At just 21 years old, Zhang Guangxuan is a competitive programmer who has represented Singapore in the International Olympiad in Informatics, attained 2nd Place as a Gold Medallist in the National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI), and guided many others down the same path as Singapore’s National Coach.

Get to know one of Coding Lab’s youngest but most accomplished educators.

Guangxuan and his students in class
Guangxuan and his students in class

Hi Guangxuan, how did you get started on coding? 

My journey began in the primary school robotics lab, where I tinkered with drag-and-drop “programming”. I took on the job of lead programmer, creating combinations of basic operations to accomplish missions. The joy of discovering new functions and alternative methods of programming the robot helped us to clinch top prize in programming at the National Junior Robotics Competition. Little did I know that these experiences would form my passion for artificial intelligence.

Fast forward to high school, I kept pursuing my passion by attending programming electives. These courses expanded my arsenal of programming languages, which included Python, C++ and Java, forming the foundations of computation. Learning about Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taught me much about what I truly enjoy. I am fascinated by the endless potential of AI in problem-solving and I enjoy discovering novel ideas used in AI to model problems. I will continue discovering more about AI, for as long as my passion takes me, and I hope that I can contribute to AI in the future for the good of mankind!

“In my opinion, everyone who wants to code should at least try their hand at competitive coding.”

Guangxuan has represented Raffles Institution and Singapore in numerous prestigious Olympiads in Computing, Physics, and Mathematics.
Guangxuan has represented Raffles Institution and Singapore in numerous prestigious Olympiads in Computing, Physics, and Mathematics.

How did you start to teach coding?

In 2015, I joined my NOI teammate in teaching the December NOI training course. Initially, I was concerned by my teaching capabilities as I have never been a trainer. However, the trainer community was welcoming and I picked up teaching skills along the way. I learnt to explain concepts in an easily digestible way to newcomers, challenge assumptions and to teach from first principles. 

Tell us about how a typical coding class would look like. If I walked into your classroom during a lesson, what would I see and hear? 

Students discuss while solving problems on the interactive whiteboards located in each classroom. Students collaborate while solving problems, sometimes even helping each other debug.

In your opinion, what is the most important takeaway for kids from coding class? 

Students learn Computational Thinking while solving problems. Computational Thinking can generalise and transfer the problem-solving process to a wide variety of situations, such as confidence in dealing with complexity, persistence in working with difficult problems, the potential to deal with open-ended problems, and the ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution.

“Build a strong foundation, and you shall be able to conquer the Olympiad.”

Guangxuan has trained countless medalists in Olympiad in Informatics Courses
Guangxuan has trained countless medalists in Olympiad in Informatics Courses

What are you up to these days?

In my free time, I enjoy keeping up with developments in technology. After exploring various computational fields such as web development and security, I realised that I enjoyed machine learning the most as it involves both the rigour of Mathematical theory and the creativity of practical application.

Just as AI must train to improve their performance, I must train myself to get better at AI. As such AI courses were not offered in high school, I have enrolled in structured online machine learning courses from Stanford University. The courses constantly challenge my thinking and helps me to gain new perspectives about coding and how to teach it to students. Currently, I’ve been learning about Machine Vision (the ability of a computer to see) by following the Stanford CS231n course.

“I will continue discovering more about AI, for as long as my passion takes me, and I hope that I can contribute to AI in the future for the good of mankind!”

How is competitive programming different?

Competitive programming is a mind sport. A lot of people are engrossed in competitive coding for the sheer thrill of it — the adrenaline rush and the satisfaction of getting your solution accepted. In my opinion, everyone who wants to code should at least try their hand at competitive coding. It has a very large and diverse online community including school and college students and even people working in big tech companies. The skills picked up can be applied directly to technical interviews for big tech companies!

What advice do you have for children/teenagers who want to participate in the NOI?

Build a strong foundation, and you shall be able to conquer the Olympiad. The course is difficult, and you will be challenged. Long-term commitment to the competitive programming sport will lead to great rewards.

Guangxuan is our educator with a passion for AI and teaching future leaders in technology.

Our non-profit Tiny Thinkers initiative began as a bold Final-Year Project for a team of Nanyang Technological University undergraduates, which has been well received and reached out to many under their leadership. As they graduate, they pass the baton on to five other undergraduates – who, although all happen to be from the National University of Singapore, are diverse and bring their own unique set of strengths to the table. 

Let’s meet the fresh new team powering the second year of Tiny Thinkers.

Chairperson: Candice Wang

“It’s heartening to see the number of hours put in by the core team and their amazing passion and enthusiasm, which rubs off on all of our volunteers.”

Candice, with a Computational Thinking Kit, at the NLB Volunteers Training
Candice, with a Computational Thinking Kit, at the NLB Volunteers Training

As a mother of two and Director of Coding Lab, Candice understands parents and oversees the operations and community engagement sectors. She admits that it is no easy feat to be a part of Tiny Thinkers for the second year running, organising activities and packing kits. But with a new team, she says, “It’s exciting to have many interested young talents who bring their unique interests, personalities and know-how to make things happen. It’s heartening to see the number of hours put in by the core team and their amazing passion and enthusiasm, which rubs off on all of our volunteers.”

With 2020 ahead, she is excited that Tiny Thinkers will be able to impact more than 7,000 young lives across many preschools and libraries in Singapore with the Junior Computational Thinking (CT) kit, which covers all 4 pillars of CT (Abstraction, Algorithm, Decomposition and Pattern Recognition). “This kit has been heavily oversubscribed and we still have a long waitlist of preschools asking for it,” she said. “Our volunteers are working hard to pack kits so it can promptly reach preschools and libraries across Singapore. We are very proud of this kit, developed in conjunction with our partners (IMDA, Skool4kids and Nexus), which infuses Total Defense values into CT and most importantly, encourages parent-child bonding.”

President: Thinzar Htet

“While it is tiring, I enjoy interacting with children during events and workshops which reminds me of why I became a part of Tiny Thinkers in the first place.”

Thinzar manning the Tiny Thinkers booth at the National Library Board's kidsREAD 15th anniversary carnival
Thinzar manning the Tiny Thinkers booth at the National Library Board’s kidsREAD 15th anniversary carnival

The former intern at Coding Lab initially helped out with Tiny Thinkers activities and was inspired to keep the flame burning after her internship ended. Thinzar recalls her experiences during Tiny Thinkers workshops, where she shared the joy of coding with parents and witnessed children enjoying themselves. “When parents hear the aim of Tiny Thinkers, they inquire and remark that it is an interesting and great thing that we are doing. These instances make me feel proud of what I have done and want to continue, despite the difficulties.” 

The second-year Sociology student was always interested in education and working with children, “So I thought that it was fitting to be a part of something meaningful like Tiny Thinkers, which equips children with the valuable skill of Computational Thinking. While it is tiring,” she admits, “I enjoy interacting with children during events and workshops which reminds me of why I became a part of Tiny Thinkers in the first place.”

Head of Talent Acquisition: Shravya Murali

“I want to create a positive difference and to spark joy in the lives of others and myself.”

Shravya (on the right) at the Mendaki Learning Festival
Shravya (on the right) at the Mendaki Learning Festival

A firm believer that every child should have access to education – specifically, computational education – regardless of their background, Shravya is on a journey to make her life more meaningful. “I want to create a positive difference and to spark joy in the lives of others and myself,” the second-year Life Sciences student said. This led to her joining the Tiny Thinkers team. “I had chances to converse with parents at the Tiny Thinkers booth during the Smart Nation & U event, and they seemed impressed and appreciated what Tiny Thinkers was doing.” 

Just like Thinzar, this motivated Shravya to continue her work with Tiny Thinkers, knowing that it benefits others. She also spent her December holidays as an intern educator with Coding Lab, gaining more experience in teaching children while also interacting with parents. When asked about what she’s anticipating for in 2020, the avid volunteer said: “I am excited for more Tiny Thinkers events to come!”

Head of Training and Development: Jeffrey Tan

“I have been looking out for an avenue to give back through mentoring for a while now, so this came at the right time … I feel that I can make a difference in someone’s life here.”

Head of Training and Development, Jeffrey
Jeffrey giving a talk about computational thinking at the Smart Nation & U event

During one of his volunteer stints, Jeffrey was observed to have been working excellently with kids and was approached by Shravya to be a part of Tiny Thinkers. “I have been looking out for an avenue to give back through mentoring for a while now, so this came at the right time,” the third-year Computational Biology student enthused, citing the aims of Tiny Thinkers as the inspiration for joining. “They are very clear, achievable and most importantly, meaningful. I feel that I can make a difference in someone’s life here. I am able to multiply my value through training volunteers and subsequently gather feedback to improve the materials.” 

On Tiny Thinkers activities, Jeffrey mentions that it is heartwarming how parents are also involved. “It’s always nice to witness the parent-child physical connection especially in today’s increasingly digitalised society,” he remarked. “While the background of a family often plays a part in a child’s education, we strive to put everyone on the same starting line as we welcome the digital age.” 

Head of Marketing: Lakshmi Suresh

“I believe in devoting myself to a greater purpose, which involves helping others.”

Lakshmi giving a talk at the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Conference
Lakshmi giving a talk at the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Conference

The bubbly second-year Business student was a former intern educator at Coding Lab, where she also helped out with marketing activities. Lakshmi’s interest in entrepreneurship and social service was what led her to be a part of the team. “I believe in devoting myself to a greater purpose, which involves helping others,” she said. “Once I heard about Tiny Thinkers and their vision, I felt immediately drawn to helping the team out by tapping on my personal strengths.” 

In managing media channels and disseminating messages, her dedication is further spurred on by the effects of what she does. “I really love it when the publicity successfully attracts people to attend our events and to see parents and children have fun warms my heart,” she gushed. “I hope that Tiny Thinkers can be understood as an organisation that is out to make a difference, and that we can get more volunteers and participants to make our vision a reality!”

Head of Logistics: Senthamaraiselvan Pooja

“Being involved in something as meaningful as Tiny Thinkers has really made my university life more exciting as there are many exciting events going on to help spread computational thinking to young children.”

Pooja (on the right) at the ECDA Conference
Pooja (on the right) at the ECDA Conference

The second-year Biomedical Engineering student is in charge of ensuring that the materials and kits are delivered to the right place and at the right time. “I wish that I received more exposure to computational thinking at a young age,” Pooja confessed. “But by joining the Tiny Thinkers team, I find great delight in being part of a team that equips today’s children with this skill. This is especially critical now as Singapore is moving towards becoming a Smart Nation, so computational thinking would definitely be highly relevant in many future jobs.” 

When asked how she manages to juggle school and studies, Pooja mentioned that just being focused on studying can make life dull. “Being involved in something as meaningful as Tiny Thinkers has really made my university life more exciting as there are many exciting events going on to help spread computational thinking to young children,” she said.

 

The Tiny Thinkers team. Back row (from left): Jeffrey and Shravya Front row (from left): Lakshmi, Thinzar and Pooja
The Tiny Thinkers team. Back row (from left): Jeffrey and Shravya
Front row (from left): Lakshmi, Thinzar and Pooja

What’s next for Tiny Thinkers?

  • Conducting sessions for various preschools about the Tiny Thinkers Junior Computational Thinking kit
  • Working with National Library Board’s kidsREAD programme to distribute 3,500 computational thinking kits to beneficiaries
  • More workshops to empower more kids and achieve the target of 7000 kits to be given out!
The recent Tiny Thinkers training of around 100 NLB Volunteers with guests Ms Low Tze Hui from IMDA and NLB KidsRead Manager Ms Pearle Chua.
The recent Tiny Thinkers training with close to 100 NLB Volunteers. Ms Low Tze Hui from IMDA and NLB KidsRead Manager Ms Pearle Chua and her NLB team posing with the Tiny Thinkers Team.

About Tiny Thinkers:

A non-profit campaign by Coding Lab that aims to empower and educate parents to kickstart their little one’s journey in Computational Thinking. For more information, please click here.

You can also join the Tiny Thinkers team as a volunteer or work with them as a corporate volunteer by filling up this form: https://forms.gle/ezNGx38Q6EYnZgWR6. You can also keep up to date with them on Facebook or Instagram.

