You’ve spent the last seven months of your life crunching information, on top of your daily workload and family obligations. You’ve pitched your project to judging panels and made it through several rounds of competition.

Eventually, it’s down to you and a few other teams—all finalists in Singapore’s National Data Viz Video Challenge.

Organised by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) and supporting industry partners, the inaugural competition challenged students to derive useful insights and potential application of open data. Participants then had to kick their creativity into high gear and present their findings in the form of a short video.

What sort of preparation went into winning a national competition, and what did students take away from it? TechNews caught up with the top three teams to find out.

Behind the scenes

Team CEJM.

Team CEJM of Nanyang Polytechnic—consisting of Manzel Joseph Seet, Cyrus Wong Ying Chun, Esmond Ng Yong Keng and Kat Yong Jie—took first prize for their project on the use of solar power in Singapore.

Team leader Manzel mentioned a very basic challenge when describing the preparation for the competition—namely, going to the same school doesn’t make it easier for everyone to be in the same place at the same time. “Meeting up was tough since our school timetables were different,” he said.

The bulk of the tasks, like research and video scripting, were done independently and synced through Google Drive. “However, for the animation, we had to stay back every day after our end-semester exam to complete the clip,” he added.

ABang Data Team.

The third place winner, ABang Data Team—made up of Ng Chee Siang, Javier Png Han Tiong, Evan Leow Yi En and Chua Xin Na of the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University—also split up the work for their project on valuation of public housing purchases. Two members worked on the storyboard and video, one did the data analysis and another did the presentation. But two weeks before the submission deadline, they decided to overhaul their project to incorporate advice they got from their mentor.

Team CEJM's project on the use of solar power in Singapore.

Confronted with feedback during the qualifying round that their presentation was too technical for the average audience, Team CEJM also went back to the drawing board. “Our key takeaway was that data must be presented such that it is more relatable to the layman,” said Manzel. “For example, the judges suggested using football fields instead of square kilometres to illustrate area. We ended up using ‘number of Ang Mo Kios’, as that is a well-known district.”

Ryzal's app that helps students with special needs and their parents find a school.

For Team CEJM, as well as second-place winner Ryzal Kamis of the Singapore Institute of Management (who created an app that helps students with special needs and their parents find a school), the sheer variety of topics addressed in the competition was an eye-opener. “From statistics on ex-offenders to potential retirement age, it really surprised us how broad the datasets were,” said Manzel.

Some of the participants were also surprised to learn that Singapore’s repositories of open data were not being tapped into. “I thought [open data] was heavily used in Singapore—it turns out this is not the case,” said Chee Siang of ABang Data Team.

Life after the final cut

What’s next for the young winners? Team CEJM, who also won the competition’s ‘Most Likely to be Data Scientists’ accolade—given to the team that best presented their data analysis—said that for now, they are focusing on finishing their diploma courses.

“We are still keen on exploring our options, and learning more about fields like data science,” said Manzel, who considers data science a rising field. “Thankfully, our courses of study provide us with the avenue to enroll in related university courses such as computer science, should we discover a deep passion for them.”

Second-place winner Ryzal Kamis.

Ryzal, a banking and finance major and self-professed ‘data enthusiast’, plans to continue his work with data, in the hopes of becoming proficient enough to provide pro bono services to non-government and non-profit organisations. “I have a greater affinity towards the data analytics industry [than to finance],” he says.

Meanwhile, ABang Data Team’s Chee Siang has his sights set on venturing into start-ups. But first, his team is planning to dive deeper into the data. “We plan to work on other videos because we found more insights from the initial analysis,” he said.

A screenshot of ABang Data Team's project.

In addition to gaining exposure and work experience, the competition was also valuable for the students on a personal level. “In the beginning, I actually had little expectation as to how far I could go in the competition. But each time I managed to get through to the next round, I became more motivated and started believing more in my own work,” said Ryzal.

“We realised that data representation and interpretation is akin to marketing products to a target audience, where the product is the data itself,” said Manzel.

Chee Siang’s response was a little more succinct. “Shiok because I won,” he quipped, adding that his team felt a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment.