Inspired by the three most important things he learnt during his studies at Imperial, Tiger Liu (MSc Computing, 2012) has established a company called EEE (it stands for experience, education, and English), which runs programmes to send Chinese children to the UK to gain experience at world leading educational institutions.
Why did you choose Imperial?
"When I finished my masters at the University of Edinburgh in computer science and artificial intelligence, I worked for a year in China doing algorithms at a bank. I was interested in artificial intelligence but I didn't have the knowledge, and it was hard to get it while holding down a full time job.
I looked around and I knew I wanted something different, and I wanted to go to a world leading institution. I narrowed it down to Imperial, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, which were the best for my subject in the UK, but for me the city was an important factor, and I realised I wanted to experience the big city."
What was your degree like?
"I did a Masters in Advanced Computing. There are three levels of masters courses in the Department of Computing - the Computing course is transferable, Computing with Specialist is what it sounds like, and the third level is called Advanced Computing, so it's for students like me, who have a background.
One of the best things was that all of the students were just so good - it's hard to imagine a room full of people that super smart, but that was the most amazing experience of my life in so many ways.
The course itself was flexible, and you can go a few different ways - or even in two or three directions at the same time. I took courses in Advanced Intelligence and Computational Finance, but I also did the Individual Study option, which is where you got thirty minutes a week with a profiesssr - it felt like doing another masters! The academic I was with was from Iran, and was using computer science to try to solve political problems in the Middle East, using virtual reality, and a device to cure trauma.
It added another dimension to my study and my life - I was really influenced by him, and haven't seen anything similar elsewhere.
As far as the non-academic side of things goes, I was really thankful for the cheap restaurants on campus. I ate at one or another every day!"
What did you do when you graduated?
"I came back to Shenzhen and I was working as a quantitative analyst - basically I was looking at big data for a hedge fund. I did that for ten months and then I realised that education was what I wanted to do. With a friend from the University of Edinburgh, we established a company that we've called EEE - it stands for experience, education, and English, which were the three most important things I learnt during my studies at Imperial. I want to pass those things onto children in China, so our programme sends children to the UK to gain some experience at world leading educational institutions.
I have been working with my business partner for a year, and we're still exploring and finding the right way for the children - the main thing for us though is the education, not making money. I really want the students to develop by seeing the world. Reading books is good, but you need experience too.
In July this year my business partner took the first group of fifteen students to Wellington College, in Berkshire in the UK. The programme was so successful that 100% of the parents were happy. The two or three week programmes we run are a relatively cheap way for kids to experience these top educational institutions - especially compared to studying overseas for a year or more.
China is different to western cultures - and the single most important thing I learnt at Imperial was how to see the world from a different angle. It's not about rejecting your own culture. It's a more advanced system - I managed to merge the two cultural expressions and I now understand both. Once you can see the differences, you can balance the more complete views of the world. Some people worry that kids will reject their own culture - but there's no better or worse, it's just different things to understand.
Chinese kids aim for results only, and they don't appreciate the process - they don't have time to think about life itself, or about society. I think that my British/UK eduction made me less self-centred, and I wanted to think about the world's rights. People in the UK want to work for the world, like how there's loads of volunteering at Imperial. It's just like my professor."
What are your plans for the company?
"At the end of the day I'm still a computer/IT guy - so we're thinking about scaling up and building an online educational platform, so that everyone in the world can see what we've seen. That's three to five years away though."
How is your Imperial degree helpful?
"At the moment I'm not using my computer science degree, but once I come to building the platform, I'm definitely planning on looking up my old classmates! The main thing I learnt is about the strength of my own body and mind. To get good results, I worked really hard, but it was fun - and really satisfying."
What does a typical day look like?
"As the CEO of a small company, I can work differently. I deal with various aspects of the company - I don't really have a schedule! I usually get up at 07.00, have breakfast, and start work at 08.30. At the moment we're redecorating the office, so I've been occupied with that recently. For the rest of the day I check my to do list, and work on whatever's the highest priority. I don't really have any 'off-work' time - when I'm not actually working, I'm often thinking about things. I usually get to bed at about midnight!
When I was overseas, I learnt how my body can behave, especially with minimal sleep. I can function on five and a half hours sleep a night - but five hours is a disaster! I experienced what it felt like to have strength, physical, and mental. Apparently Picasso needed a similar amount of sleep a night too!"
How are you finding living back in Shenzhen?
"Shenzhen's got an amazing start up culture. At my previous company everyone was from IT, and it was quite gentlemanly, but now that I'm working in a start up it's more 'yo yo' style!"