Meet Christian. At only 12 years old, he has already breezed through our roadmap and attended our Python Perfect classes (which we recommend to 13-year-olds and above), where he coded an impressive Pokémon game on his own.

His story has been featured on the Tiny Thinkers blog before, which covered how the special needs child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and gradually found his passion for programming. We talk to the young boy, who is part of Eunos Primary School’s Robotics Club and aspires to be a professional coder, as he continues his coding journey with us.

Christian's parents kick-started his interest in programming when they bought him a book titled "Adventures in Minecraft".
Christian’s parents kick-started his interest in programming when they bought him a book titled “Adventures in Minecraft”.

Hi Christian! Could you tell us about your program? 

Christian: I started it in class after I finished my Python assignment from the teacher. I would continue to work on it as a reward whenever I finished my in-class assignments early! The program is like playing the Pokémon game without the graphics, so it’s all text-based in Python.

What gave you the idea for the program?

Christian: Everyone else seemed to be coding something practical, I suppose maybe because they were older. I didn’t really know what practical stuff I could code, so I decided to do a simple Pokémon program because I was playing it quite a bit on my Nintendo Switch.

Christian-Codes-finally

What were some difficulties you faced when developing this program? 

Christian: I ran into a lot, of course. There was one when I asked to view the Pokémon in my party, and all the letters would split up. It took me a while to realise that I was missing a function. Generally, attending classes helped me to solve what I needed to know but the Coding Lab teachers also taught me what I didn’t know codes could do. They also gave me hints on what could have gone wrong with my codes, suggested more efficient ones, and even gave me ideas on how to improve my program.

Start small, start with something you like. Keep going and don’t give up!

Do you have any future plans for your program?

Christian: Currently, I am preparing for the dreaded PSLE. But I’m looking to add more features to my game, and to modify it to a more MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) style that I enjoy playing. It’s still not completed yet, so I just want to finish it and run it. Hopefully, after I finish my program, I can get some beta testers who can give me suggestions on how to improve.

Christian, 12, spends most of his free time on the computer or reading on Kindle.
Christian, 12, spends most of his free time on the computer or reading on Kindle.

What advice would you give to young coders who are new to coding?

Christian: Start small, start with something you like. Keep going and don’t give up!

Christian, 12, is a student at Eunos Primary School taking his PSLE this year. He started off with our Scratch holiday workshop course in 2018 and has since completed our ScratchMIT App Inventor and Python classes.

He aspires to be a professional coder in the gaming industry and to work at Google someday. It is evident that Christian loves coding, and it is one of his many strengths. We’re sure that he will do great, and we look forward to seeing his future programs! 

Game Master. App Guru. Math Whiz. Storyteller. What kind of a coder are you?

FINAL FB_What Kind Of A Coder Are You

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Did you catch Tiny Thinkers at the National Library Board’s (NLB) kidsREAD 15th Anniversary Carnival?

Thinzar, the President of Tiny Thinkers, explaining the Junior Computational Thinking kits to the children at booth.
Thinzar, the President of Tiny Thinkers, explaining the Junior Computational Thinking kits to children at the booth.

On 9th November, Tiny Thinkers was invited to celebrate the 15th anniversary of NLB’s kidsREAD programme. Tiny Thinkers had a booth for children to kickstart their Computational Thinking journey with our Junior Computational Thinking kit. The kit, developed by Tiny Thinkers and supported by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), allows children to plan a character’s story and also included hands-on activities for parents to complete with their children at home.

President Halimah Yacob with (from left) Ms Low Tze Hui, Manager of Infocomm Media Development Authority and her son, Thinzar, President of Tiny Thinkers, Candice, Co-Founder of Coding Lab,
Our Tiny Thinkers team (in orange), Coding Lab Co-Founder Candice (third from left), and Amazon Web Services volunteers (in blue) taking a photo with President Halimah Yacob and Ms Low Tze Hui (far left), Manager, Infocomm Media Development Authority, and her son, Luke.

Thank you to President Halimah Yacob, Mr S Iswaran (Minister for Communications and Information), and Ms Low Tze Hui, for stopping by our booth to find out more about Tiny Thinkers and our goals for the children of Singapore!

