Getting to know Twenty First Tech

This is a re-publication of an article originally posted on http://mhisham.org on May 20th 2014. The article is no longer hosted there.


From left, Fabian See, Timothy Lim, Nicholas Foong & Shiv Gunther. Not in photo, Shikhar Gupta.
From left, Fabian See, Timothy Lim, Nicholas Foong & Shiv Gunther. Not in photo, Shikhar Gupta.

Twenty First Tech have grown by leaps and bounds since their inception. Within the ranks, they are the first group I have met, with clear structure for roles, be it writing, marketing and communications. Let’s get to know them better, shall we?

Please Introduce Yourself

Timothy
I am a Year 5 student at Raffles Institution, who aims to make the most of my schooling years, and leave a legacy behind in my community. To impact those around me, and to make a difference in society. I am of the opinion that how much I get out of my education is the result of how much I put in. This is why I have tried to push my passions to the furthest I can take them. I am part of the Geography national Team, a school debater for over 5 years, am initiating a few service projects, and PR manager of Twenty First Tech. Other than that, I am known for being highly disciplined and committed to tasks as well as personal development.

With regard to technology, it has always been a childhood interest, and I sought to know more about the new-fangled gadgets that I have grown to be so reliant on. As a straight-up consumer who is keen to try out novel, but not necessarily refined, technology ideas, I do not mind putting up with the problems that stem from an un-integrated system. This is why I am still a Samsung fan (Galaxy S4), though I appreciate the simplicity of my iPad with Retina Display. Most of what I know about consumer technology is pretty much self-taught and out of interest. When I heard about the Twenty First Tech effort, I joined because I thought I could offer my analytical side, along with writing flair, on a subject that I am interested in. And it has reframe the way I see consumer tech.

Nicholas
I am Nicholas, founder, editor-in-chief of Twenty First Tech (as well as editor for Windows Phone) and a Year 5 student studying at Raffles Institution. Other than running the site I am trying for a Private Pilot’s License with the Singapore Youth Flying Club, and am a Cadet Officer with the National Cadet Corps. On top of this, I help out in the Youth Executive Committee as the Community Engagement Secretary. I heavily rely on Microsoft’s services, and own a Windows Phone. Before being a WP user though, I was an avid Android fan. I have tried out all three operating systems, and currently own a Surface and a MacBook Pro with retina display.

Shiv
I am Shiv. I love Apple products, and use a jailbroken iPhone 5s and a MacBook. I love reading about technology, I love testing it out, and I love thinking of ways technology can be harnessed to improve the world.

I am an organized, meticulous, hardworking, self-motivated, passion-driven person who seeks always to improve himself.
I am also an appreciator of good design. I love the modern aesthetic that cuts away the unnecessary skeuomorphic elements, and gets straight to the point, with an emphasis on the colour palette and packing as much information as possible into as few visual elements as possible. I can design too. I use Photoshop, but am trying to learn how to use Illustrator now.

Shikhar
I am Shikhar Gupta, a 17 year old student in Raffles Institution. I am an avid gamer, movie buff, read many books, Star Wars and Halo geek and aspire to become a pilot. And of course, a heavy contributor to Twenty First Tech. My current phone is an Xperia Z1, which I am very pleased to be using after my very mixed experiences with the Galaxy S2.

Fabian
I am Fabian, an editor for Android for Twenty First Tech, along with Shikhar. I currently use a Nexus 5, running stock Android, which was a welcome change from my previous Samsung Galaxy S3. I am an avid follower of all things Google, and I strongly believe in the future of Android in the smartphone arena.

I am also the marketing manager for Twenty First Tech. My role is to get more people to know of us and to figure out ways to improve ourselves, to make us stand out from the competition out there.

I am a very people-oriented and approachable person, continually in the pursuit of self-improvement. I would consider myself to be a slight perfectionist, constantly putting in my best in everything I do. Like Shikhar, I also have a keen interest in aviation and would like to pursue aerospace engineering in the future. I enjoy filming and making videos too.

Rojak: It is always interesting to get to know the different dynamics for each individual. I was informed that there are additional contributors to the site. I do not think it will take long for them to be big. Let’s carry on.

How do you manage the time between blogging and studies?

Timothy
I think managing both full-time blogging and studies, along with my plethora of extra-curricular activities, is a near impossible balancing act. Indeed, being a person passionate about many causes makes it difficult to have any breathing space at all. I guess how I do it is to sacrifice time I spend socializing, whether online or otherwise, and capitalize on vacuoles of free time. For instance, managing e-mails on the MRT, catching up on news on my iPad when nothing much is going on etc. However, I have realized that writing articles does take up a lot of my time, and thus I have decided to use my skill sets in diplomacy, as well as the command of the language, to take up the role of PR manager instead of editor. This more flexible workload allows me to cope better.

