Exclusive: Ho Shuet Ying, Director, Digital Hub, DSTA, on being featured in 2023’s SG 100 Women in Tech

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

Ho Shuet Ying, a digital leader in Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), shares her tech journey and her perspectives on tech in government with GovInsider.

Ho Shuet Ying, a tech leader in Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency, has been featured in the biennial Singapore 100 Women in Tech list this year.

This month, the Singapore Computer Society and the Infocomm Media Development Authority unveiled the third edition of the biennial Singapore 100 Women in Tech (SG100WIT) list, which aims to celebrate outstanding women who have contributed significantly to the tech community.


This year’s list is notable for being the first list to include tech policy-makers and regulators alongside professionals from sectors such as semiconductors, aeronautics, AI, and quantum technology, as well as a Girls in Tech category to honour young women in the field.


In an introductory video, President Halimah Yacob – Singapore’s first female president – lauded these women and said, “These exceptional women and girls have shaped Singapore’s tech industry and driven us towards becoming a Smart Nation. Their achievements and innovative spirit have inspired countless others in the industry.”


GovInsider speaks to Ms Ho Shuet Ying, Director, Digital Hub at the country’s Defence Science and Technology Agency, about being featured in this year’s list, on her tech journey and about her perspectives on tech in government. 


1.  Congratulations on your recognition in the SG100WIT list! What were your initial thoughts and feelings upon receiving this news? 


Thank you. It is an honour to be recognised and listed among Singapore’s 100 Women in Tech.


I am truly humbled upon receiving the news. I am most grateful to DSTA, the organisation that I have been part of since 2000, for giving me the space to grow and expand my knowledge and skill sets, as well as my colleagues for their strong support as we work towards the goal of safeguarding our nation’s defence.


2.   Could you share your tech journey with us? How did you get started with tech, and how has your approach evolved over time?


My journey in tech started in 2000 as a network engineer, where I focused on building up cyber capabilities for defence. I led efforts to establish the Secure Software Development Life Cycle framework to ensure cybersecurity through the various stages of software design, development, deployment and maintenance. The framework has resulted in better-designed software applications that are more resilient to cyberattacks. 


I did a two-year stint from 2008 to 2010 in defence technology collaboration, where I drove strategic relationships with industry partners, before returning to the cyber domain to continue building cyber capabilities and solutions for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and DSTA. Recognising that cyber threats are not just restricted to IT systems, my team also broke new ground to deliver cybersecurity solutions to protect critical infrastructure, communication systems and unmanned aerial systems from cyberattacks.


Apart from cybersecurity, DSTA has provided me with plenty of opportunities to work in other technology areas in information, digital strategy, artificial intelligence, data analytics, modelling and simulation, and design thinking and user experience. This has helped me keep up with the rapid pace of change in the digital tech industry, while honing my interests.


In addition to defence research and projects, I also believe in the importance of nurturing the next generation of technologists. In 2022 and 2023, I co-led the Organising Committee for DSTA’s BrainHack, an annual learning festival meant to engage students (aged 15 to 24) in digital technology topics.


3. How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your concurrent roles in DSTA, and your role in driving the adoption of tech in Singapore’s defence capabilities.


DSTA harnesses science and technology to enhance the SAF’s capabilities as a formidable fighting force. We also contribute our multidisciplinary expertise in areas ranging from cybersecurity and systems engineering to procurement and protective technology, in support of national-level developments.


In my current role as Director, Digital Hub, at DSTA, I am responsible for charting out the roadmap of AI experimentation and development for transformative capabilities for the SAF.


I also lead the DevSecOps and software engineering teams in our quest to deliver quality software and applications at scale and in an agile manner. Last but not least, my design innovation and user experience team also works closely with project teams (both internally within DSTA and externally with the SAF) to adopt a user-centric approach to problem-solving and creating innovation solutions.


With a fast-moving tech landscape and constantly evolving operational environment, there is always a need to search for new ways to co-create solutions with our SAF partners to meet defence needs rapidly. I thus spearheaded the setting up of the Imagine Future Centre (IFC) – a collaborative space that allows technologists and operators to come together to explore new possibilities, and develop new warfighting concepts and solutions for next-generation systems.


4.    What are some of the current and upcoming projects that you can tell us about? What is your style when it comes to getting things done?


My team of software engineers have been hard at work the past two years, working on projects in computer vision to see faster and further, natural language processing to read, digest and organise huge amounts of data, and AI-powered robotic systems for hazardous operations. We are excited to get it fielded and rolled out for our users from the SAF.


While we transform digital capabilities for the SAF, we are also embarking on our own digital transformation at DSTA. My team is also building a development platform that will reduce manual work and improve efficiency for our community of software engineers in DSTA. Streamlining workflows and processes will also facilitate collaboration with the SAF. 


As for my style, I believe in harnessing the power of teams to get things done. My usual modus operandi is to generate buy-in and commitment from the team, communicate the goal and broad direction to my team, empower them and give them the space to do their work. Everyone has something unique to offer – I want to create an environment where my team can thrive, be confident and take ownership of their work. I also believe in an open-door policy, where anyone can walk in to chat, or raise issues and concerns.


5.   What key principles guide your approach in developing DSTA’s digital strategy and approach to tech adoption?


DSTA’s digital strategy is centred on people, technology and building an innovative culture.


Our people are our greatest asset. This is why we are constantly investing in them, providing them with the necessary training to hone and grow their digital competencies.  


We also keep a constant watch on technology developments to identify those that we could adopt in our development and solutioning. With the rapid pace of digitalisation and the adoption of dual-use technologies in the military realm, we have to be agile to incorporate commercial and open-source technologies to stay ahead and maintain technological superiority.


Lastly, I think that any idea, no matter how small, has the potential to be great. Within DSTA, we encourage innovation at all levels throughout the organisation. There are multiple avenues and sources of funding where staff can initiate projects if they have an idea they wish to pursue.


6.     Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?


The hidden figures who made significant contributions in advancing space exploration in America, namely Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.


It’s inspiring how despite all odds, they believed in themselves and fought against naysayers, racial and gender discrimination to each contribute in their own ways to space exploration.


7.     What advice do you have for young women who want to excel in the tech sector, especially in traditionally male-dominated areas like defence technology?


Follow your heart and passion. Do what you like to do and work will not feel like work! Do not be afraid to embrace new opportunities and volunteer to take on challenges. They are great learning opportunities, and will open doors to new paths and possibilities.


Lastly, build your own support system at home and at work, because these are the anchors that will support you during challenging times.


The interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.