Luke showing President Halimah Yacob what he learned from the Tiny Thinkers Junior Computational Thinking kit. (Source: President Halimah's Facebook page)
Luke even had the opportunity to show President Halimah Yacob what he learned from the Tiny Thinkers Junior Computational Thinking kit. (Source: President Halimah Yacob’s Facebook, MCI Photo by Lee Jia Wen)

Tiny Thinkers is proud to have been able to collaborate with NLB to reach out to more parents about the importance of Computational Thinking in today’s digital economy. This is especially relevant as this year’s kidsREAD programme was focused on promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

A volunteer from Amazon Web Services guiding two young children through the Junior Computational Kits.
A volunteer from Amazon Web Services guiding two young children through the Junior Computational Kits.

Throughout the year, we worked closely with NLB to hold free one-hour workshops titled ‘Tiny Thinkers On The Go’ at Tampines and Jurong Regional Libraries, where our Junior Computational Thinking kits were also distributed. We hope that participants of all our Tiny Thinkers events enjoyed completing the kit activities and that this jumpstarts their interests in computational thinking!

Thank you to all the Amazon Web Services (AWS) volunteers from AWS InCommunities and Connect@Amazon for collaborating with us for this event!
Thank you to all the Amazon Web Services (AWS) volunteers for collaborating with us for this event!

We also want to thank our Amazon Web Services volunteers who helped us to guide the children and spread the word about computational thinking among the event’s participants! We couldn’t have reached out to as many people without their assistance, persistence and love.

Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, dropped by our booth to have a chat with Thinzar, President of Tiny Thinkers, and our Amazon Web Services volunteers.
Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, also dropped by our booth to have a chat with Thinzar, President of Tiny Thinkers, and our Amazon Web Services volunteers.

Tiny Thinkers will also continue to collaborate with NLB next year, where free Junior Computational Thinking Kits will be given out to 3,500 participants of the kidsREAD programme to equip them with the tools to be digitally-ready.

More children trying their hand at our Junior Computational Thinking kits!
More children trying their hand at our Junior Computational Thinking kits!

If you weren’t able to get a kit this year, fret not! We know that as parents, we all want to give our children a headstart in this digital age. Do keep a lookout on our Tiny Thinkers page (or Facebook page) for updates on what we’re doing and on our future events!

Another Amazon Web Services volunteer assisting participants in Computational Thinking.
Another Amazon Web Services volunteer assisting participants in Computational Thinking.

2020 definitely looks like an exciting year ahead for our Tiny Thinkers!

About kidsREAD
A nationwide reading programme launched in 2004, it encourages positive attitudes towards reading and aims to inculcate good reading habits among young Singaporeans of all races, and especially those from low-income families.

For more information, please click here.

About Tiny Thinkers
A non-profit campaign by Coding Lab that aims to empower and educate parents to kickstart their little one’s journey in Computational Thinking.

For more information, please click here.

Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers were at the inaugural Smart Nation & U event on 30th November and 1st December to spread the coding word to families through fun. If you weren’t there, here’s the rundown on the things that happened!

Wai Yee, our Operations Manager, sharing with a parent what we do here at Coding Lab.
Wai Yee, our Operations Manager, sharing with a parent what we do here at Coding Lab.

The collaborative two-day event between Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was held at Downtown East to share how new technologies are transforming the ways that we work, live and play. Indeed, the future is digital and it is essential to spark interests in tech – especially in our children.

A participant using a micro:bit to play a Scratch game.
A participant using a micro:bit to play a Scratch game.

Coding Lab engaged children with our wireless micro:bits, which were connected to Scratch games on the laptop. This gave them a peek into what we do in our Young Computer Scientists (for ages 7 to 9) and Advanced Computer Scientists (for ages 10 to 12) classes.

Lakshmi, Head of Marketing at Tiny Thinkers, getting parents and their children acquainted with the workshop and tips on how they can navigate in a Smart Nation.
Lakshmi, Head of Marketing at Tiny Thinkers, getting parents and their children acquainted with the workshop and sharing tips on how they can navigate in a Smart Nation.

On the other hand, Tiny Thinkers held free Tiny Thinkers On The Go workshops that distributed free Junior Computational Thinking kits for exciting parent-child activities.

