During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Rachel from ARDO spoke with Chi Lee (1996) and you can read his story below. You can find more stories here.
Computer Science (1996)
Why did you want to study Computer Science?
I was naturally drawn to computers when I was very young – although obviously computers were at that point in time fairly popular. It still wasn’t an established or very common career path at that point, but I just knew I wanted to do it, even from the age of about 8 or 9. So I started coding around then, or trying to code, on the home computer and learnt to do that over a couple of years. As I studied Maths and Science further at school I brought that knowledge to my coding, writing more interesting things. That put me on the path to Computer Science, and of course, you’d love to do it where you know you’ll be pushed at depth – but I didn’t realise that depth until I got to Trinity and to Cambridge.
Where did you live at Trinity?
I started out in the Wolfson Building in first year, which I loved – very functional, but the great thing obviously is the community. I decided to learn to cook in the first year because it was something I wanted to learn, and quite a social thing too – I guess it was rather brave, but I remember I invited Dr Norman to have dinner with our group, which was only three of us in Computer Science at that time. So we all had a dinner party and he actually came – some of us had to sit on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs! It was fantastic, it really was good, and definitely a defining memory of my time at College.
What is your favourite part of Trinity?
There’s something particularly special about how Trinity, and Colleges generally, were designed, which is the sense of community, and the way that you don’t leave that community when you leave the College. It’s a difference I particularly noticed when doing my MBA in the United States – the culture of being at Trinity and being looked after and supported by the College is really special globally.
Where’s your favourite place in Cambridge?
It has to be the Backs, right? So many amazing memories revolve around that area – it’s not just the fact that it’s a beautiful location, it’s the memories of occasionally having a supervision on a punt, fun things with your friends that are centred on that location. It’s interesting because it becomes very mundane, you cross the Trinity bridge every day, multiple times – but because of that it’s embedded in the spirit of being there, both the mundane and the extraordinary.
While you were at Trinity, what societies or clubs were you involved in?
The one that I got most actively involved with was the badminton team – I wasn’t necessarily the best player, but I was definitely the most passionate, and ended up captaining and leading the team while I was there. I very much enjoyed that – sending the team off on long cross country runs, for example!
What’s the one thing that you wish you’d known before you arrived at Trinity?
It’s really important to recognise and accept the ‘imposter syndrome’ that everyone gets, and not to let it affect you. When you’re surrounded by people who are deeply passionate about the subject you’re studying, it can be difficult to accept that you can’t always be the best at everything.
The issue comes if that feeling starts having a negative impact – if it pulls people back from actually putting in what they want to put in because they’re obsessed with that and become demotivated. It would be a shame for anyone who is passionate enough to to pick that subject and put themselves fully into it, to be held back by something like ‘imposter syndrome’ simply because of other factors, other people. The point is you need to focus on yourself, and you will get significantly more out – the lessons from that will carry through your entire career, and are much more important than the grade you get at the end of the day.
Tell us about your career so far?
Most of my career has been around investing and finance. It’s numbers heavy, but it’s one where I can use my passion for Computer Science without ruining my enjoyment of it. I have previously worked on the trading floor with Morgan Stanley, for example, at one end of the spectrum – and then on the other end, more recently, I’ve been the Chief Investment Officer of a billion-dollar family office. This involved overseeing an investment team and directing how we should best invest a relatively large portfolio. After about 20 years of working in all sorts of finance roles, I decided to focus more on my passion, Computer Science. I set up my own company called FountainArc to basically take all my experience, including my coding experience, and start building a technology team and start building a product that would automate a huge amount of manual things that I and other people on my team have had to do before. That’s what I’ve been doing recently and I’ve been loving it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
When I was finishing my degree, someone told me that I may not want to do my passion as a career – when you have to do it day in, day out, you might love it, but what do you then do to relax? That’s something that has stayed with me throughout my career, and I’m really glad I chose a path where I could still use my skills from Computer Science to analyse information and to solve problems, but after 20 years I’m still as passionate about it as ever.
What’s your proudest achievement?
I’ve always been passionate about Computer Science, and now that, for the last two years, I have been doing it full-time as my job, I’ve managed to take it at the deepest level and be able to push through in a way that is relatively successful. That is my proudest achievement that’s to do with studies and career – obviously there are personal or family related moments that are really important to me, too!
What advice would you give to current students?
Always expect life to be unexpected, to go in unexpected ways. You might go into a job with certain expectations, but anything can happen – life, markets, events, COVID-19 – it’s all unexpected. However, if you build that into your ‘plan’, and focus more on what you really care about and what you believe in, you can make decisions in line with those beliefs even when unexpected things happen. You may see other people where it looks like everything was planned, and they’ve done everything perfectly, but I can assure you that that person didn’t follow the exact steps of the original plan in their head to get there!
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org