Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, IDA Singapore
Women in GovTech 2015 Special Report.
Tell us about your background. How did you get to where you are now?
I have been in the civil service for about 17 years, beginning with the Ministry of Defence. My next posting was to the Scenario Planning office under the Prime Minister’s Office, so I became a futurist and met interesting people around the world, who shared insights on driving forces and trends that would affect Singapore in the long run. Then I went on to the Ministry of Finance for five years before heading to the Ministry of Manpower to deal with workplace issues.
My first touch point with technology was through my university friends, because back then Computer Science was a very hot subject. In fact, that was in the run-up to the dotcom boom. Some of them had chosen to go to Silicon Valley. It was all very exciting. It was in that spirit of adventure that I first came to know the National Computer Board in the 1990s.
Later, IDA was formed in 1999 and at that time I remember thinking it was an extremely progressive statutory board, in terms of the things they were working on. Hence, when I was asked by the Chairman of IDA to join two years ago, I said yes, because I felt I could contribute to IDA while benefiting from the learning opportunities. Till today, I continue to find IDA’s appetite for innovation interesting and every day has been a refreshing one.
Why did you decide to join the public sector?
I have always felt that you can make a difference in public service – especially in Singapore. It is a worthwhile and meaningful occupation.
I am proud to belong to one of the best bureaucracies in the world. In my years with the Singapore Government, I found it very easy to bring about change, develop policies, improve operations and change mind-sets.
What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?
I found every one of my stints interesting. I was fortunate to have a certain degree of autonomy in my work, and this made a difference. Work has always been interesting, and I also try to make it interesting for the people I work with.
What is the toughest challenge that you have had to face and overcome in your career?
My work in IDA began with a baptism of fire. The week before I joined, there was an outage in the government email system. This incident made its way to the main papers. As a result, we had to accelerate the migration of a brand new and newly design operating environment in a very short period of time.
Besides that, many things in the telecoms space were new to me - machine learning, and internet of things and basic enterprise IP. Even so, my IDA team and I worked closely to solve issues. In less than 18 months, we managed to build, design and migrate to a new system that we had architected for the whole of government ICT infrastructure.
What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in GovTech?
I am very passionate and interested in technology, despite not having a background in tech. I have come to a conclusion that it is a very suitable field for women to be in, and in fact, naturally excel at – such as user experience design.
Also, when we conduct Code@SG classes or other workshops for STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) education, girls outnumber boys, and generally perform better. It’s only at the higher levels that you see men dominating the positions. For every 10 professionals in the ICT sector, 7 are men and 3 are women. And this is quite similar to many other sectors in the developed world. There are many software and ICT companies which believe strongly in diversity.
That said, we have an equal number of men and female here in IDA and there is a large female representation in the Government CIO Council.
My advice is really for more women to explore STEM. We want to see the girl who grows up in the robotics club to become a female CIO. Take risks and believe in innovation.
And finally, how do you like to unwind after a long week at the office?
I think people take work-life balance differently. For some people, their work is their life. It can be very fulfilling and in IDA, we work with many passionate entrepreneurs for whom that can be necessarily the case.
I personally like to work intensely over a period of time and then take some time off without having to worry about work. I sometimes spend my time cooking (a wide range of cuisines both Asian and Western) and play sports like tennis, and my latest passion, Zumba.