Parents working on the Junior Computational Thinking kits alongside their child, and with the help of a Smart Nation Ambassador.
Parents working on the Junior Computational Thinking kits alongside their child, and with the help of a Smart Nation Ambassador.

We would like to thank our participants for joining us at our workshops, as well as the Smart Nation Ambassadors who were on-hand and actively facilitated learning among parents and children!

Coding has no age limit – we shared information on coding with people of all ages!
Coding has no age limit – we shared information on coding with people of all ages!

Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers are pleased to work with Smart Nation Singapore once again at the Smart Nation & U event, to move towards the goal of Singapore becoming a world-class city with a leading economy powered by digital innovation. We look forward to the next time that we get to join forces again!

About Smart Nation Singapore
It is a nationwide initiative by the Singapore Government to harness the power of technology to build a Digital Economy, Digital Government and Digital Society. It was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, who described the goal and future of this nation-building initiative as a Singapore “where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible”.

For more information, please click here.

6 valuable lessons video games can teach your child

“My Child can’t stop playing video games! What can I do about it? How to stop him/her?”

From young to old, video games have always held a certain fascination; from classics like Tetris, Lode Runner and Pacman, to Super Mario, to today’s Clash Royale and Minecraft, millions of children have experienced and played video games. Who can remember the thrill of the adrenaline rush when you beat a level, or when that tetris block drops perfectly in space, clearing four rows at once?

As parents, we are rightfully concerned about our children’s attraction to video games, especially in today’s digital age when our kids get exposed to technology at a very young age.

How do we manage their interest, and direct their interest into something that can benefit them for life? Read on to find out!

How do Video games benefit your child? Well, Video Games:

1. Help improve problem-solving skills

Video games are all about processing large amounts of data in a short amount of time. Even basic shooting games require thinking logically. Quest-based games require players to find alternate ways of moving forward or solutions to different problems. And these are definitely some of the essential skills that kids need to pick up from.

Coding games like Spacechem, Infinifactory, and Codecombat teach procedural literacy. That is the reason kids programming classes often use coding games to generate students’ interest in coding.

2. Help develop better hand-eye coordination

Gaming involves the use of consoles or remote controls to control all the action on the screen. Studies suggest that playing video games can help improve coordination and balance in the heart patients and even in Parkinson’s patients. Children who play video games, naturally, develop better hand-eye coordination.

3. Help improve social skills

Contrary to popular belief, It is a stereotype that children who are into video games are introverted and isolated. Nothing teaches community bonding and teamwork like video games do. Games also have flourishing bases both online and offline.

Moreover, 70% of gamers play in the same room with their friends. Coding classes for kids are social places as well, and project planning, teamwork and even presentation skills are developed. This helps develop positive peer relationships and build high self-esteem. Check out our showcase testimonials to see our confident kids presenting the work.

4. Strategy games help acquire strategic thinking

Video games can give kids a chance to analyse their performance objectively. They also help them devise strategies to implement those. Most games have a set goal or mission and allow the gamer to use multiple ways to reach it. However, most of them require using strategy to achieve the goal. Many of them provide immediate feedback on performance.

5. Learn mathematics in a fun way

Kids programming classes combine learning and fun into one. Video games based on simple coding can help develop analytical thinking. They encourage children to find multiple solutions to a problem. Games like Lightbot, Scratch, and Code Monkey are interesting ways to learn to code while having fun. In the longer run, it encourages kids to take up coding as even a career. Kids who code are usually good at mathematics.

Help develop empathy and improves decision-making

Many parents find it difficult to teach their kids to empathise. Empathy is an important aspect of developing moral consciousness and opposing prejudice. Video games can help kids to empathise much better than books or verbal repetition can do.

Why not allow kids to learn decision-making skills? Some games enable kids to face difficult situations and help them learn how to make ethical decisions. These situations deal with sensitive issues and simulate circumstances that would otherwise be difficult to create.

Indeed, studies suggest that gaming is as beneficial as physical activity for cognitive development. Coding classes for children make use video games to teach analytical thinking. Video games can help your kids learn a multitude of life’s lessons, ranging to making fast and timely decisions to overcoming a fear of failure. All in moderation, of course!