Nicholas
To be honest there is great difficulty in managing blogging in Junior College due to the heavy workload of schoolwork and external activities. How I get around it is by typing articles on my phone using Office Mobile whenever I have the time (instead of Whatsapping or surfing the net), and saving them to OneDrive. Writing articles on the go is convenient and helps to squeeze in more time.
It would be much easier if we had done this as a CCA or a full-time job, because then we’d be able to get more articles out more regularly. Nevertheless, we try our best to provide a steady stream of articles.

Shiv
I manage my time in chunks, and do not believe in multitasking. There is actually a lot of research to support the theory that multitasking is actually inefficient. So I try to split up my time and focus on one thing at any one point in time, instead of flitting about from task to task. When I have to do my homework, I do just that, and when I have to write articles or design something for Twenty First Tech, I try my best to focus on doing just that one thing, until I have done a reasonable amount of work.

Sometimes I’m really busy, so I write articles in school during my breaks on my laptop, and occasionally come early to school on Mondays to get in about one and a half hours of writing time.

Shikhar
I seek to complete all my school-work first, especially in subjects where I struggle like Maths. I have a personal goal of a few article per week, but sometimes I am unable to meet that quota, and do extra the next week. Sometimes when time is of the essence, I seek to complete the article first, as was the case with MWC this year where I prioritized many articles such as the ‘Should I Upgrade?’ series and official device announcements.

Fabian
I place more emphasis on my academics and my other commitments, but I try to write in my free time whenever possible. When I am unable to write an article, I would still take the effort to read up on technology news and participate in discussions with the other writers, or help my friends when they approach me for advice. Even though I do not write articles as frequently, I help out in the day-to-day operation of the site and admin matters to the best of my ability.

Rojak: Truth be told, trying to get all of them to synchronize their time and mine for a group interview is already difficult, thus we had to contend with email interviews. I honestly appreciate the time taken to respond to my questions.

Tell me about the early influences that lead to blog.

Timothy
I always remembered having a pretty strong interest in the latest technology, and gadgets. And I guess I was inquisitive in that I always wanted to know how things work. Perhaps the early influence that I would point to would be my parents who made it a point to make quarterly visits to the 4 huge IT shows in Singapore. I guess living in an internet generation, my father and I were both deeply interested in tech issues, and that sort of spread around the family.

My father’s strong command of English, and my family’s continuous support of any new endeavors I embark on, probably also gave me the support that made me feel free to jump at the opportunity Twenty First Tech offered.

Nicholas
I guess the early influence would be the countless hours spent on reading tech sites such as Engadget, GSMarena and WPcentral. Reading these sites, and visiting telco shops every weekend to check out the latest phones and deals, fueled by a passion for smartphones and gadgets, led me to think “Why just passively read about phones when I can write about them?” And I guess that’s why I started the site. It was my first experience at blogging.

Shiv
I have always found myself reading up on technology, and news on technology, more than any other subject. I realised I had a passion for this, so when Nicholas came up with the idea of making a site, I jumped aboard right away.

I’ve also always been good at English and writing in general, because of my parents speaking good English. So that certainly contributed to my ability and willingness to blog.

Shikhar
My dad introduced me to technology when I was 3 or 4 years old through his custom-built PC. Since then tech has fascinated me – I’ve spent countless hours trawling through GSMArena, and more recently, Reddit’s sub-reddit “/r/android”. Soon my friends started to come to me to ask me about tech purchases and I decided to start blogging personally about technology. However before I could put in significant time into my personal blog, Nicholas approached me to join Twenty First Tech. As it had already been gaining momentum, and I felt aligned with the direction it was taking, I shut down my personal blog in favour of collaborating with other like-minded people.

Fabian
I have always had an interest in technology since young, reading up on tech news and reviews, going to tech shops to try them out first hand. So when I was offered an opportunity to write about technology for the site with my friends, I immediately jumped at it. Looking back then, I do not regret my decision at all, because being in Twenty First Tech has allowed me to further develop my interest in technology, not just from attending media events and launches, but also from learning more about technology from my peers.

Rojak: I am grateful for the most supportive parents that these boys have. Any parents from previous generations would have questioned the need to blog. The existence of similar content elsewhere meant that the boys would have to work harder to get their point across in the most original and novel way.

To what extend do you consult your peers, educators and others for matters concerning your site?

