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Carving out a niche in finance and technology

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Ritchie Ng
Chief AI Officer, Ensemble Capital

Alumnus, NUS Business School

He may currently handle millions of dollars’ worth of assets on a daily basis, but when he was in secondary school, Ritchie Ng – like most other teenagers – often preferred playing video games in his free time to studying.

Unlike most teenagers, however, Ritchie was not content with simply sitting in front of his computer and dedicating hours of “grinding” to level up his character in the multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that he was playing.

 “To progress in a lot of games…requires a lot of grinding, which means you have to work really long to level up,” explains Ritchie. “So, I coded a programme that would allow my character to level up and move as if there was an actual human controlling it, even though I’m not actually on the game itself.”

The experience of coding the programme for his gaming character proved to be the catalyst for Ritchie’s lifelong passion in programming and machine learning, and he eventually went onto further his interest in the subject at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

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Ritchie (fourth from left) on an overseas volunteering expedition to
Siem Reap, Cambodia with the NUS Community Service Club in 2015.
Credits: NUS Community Service Club Love Export and blackdotwhitephotography

Today, the 26-year-old is the Chief AI Officer and Founding Partner of Ensemble Capital – a global AI hedge fund based in Singapore. By combining his expertise in deep learning with the financial acumen he honed while studying at NUS Business School, Ritchie has managed to build deep learning algorithms for his company which power multi-million dollar systematic trades in the currencies and options space daily.

Ritchie, however, might not have found himself involved with deep learning in the first place, were it not for the flexibility offered by NUS Business School which allowed him to pursue his passion at NUS’ School of Computing.

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Ritchie (right) teaching students about deep learning at an NUS-NVIDIA workshop.

And it was while he was still studying at NUS that Ritchie first conceptualised the creation of Deep Learning Wizard – an online course that has, to date, taught more than 10,000 students worldwide about deep learning and deep reinforcement learning theories, so as to provide them with “an entry-level beginning in deep learning engineering”.

Ritchie explains that he created Deep Learning Wizard because he realised most people found it hard to learn about deep learning the traditional way.

“For the large proportion of people out there, the math involved in this space of deep learning makes it very hard for them to start,” says Ritchie. “So, we flipped the teaching paradigm, by starting out from a programming perspective, before then teaching them the math associated with it.”

“We found that by doing that, it made it easier for people to see how the logic flows, and it has helped kick-start a lot of my students in the deep learning space.”

Apart from Deep Learning Wizard, Ritchie continues to share his knowledge on deep learning as an NVIDIA Institute instructor, and has led workshops on the subject in NUS, Singapore, Southeast Asia and even in Africa.

“Facebook and Google started a Master’s programme in Africa to teach undergraduates the basics of deep learning,” recalls Ritchie. “I handled all the programming, the assignments as well as the programming exercises for the deep learning fundamentals course… and eventually quite a number of them went on to do top internships in some of the largest labs in the world after graduating.”

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Ritchie (fifth from right) with some of the students who went through his deep learning foundations
course in Kigali, Rwanda in 2018.

Teaching might seem like extra work for Ritchie on top of his many responsibilities at Ensemble, but he insists that he enjoys being able to share his passion for deep learning with others.

“One thing I like to do is teach, and I actually do that when I want to relax from work,” Ritchie reveals. “It’s mainly because I can see the impact I’m making, especially when students who initially knew absolutely nothing about deep learning go on to do meaningful things with what they’ve learnt.”

Likewise, a grateful Ritchie recognises that he would not have gotten to where he is today without the support and opportunities that were provided to him at NUS.

“That's what NUS gives – opportunity, but you must have the determination and courage to grab it,” Ritchie reflects. “Don't be afraid to fail, just do it, keep trying to make it work. The professors and staff are willing to go the extra mile to help you, and I attribute a very large portion of what I've achieved so far to the opportunities that NUS provided.”

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Ritchie (third from left) was named one of the "IT Youth of the year" at the 2019 IT Leader Awards.
Credit: Singapore Computer Society

“For example, I’m extremely thankful to be given the NUS Global Merit Scholarship, which helped to cover my school fees, accommodation at Cinnamon College in University Town, and even gave me an allowance. I was also given the opportunities by NUS Business to go overseas – to the US and Italy – for a year, which was really fun and unforgettable.”

But one thing that Ritchie wishes he did more while he was a student was to spend more time with his friends.

“I think one of the things NUS students should do is socialise not just within your faculty, but outside of it as it will open you up to diverse characters and opportunities. So just mix around, and have fun, because you’ll miss it once you’re out of university.”