Whirling Thoughts

Chewing, swishing, and spitting thoughts out. Personal blog of Nicholas Chan.

Month: March 2020

How to Pick an Internship? Raise Your Ceiling.

During my internship hunt this summer, I received two very enticing offers. The first was to go work with RBC Amplify, an intrapreneurship program in RBC, where you would work in a multi-faceted team to build a new product for RBC.

The second offer was with Clearbanc for a growth marketing position.

Here’s the catch.

RBC would pay me nearly double what I would be earning at Clearbanc. I would be taking a significant pay cut to work at Clearbanc, a fast growing fintech startup.

It was a tough decision.

My friends thought I was insane. My parents didn’t say anything perse, but implied that I should be trying to earn as much money as possible.

I chose to go work for Clearbanc.

There were two key principles that drove me to this.

Optimize for learning

Whenever I need to make decisions, I like to consult some friends who are more experienced and are doing what I want to be doing. The first piece of advice that was offered to me was that, if I could afford to take on the opportunity, then I should optimize for learning.

What I took away is that when you focus on learning skills in the present, you will do better in the long term. If I can significantly improve my growth marketing skillset at Clearbanc, I will be able to take those skills and either demand more at my next job or better monetize a future venture.

At Clerabanc, there were some “green flags’ that I liked. Visionary leadership in Michele and Andrew. My boss, who has experience exploding growth for several startups. The role, which was focused on data-driven growth tactics vs brand building. A promise from the team that I would be able to take charge and lead my own project during my term.

In short, a wealth of mentors doing what I want to be doing, learning the skills that I want to learn, and the autonomy to accelerate that learning by taking the lead of a project of my choosing.

Raising your ceiling

Where do I want to be in the next ten years? Or if there isn’t anything specific, what is a hunch of where you want to be in the next 10 years. Then…. how do you want to get there?

For me, a dream would be to be working on my own ventures, either as a startup founder or an early employee at a startup. I would also love to have side income coming in from projects.

I did some research on RBC amplify. I was asking myself: “where do the interns of the company end up after their internship?” I then wanted to compare my findings with Clearbanc.

At RBC, it appeared that many of the interns there ended up… working for RBC. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not where I want to be in 10 years nor will it help me accomplish my goals. A large company like that focuses a lot more on their processes vs getting stuff done. That’s not going to make me a very qualified founder or an attractive first employee.

At Clearbanc? Oh boy. I followed the career paths of new employees. People who have gone from customer service positions to launching new markets in Australia. Employees going from an entry campus recruiter position to…head of people?

Heck, my own recruiter got promoted in the 4 month span that I met her. One day, I received an email that she was being promoted into a more strategic HR role. Good for her.

If I am looking for explosive growth, then Clearbanc was the winner by a far margin.

Ending Thoughts

As students, let’s all try to be a little bit more strategic about our career choices. Think in the long term and ask yourself if you will learn what you want to learn to meet your goals. Raise your ceiling, don’t settle.

Dirt Cheap Dirty Canadian Oil, Time for a Change?

Yesterday, I found out that the price of a barrel of Western Canadian Select has plunged below $5. That means a barrel of Canadian oil costs less than a 6 pack of toilet paper.

Why is this the case?

Saudis have started a pricing war

The first is that recently, the Saudi Arabians and Russia have gotten into a bit of a price war. They were unable to agree on prices, after China’s drop in production severely crippled demand. Now Saudi has “turned on the taps” and flooded the market with more supply

Lack of Pipelines and Distribution

Due to political barriers and Aboriginal opposition, pipelines needed to increase capacity to transport bitumen from the oil sands south to USA and west to ports in BC have been cancelled or put on hold indefinitely. This has forced companies to instead have to pay a premium to ship their oil via rail or other methods. This has further decreased demand.

Abundant and Cheaper Alternatives

In recent year, shale oil production in USA has exploded, propelling America to be the 4th largest exporter of oil. This significant increase in supply has made Canadian crude look even worse in comparison. Shale is cheaper to manufacture than oil sands, which takes around $45 USD per barrel to breakeven.

