How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
Any advancements in technology should be focused on improving the society or economy as a whole, such as helping people with disabilities in their day-to-day activities or creating more jobs for everyone.
Before rolling out an IT solution, the discussion should revolve around the questions of ‘whom we are serving?’, ‘how it will benefit our society and our economy?’, ‘how will we help those who are less tech-savvy to be ready?’ This thought process forms the main difference between working in a public sector and the private sector. Our target audience is always the citizens and, whatever we do and transform will impact everyone.
I joined GovTech in July 2017 as a TAP (Technology Associate Programme) associate which is designed for fresh graduates with a special focus on technical and professional skill development.
The programme assigns mentors for guidance and encourages job rotation for us to explore different IT areas available in the organisation. This also builds on our competencies and helps us to pursue our passion in our career. I started my career as a Software Engineer for Business Grants Portal (BGP) project. BGP is a one-stop platform for businesses to seamlessly apply for business grants without having to manually approach multiple agencies.
Fun fact: BGP is actually one of the first large-scale projects in Government Digital Services (GDS) to adopt Agile (Scrum) methodology to deliver service excellence and continuously be responsive to the dynamic business conditions.
When BGP first started, agencies came together to arrive at a common understanding with a single goal in mind which is: a seamless experience for companies to apply for financial grants to aid in their expansions. It was not only a change of system but as well as a change of mindset from the agencies – from information being in siloes to a centralised, collaborative platform. Policies were harmonised and processes were streamlined so management of applications is easier not just for our grant applicants but for agencies as well.
Additionally, our UX (user experience) team has invested a significant amount of time and research to learn about our users’ behaviours in curating an intuitive set of interfaces to enhance their experience and interactions with the portal.
Currently, I am holding a front-end development role, which incorporates the use of the Ruby on Rails (RoR) web framework, and also a Scrum Master in my team.
What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?
Being a TAP associate allows me to rotate and experience different roles. Before RoR, I worked as a Business Process Management (BPM) Developer using Appian which manages the backend processes that comprise the main bulk operations of the BGP system. I have some knowledge on BPM from my student years in SMU on its robustness to manage and streamline complex processes, as well as accelerating development work for fast delivery.
To be able to work on Appian was a great start for my career as I was able to dive deeper into something completely new and gain insights on its application uses. I also learned that it actually impacts and transforms traditional bespoke development where workflow-centric system is concerned. It’s even more exciting knowing that Appian is one of the top players in the BPM realm and definitely was a fresh experience to have hands-on experience with it.
If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?
Being an entry-level Software Engineer, I don’t have a million dollar advice to all the experienced professionals out there. From my limited exposure, it would definitely be to not be afraid to fail in your pursuit of knowledge. It is a definite that we are learning new things everyday. When we allow fear to overcome us, it prevents us from progressing and realising the true potential that we have within ourselves to do something greater and meaningful.
People may judge you for not being knowledgeable but everybody has to go through tough times to get to where they are now. Treat the challenges as valuable learning experiences which will bring you closer to achieving your goals and be patient in the process. Lastly, it is important for you to be in a supportive environment and have good bosses who will guide you to achieve your goals faster.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?
Time is one of the most valuable intangible assets in life and one of my pet peeves is actually queuing. A particular shop might be selling the most delicious cakes in the world but if it has a never-ending queue, you won’t find me there. Even when I’m the fifth person in line, I would think about ‘how in the world can I automate this process? Why can’t they just have e-counters like McDonald’s?’ I could have been doing something more value-adding while waiting rather than anticipating for my turn.
”Even when I’m the fifth person in line, I would think about ‘how in the world can I automate this process?’”
The same applies to my work. Automation is particularly interesting because it’s not a new technology/technique and not exactly the most difficult thing to implement, yet we still find trivial manual processes everywhere. For instance, I’ve written some custom scripts to automate manual tasks that are not available out of the box as part of our application maintenance. I don’t have a specific tool in mind but anything that involves automation would get my attention such as custom scripts to automate certain checks, tools like Robotics Process Automation or test automation frameworks such as Robot.
What are your priorities for 2019?
There are so many technologies that I have in mind to explore as part of building on my technical competencies.
However, often people view IT solutions as a silver bullet that can totally eliminate organisational or business issues. Personally, however cool a technology is, it’s uncool if they can’t help to alleviate the issues faced by people. My motivation for 2019 is therefore to help create tech solutions which are both cool and useful.
I will meet people and understand their needs, collaborate, and discuss together for solutions and deliver business-IT alignment that adds value to their operations. This would also be a valuable time for me to gain in-depth exposure in the role of GovTech in digitally serving the agencies and the nation.
What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?
It would be the curiosity to try out different things. I have interest in both technologies and people. While I like to be confined to my desk doing development work, there are days where I enjoy observing/meeting people and learning about their individual differences. It is normal for me to think about what can be done to improve my team’s dynamics and ensure a healthy relationship among us to work better together. This is one of the reasons why I’m a Scrum Master in my team.
What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?
As technology advancements continue to progress, I hope that technology will be more inclusive for everyone and have a greater outreach around the globe. Such advancements will improve lives for the betterment of the world – be it world peace, eradicating poverty and much more.
Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?
Definitely coffee. That wonderful brew is one of life’s greatest gifts! I consider it a vital potion that perks me up in the morning and keeps me energised throughout the day. As a Software Engineer, I literally convert caffeine into source codes in my daily activities.
Other than coffee, the environment plays a major role in keeping me motivated. Most of the time, coming to work every day doesn’t feel like a chore because of three reasons: the culture, people and purpose.
If you’ve been to our office, you would see that the workspace here has no barriers/dividers at all. This is to cultivate an open and positive environment which encourages learning and collaborations with one another. The strong support system from my peers and supervisors helps to create a safe environment for me to do my best and learn from my mistakes.
Last but not least, knowing that my work actually has a positive impact on the nation gives me a sense of purpose and fulfilment. It is wonderful to know that, while I am pursuing my passion, I am simultaneously improving and contributing back to the society.