Timothy
As an independent media organization, we try our best to keep to that name. We do much of the work ourselves, and consult each other when in need of technical specifications. Of course, being a young start-up, we do not have the established contacts or media relations that allow us to dig up completely novel and exclusive content. Hence, we do indeed have to rely on other tech sites to source for some of our information, especially for news that we do not have press releases for. How we do this is by cross-checking with many sources, along with hard data, so that we may have a clear idea of what the facts are, then interpreting them for our work.

Nicholas
Among our editors, we often consult each other with site matters, issues such as site design and comments on articles before posting them.

Shiv
I do not really consult anyone except the Twenty First Tech team. However, I do ask my friends for opinions on my articles and design work so that we may continue to improve. And sometimes, though quite rarely, I would ask them if they wanted me to write about something on Twenty First Tech. But mostly, the discussion is internal.

Shikhar
In scenarios where I am not familiar with the product, as is with most non-Android products, I usually do my personal research on the product first, and am willing to listen to external inputs in reviews as well. Of course, this first has to abide by our site’s fact verification policy that Timothy has already explained. In terms of day-to-day running of the site, I go through Timothy (PR Manager) and Nicholas (Editor-in-Chief) before editing others’ articles or implementing changes.

Sometimes when a friend of mine has a product that we don’t have access to, I ask for his opinions about it and also try out the product myself.

Fabian
I strongly believe in consulting the varied opinions of every member of the team whenever there are decisions to be made, in order to reach a conclusion that everyone agrees on. Whenever I require information or knowledge that I am not equipped with, I would do some research online and also consult my fellow peers who are more experienced in the field than I am.

Rojak: I have mentioned this before; the fact that not all of them are on the Apple ecosystem is really a positive sign. Having the need to cross-reference bodes well for the diversification of ideas within the group.

Tell me about the work dynamics of the team. How is the structure like? How do you perceive each other?

Timothy
I think we have a very nice and amicable work environment, where the core team sees each other as equals. Nicholas is of course the founder of the site and thus we give him veto power over some of our decisions. However, we have an internal check and balance system to ensure each person is doing their fair share, and try to work around the different schedules and commitments of our members to produce something that is equitable for all. To ensure that we continue to keep aligned with our sites goals, we have monthly meetings at each other’s houses or in seminar rooms in our school. There is no real strict hierarchy, except that I need to rubber-stamp the reviews to ensure some sort of consistency. It helps that we were all classmates in Year 1 and have some idea of how each other ticks.

Nicholas
The site started out as a one-man show, but now we have a core of 5 main editors (and our PR manager Timothy). Each member is given a specific role to cover (news, commentaries and reviews), and write about the things that they are most familiar with (Android, iOS, WP, cameras, etc.)
Timothy originally joined as an editor, but as we grew he decided to work as a PR manager. And we are rather grateful for this as he has helped to handle some of the harder relations with larger companies out there.
Shikhar is the one who is the “professional” in terms of written reviews and specifications, and we always look to him to ensure that our reviews are up to his standards.
The five form the core of the site, and we are constantly consulting one another for advice and help on our articles. The other non-core members help out where they can, but they don’t do much and don’t write as much as the core members.
We try to hold TFT meetings whenever we can, to sort out the direction of the site and settle some administrative issues on how the site is to be run. Our most recent meeting was early this month in a school conference room.

Shiv

Nicholas is our founder and editor-in-chief. He was the one who created the site in the first place, and does a lot of work maintaining the site and writing articles. I write reviews and commentaries, and do design work for Twenty First Tech. Timothy is the PR Manager; he replies to all the emails and handles review requests from other companies. Shikhar is one of our most prolific editors; he’s written many, many articles and spent a lot of time on Twenty First Tech. Fabian is also very hardworking; he handles admin work and also writes quite a few articles. As we all pull our weight, we do not really see an obvious hierarchy on our site.

We also have more writers who play their part by writing occasional articles, and sometimes go for events with the main team.

Shikhar
The core team holds itself as equal; I don’t believe that any of us consider each other as superior – we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Timothy is given final authority in terms of communication with our partners, I am in charge of Android with Fabian also helping out, Shiv is our designer and iOS editor, and Nicholas is our chief and Windows Phone editor. We work with each other well and are given final say in our own sectors.

We also have other writers who we write with and who accompany us for various launch events. They help in the less consumer sensitive aspects of running the site, and are sometimes assigned review units.

Fabian
We used to be in the same secondary school class in Yr 1 and 2, so we have a very fun and amiable working environment. We have 5 members on the executive committee, which makes major decisions on behalf of the team, and comprises Nicholas, Timothy, Shiv, Shikhar and myself. We also have 3 other editors that write occasionally. They too play an important part in the day to day operation of the site, and they include Way, Ann Hui and Yi Heng. We all have good relations with one another, and see each other in school sometimes.