Compounding the problem is that shale oil can slow and start production very easily. When prices are above an operation’s breakeven point, they will simply turn on the taps again, setting a cap on how high the prices of oil can go.

Where next?

This is a purely qualitative analysis, so take it with a grain of salt. To me, it appears as if the Albertan oil industry will remain unviable for many years ahead. The industry is beset with poor unit economics, political headwinds, and superior competitors.

Countries have already started to invest significantly into renewable energy. Norway is the prime case study for how to take oil wealth and transition it into creating a more sustainable a circular economy. Texas (of all places) has become a renewable energy giant, with wind outpacing coal as a power source in Texas for the first time ever.

Alberta is still far behind the curve when it comes to renewable energy, but progress is starting to be made with propositions such as the Rattlesnake Ridge Wind wind farm project. This is a promising sign of things to come.

However, there is still more that can be done. The afore-mentioned project had a price tag of $200 million CAD. Meanwhile, the government is proposing an investment of $4.5 billion CAD into purchasing the TransMountain oil pipeline. What is the point of this? If we are aiming to transition into a green economy, why are we investing capital into infrastructure that will be outdated by the time it is actually built? $4.5 billion CAD would be enough for 22 wind generation projects.

The world is not moving back towards oil and gas. It is time to look to the future.

Stay Safe

Bye. Have a great day. See you later.

These words are embedded in the fabric of our daily interactions. They are words that tend to be taken for granted. We rarely think much about these daily platitudes. They go in one ear and out the other.

I’ve noticed a jarring shift in how people have been ending conversations recently. “Stay safe” has become one of the most common ways to send off a friend, acquaintance or loved one.

I find it quite dark. Would be great if we could just get back to “have a great day!”.

“Stay safe” shows how the fear of the virus and its consequences have begun to dominate our psyche. Over time, the influence of the virus has started to seep into benign conversations as a constant reminder of its lingering threat.

Stay safe, because if you’re not careful you could get sick.

Stay safe, because the virus has made it dangerous to go outside.

Stay safe, because after we leave this video call, I hope nothing happens to you. I won’t be able to tell until we call next.

Stay safe, because the world has gone mad. Toilet paper and canned food has flown off the shelves.

Stay safe, because if we don’t flatten the curve, we are going to be the next Italy, Iran, or China.

Stay safe, because if you hurt yourself or get sick for another reason, it’s a terrible time to be going to the hospital.

Stay safe, because I care about you. I hope everything will turn ok.

Stay safe.


Covid-19 has wrecked havoc on the world. It is a critical time for all governments as they deal with the urgent medical and economic situation.

I understand all measures being taken and agree that they are necessary. With travel bans in place and the virus lurking around every corner, it is impossible to decry any measure as too extreme.

As a result of them, my exchange in Singapore has been cut short, and I have returned home for the rest of the winter semester.

This is disappointing. The year was supposed unfurl as one of adventure. One filled with joy and discovery and new friends. One where I would go to the far ends of the world treasure hunting for stories and new experiences; a wealth to be shared with friends and family upon my triumphant return.

I am all the poorer for it.

Creating a vision, building foundations

This year, I will be one of 4 cochairs for the Queen’s Tech and Media Association. I’ve taken to asking myself what I want to accomplish this year, and what would make this year a success.

I wanted to write this down because it’s important to have a larger goal in mind when you inevitably have to work through a mire of boring, mundane tasks to accomplish this vision. It’s easy to slack or stop giving 100% on these tasks without a strong vision.

QTMA is a product management organization. We build software products. But that simplifies things too much. I would argue we teach people how to build great products, launch these products, while creating awareness for tech as a viable and exciting career path for students.

  1. Our products acquire real users
  2. Our members recruit successfully into technology positions
  3. Our members walk away with new skills
  4. QTMA is one reason students end up choosing Queen’s Commerce (as is the same with our investment council and case teams)
  5. Members return next year, or if graduating, remain involved in some capacity.
  6. Everyone has a fun time

March hiring will soon be in full swing. Interviewing 50+ people in three days is not going to be fun, yet it is a necessary task for building a strong foundation for the coming year.

Good times ahead.

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