on the first alpha of MonPlan (wow, that was a long time ago) after I first received an email from one of the directors asking about interest in building MonPlan with eSolutions. This was when I was transferring courses, and that there was no way to talk to course advisors, so my plan was to use a Google Sheet to plan out the rest of my course. Having worked on MARIE.js the prior semester, I had the idea of making it a web application. After having talk to many of my friends, Josh Nelsson-Smith and I decided to start working on it. That following day we did a post on social media asking if other students was interested in using an app like it. Surprisingly, we got some really postitive feedback. For those who don’t know, MonPlan is currently the official Monash University Course Planning Tool for students, by students.

Back then, like many other students I thought eSolutions was just a couple of ‘old dudes’ sitting in a cupboard working on some old servers and the second thought that crossed my mind was that the email was potentially fake. Yet Josh Nelsson-Smith and I decided to seize on the opportunity to deliver MonPlan.

And it was over the course of the 2 or 3 years that we worked on the development of MonPlan and FutureYou and working with different portfolios across the university to deliver both products. We hit major milestones along the way, we developed and built the concept of a product which helped connect your inspirations and what you’ve enjoyed to careers, and careers to courses, this was then pitched to several directors at central marketing (SMC). We then hit Beta with MonPlan in Feburary 2018.

Lesson 1: Never give up.

Sometime along the way, I couldn’t see when MonPlan was going to be released, and was thinking about leaving the project. But then after talking to a few of my friends, I remembered why I started this project in the first place and that was to make every student’s lives easier. And so I picked myself back up and soldiered on.

Not many people know this, but back in late-2017 – MonPlan was competing with a vendor-built product, and that the project almost got shut down because of this. Over the course of a few months, and putting MonPlan through beta release and proving that both the faculty and students love our product, made us got chosen as the University’s official course planning tool.

Lesson 2: Look after yourself

Something really important is that your mental health is really important. Being a hard worker I didn’t take any holidays, I was studying 4 units in addition to ~20 hours a week at work and during the holidays I was working full time, and this continued on for around 2 years and one day in 2018 I had a mental breakdown/panic attack. That is when I decided to take a holiday the following semester break, (it turned out to be 7 weeks, and I went to both Japan and China!!!), and I came back fresh and felt like I was ready to kick some amazing goals the following year. So yeah, have a healthy and balanced life-style is really important too!

I also picked up a new hobby which is photography, so outside of work hours I spending less time coding (and working 😅), instead I spend quite a bit of time editing and taking photos.

Lesson 3: Believe in yourself

Always believe in yourself, this is connected to the ties first and second lesson(s) really well. This has actually happened to me many times throughout my time here at Monash.

The first time, was right after MonPlan’s Beta release in February 2019, I didn’t know if we were going to make it. Especially as we were competing with a vendor-product. But the design philosophies of user-centered design (putting the student first) in addition to the hard work of everyone in our team allowed us to be chosen as the University’s official enterprise course planning tool.

Even when applying at Google, I just didn’t know I will get the offer. Even when I did get the offer I was shocked, I was still like ‘how did I even get this?’. But almost all my friends was not surprised I got the offer.

Lesson 4: Organise yourself.

Something that I was forced to learn was that I hard to organise my day, so in order to that, I synced up my personal, uni calendars under my work calendar. In addition I created a Custom Calendar to that I add classes into my calendar too (inviting both my staff and student accounts), also adjusting my out-of-work hours in my calendar settings too.

Every morning, either when I get into uni or work, the first thing I do is look at my calendar – working out my daily meetings, classes, and planning out the work I was going to do for that day. The meetings I accept are typically placed a minimum of 3 days ahead, otherwise I’ll just reject it, this allows me to keep my calendar neat and tidy in addition to allow me to take control of my time back.

MonPlan had a startup feel to it, we had to continuously iterate through many versions (as part of the University’s SAFe practices), in addition to hiring other students who had the same vision as us. We hired based on cultural fit in addition to technical skills, those who had better technical skills weren’t necessarily a better fit to the team.

And in October 2018, we officially released MonPlan as the official enterprise student course planning software to the entire university – the road to this release was long and not entirely smooth, a big thanks to everyone who was part of MonPlan and FutureYou, as well as to the managers, business partners, and everyone who helped us deliver MonPlan.

To all the Monash staff, students, friends, family and especially the Monash Community that I have interacted over my time at Monash, from the depth of my heart, I want to say thank you for all the joys, experience, lunches and snack-runs and just literally being there for me for the past 3 years. It’s been amazing and I really really really enjoyed contributing to the University life, and would love to come back in the future.

That’s all from me, once again thank you!

P.S. Do let me know if you are around and willing to grab a coffee (or bubble tea) – my emails and social DMs are always open.