Tell us about your background. How did you get to where you are now?
I started out as a software developer at the Defence Science and Technology Agency, coding decision support software in Java. I moved on to a project management role, and led the development of prototype command and control systems, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence’s Future Systems Directorate, as well as full-scale C2 systems for the Singapore Armed Forces.
For 2 years, I also part-timed as an investment manager in Cap Vista Pte Ltd, which is DSTA’s strategic investment arm. After 8 years in DSTA, I was eager to see more of the rest of the public sector, so I was very happy for the opportunity to join the newly set-up Smart Nation Programme Office when it came up.
Why did you decide to join the public sector?
I’ve always been quite fascinated by computers. The first time I keyed something into a computer and got a response from it, I was thrilled. When I was in primary school, for a period of time after my mother taught me how to use WordStar on DOS, I remember wanting to type and print out everything, instead of writing things by hand.
What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?
The few times that my users have praised my team for bringing a real technological edge to their capabilities are the instances that I feel quite satisfied with. In the projects I’ve done, I’ve found it most fulfilling when the users get their hands on the systems that we’ve designed, developed and integrated, and we hear from them first-hand if what we’ve put together actually meets their needs. When users are surprised at the quality of what we deliver and truly appreciate that it was only possible with a hardworking and competent engineering team behind them, that’s probably the best feeling.
“It was only possible with a hardworking and competent engineering team behind them”
What is the toughest challenge that you have had to face and overcome in your career?
I don’t think there’s been a single most memorable episode, but the most challenging times would probably have to be when I had to deal with people who treated us engineers as contractors to be ‘squeezed’. In general, I think public service engineers – especially given that we have no profit agenda – do sincerely try to do what we think is right, though it might not be what the user expects. When I encounter users who do not understand this, and particularly if they trivialise the work that we do as they try to shrink the timelines or budgets, it can become a challenge to stay motivated.
What is the most inspiring example that you have seen in your working life?
There are a few inspirational examples that I’ve encountered, for different reasons. I’ve encountered 3 different individuals (mostly bosses, many levels up) who have had amazing judgement and wisdom. Each of them had, on separate occasions, advised or instructed me to do something, which I either didn’t understand or even disagreed with at first. But as events unfolded, I realised that they had probably foreseen what would happen and I finally understood the wisdom of their advice. I have also had a boss who managed to nurture generation after generation of my colleagues, and has managed to forge and sustain a wonderful sense of camaraderie amongst all of us, current and alumni – I find that incredibly admirable too.
What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in GovTech?
I wouldn’t consider myself a success by any means, but I suppose if I had to give women in tech any advice, it would be to just be yourself. Sometimes people think that a woman has to act like a man to be a successful leader. I’ve learnt, though, that each gender brings different strengths to every organisation, and it is no different in tech. No matter what gender you are, hard work, good judgement and good communication skills will get you quite far.
And finally, how do you like to unwind after a long week at the office?
I like to eat good food, have drinks with my friends (recently started collecting whiskey!), or play some tennis.