Rojak: Nothing says teamwork better than having the ability to synergize within a team as big as Twenty First Tech. I want to add that studying together in the same school certainly help their cause. Some people like to see the world burn – so the constant challenge is for the group to remain gelled. Despite their structured roles, treating each other as equal, will definitely help them.

Tell me about your growth since inception of the site

Timothy

We are not sure whether this question is about the site’s development since inception or our personal development, so each of our editors covered a different side to this question. I will attempt to summarize both.

Essentially, we realized through our journey that we could not expect to have something successful if we did not bring anything unique to the table. We could not continue to ape the west, or just upload anything we could think of, in any way we wanted to write it. We learnt how certain articles have more value than others, and how to limit our scope to our intended audience, whilst maximizing our assets and limiting liabilities. It is thus that I would say that our site’s explosive growth has not been by accident.

More than that, the opportunity to mix with the media clique and be held responsible to other companies also drove home the need to be accountable. To be accountable to our goals and values, accountable to our promises, and accountable to our affiliates. Practically, we climbed a very steep learning curve in order to present ourselves well at press events, and develop a marketing pitch that would lead us to success. All these skills are certainly transferable to not only our studies, but life in teh future.

Nicholas

The site started off in July 2013 as a small blog. Back then the site was known as “sgmoblog”, short for Singapore Mobile Blog. It was a terrible name, I knew, but I couldn’t think of anything else. That’s when Shiv found out about the site and offered to help with articles concerning iOS as well as site design. He then gave the site his most valuable contribution –the name Twenty First Tech.

Timothy came on board shortly after, followed by Shikhar who abandoned his initial attempt at tech blogging on Technophilearena to join us. As more people heard of the site, more were interested in joining us. Yi Heng and Fabian soon joined. Three other writers have joined us recently, namely Chan Wai, Ann Hui, Way Ng, and Tommy Ong . They’ve only recently joined us and are still figuring out how they can contribute to the site

Initially we were trying to imitate the major news sites of the West, reporting every single piece of news that we came across. But we later realized that this wasn’t the way to go, and decided to focus on providing only news relevant to our target audience (the average Singaporean consumer), as well as commentaries and reviews.

We have grown from a site with just over a thousand views in July to one with over 20,000 unique visitors each month. It is still a small number, we know. Somewhere between a startup blog and a well-known one, and we could definitely grow much larger if this was a full-time thing, but for now we’re glad that we’ve been given the opportunity to go for launch events and receive review units.

When I first started the site I could never imagine achieving all this, and now we’re just seeing where the site takes us.

Shiv

n the start, in July of 2013, we had really few views per day. Sometimes we would hit 100, and we were really happy. When I joined, I wrote an article that gave us 300 views in one day. This was quite a victory for us, but compared to where we are now, is nothing. 300 views in a day is what we would get on our worst days right now!

A short while after I joined, I changed the theme of the website and did a major overhaul of how things looked and worked, and this has certainly helped our site grow. I think design, and the experience one has when using a technology product — even a website — plays a huge role. It really affects how you enjoy that product, and how much you like it.

We started hitting 200 to 300 views per day after a while, with the occasional spike to a thousand views on launch days, and after a while we kind of reached a plateau, even after writing reviews of products, complete with videos, specification analysis, and comparisons with other products. When this happened, we decided to change our site’s focus, to focus more on what most people actually care about. We realised that while we are inclined to examine specifications and go into in-depth comparisons of products, the general public only cares about the experience of the phone and whether it would suit their needs. So we decided to cater to the public, writing things that they would enjoy reading, and going about it in a less technical manner.

Now, we are in contact with and get invited to launch events or receive review units, from Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia, HTC, LG, Sony, Nikon, Intel, Jabra, Otterbox and Siege. We even get guest post requests from aspiring journalists worldwide.

All this has led to us getting about 600 views per day right now, with a record of 5000 plus in one day. That’s quite something, and I hope our growth will continue as we continue to work hard on our site

Shikhar

I think I have grown tremendously while working on Twenty First Tech. I have appreciated that my articles and tech knowledge have been put to good use, and that I have learnt to skew and refine it in such a way that would be appealing to viewers.

Fabian

I joined the site about 5 months after we started, in December last year. Since then, we have grown a lot, and established many healthy partnerships with many companies out there, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Microsoft, Nokia and Nikon, among others. We have also seen our daily viewership increase by about 250%, and we are still growing by the day.

Singapore has a dearth of original thoughts. What better way can be achieved than having many thoughts presented in a comprehensive manner?

Many thanks to http://twentyfirsttech.com/ for the Interview.

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