Kam Yoke May, Deputy Director, Engineering Productivity, GovTech, Singapore

By Sean Nolan

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

The launch of Immigration & Checkpoints Authority’s Safe Travel Portal to facilitate the Singapore-Malaysia Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) has been a huge morale booster to citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders, allowing them to finally reunite with family members after the easing of a prolonged 20 months of border restrictions since March 2020. The VTL is intended to support up to 2,880 travellers a day, with 1,440 travellers in each direction.

Some of the APIs powering the ICA portal are backed by APEX, which is a Whole-of-Government API Exchange (APEX), to enable sharing of data cross-agencies. APEX is one of the flagship products in the Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS) suite, which I’m overseeing as a system owner. This platform is supported by my team under Government Digital Services, and product-managed by Core Operations Development Environment and eXchange (CODEX).

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

ALL the SGTS projects I work on are impactful 😉, so it would not be justified to the rest if I were to  name just one. But if I have to make a hard choice among our other flagship products such as APEX, Developer Portal, and the SG Design System, then it would be the Container Stack (CStack).

CStack is a cloud-based container hosting platform running off the Government Commercial Cloud (GCC). The idea started brewing in late 2018 with a casual chat with Hunter Neil and Gregor Hohpe (when Gregor was still with GovTech as a Distinguished Engineer), and the conversation subsequently evolved into the four-leaf clover diagram (Communications, Toolchain, Runtime, Monitoring) commonly associated with the SGTS base layer of products.

CStack is not simply a platform built by the team, it is also packed with fond memories which (the team and) I have and still occasionally talk about till this day - the numerous white-boarding sessions and discussions, embedded with fun and laughter – that felt more like casual get-togethers than meetings (I sure miss those pre-Covid-19 days!).

Having gone MVP in May 2021, the sweetest fruit and most impactful event for CStack was the launch of the ThankYouCher portal by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Aug 2021. This portal has enabled students, teachers and parents to send virtual appreciation notes to one another amidst Covid-19 restrictions on reduced physical interactions. The ThankYouCher portal was also officiated by the President at the Istana during Teachers’ Day this year.

While Covid-19 restrictions might have confined some people to a smaller perimeter of movement, they definitely have not deterred interactions among the education industry, and this is made possible by CStack which has enabled an alternative avenue of communication. Following the success of the ThankYouCher portal, MOE swiftly rolled out another ProudOfP6ers portal in a span of about 2 months to allow parents, students and teachers to send words of encouragement to the graduating cohort of Primary 6 students.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

We had an incident with APEX which resulted in disruption to numerous services across various agencies. How we worked to resolve the issue was a clear demonstration of the One-GovTech spirit. Teams from different divisions got together, garnered support and worked through days and nights to bring the services back online. I’m an advocate of teams that have weathered through enough storms, as they tend to stick together and soldier on under challenging times when there is a right level of support. I have truly witnessed The GovTech Way - how different teams work together towards a common goal.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

For me, every single day is filled with at least a favourite memory! There will be times when we feel at our lowest, and other times at our peak. But these are what constitute memories. It may probably be age *grin* but I’m appreciating the little things in life – observing a drop of dew rolling off a leaf in the early morning, enjoying the splatter of raindrops against the window panes, and even munching a butter toast served with a cuppa nicely brewed kopi (local coffee) for breakfast would keep me happy for the rest of a day.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

Not so much work-related, but more of a personal interest. As an athlete in my younger days, short-and mid-distance sprints were a breeze. With age catching up, the amount of energy needed to propel speed and momentum wanes. I’ve since taken to long distance running, and am still exploring and finding the right breathing technique to adjust to my running pace in order to stretch the distance covered. I hope to cover a full marathon in 2 years’ time.

What are your priorities for 2022?

Professionally, it would be to roll out an API Marketplace for the whole of Government to enable central discovery and drive the reusability of APIs. This is part of a larger overarching API Strategy for the whole of Government, to drive up the adoption of APIs and at the same time to provide guidelines for developers to create APIs in a more consistent manner.
In the present state, with so many similar API portals spun up and still spinning up across the Government, there is a vital need to provide a central API Marketplace as a single point of entry to streamline users’ experience to discover and adopt APIs easily. While engineering and tools can help to enable the wider adoption of APIs, what really matters is having the right mindset to start thinking from the users’ perspectives and recognise their needs.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

That will be David Walker (Group CTO of Westpac Bank) and Sonia Wedrychowicz (Partner at McKinsey & Co). Both have been instrumental in guiding me in my earlier career in the banking sector, and enabled me to understand the essence and importance of reaching a goal (be it in life or work) which is not so much about the goal itself, but the journey to reach there and the people we meet and work with along the journey.

I have also seen from their lenses that we tend to lose sight of a bigger picture when we start sweating over the smaller things. So while life is not all rosy, just be comfortable in your own skin and stay positive, things will somehow work out.

What gets you up in the morning?

On weekdays, it’s the thought (and of course getting to it!) of having a quiet 15-min breakfast and reading the news, before starting a full day of work and meetings. That’s probably the only short “me” time I have before the family gets to me after a day’s work. 😊

On weekends, bouncing off the bed at 5am for a good 10-20km run. It’s free, easy and all I need is a pair of running shoes to start off, yet it takes me through a long but peaceful path in the early hours of the morning, allowing me time to reflect on the past week’s events and think through the following week’s activities. Of course after all the sweat, a sumptuous breakfast with the family ensues!