F or Claudia Kho, Lee Xun Yong and Yap Lin Hui, the choice was clear when it came to choosing their career paths. While they are at different points of their career, they share the same feelings about their time at the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO National Laboratories (DSO).
Growing up, Claudia had a variety of interests ranging from music to languages, but was not particularly inclined towards math or science. Her interest was only piqued after she was introduced to the Raspberry Pi, which inspired her to explore programming on her own, starting with Python since “it is known to be the simplest for new programmers”. She also explored online forums to learn more about the various engineering fields available.
The DSTA Scholarship Tea Session would prove to be instrumental in her decision to take up the scholarship, as she was deeply impressed by the sharings and demonstrations. “I found out about the many opportunities available to a DSTA scholar such as studying at world-class universities, the Global Internship Programme and more. The engineers whom I spoke with that day were also very passionate about their work, and told me that knowledge and ideas were shared freely in the organisation,” she recounts.
But what really struck her was the importance of engineering in the context of Singapore’s defence effort and how it involves the integration of many diverse engineering and infocomm technology fields such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, machine learning, Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality. “I felt that DSTA kept up with tech advances and I wanted to do engineering work in a place like that!”
Claudia was set on applying for the DSTA Scholarship. “The scholarship interviewers were genuinely interested in getting to know more about my experiences and interests,” she says. “After the interview, I also had the chance to visit and talk to some of the engineers at DSTA. This further solidified my decision, as I saw that the workspaces were conducive and the people were very welcoming.”
Claudia soon learnt that it was not a one-off experience as her scholarship officers kept in touch throughout her semesters at Carnegie Mellon University and she received regular updates on the latest happenings within the organisation. While still in the midst of her bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, she has already gained valuable experiences as an intern at DSTA, where she applied her newly acquired skills to develop a speech-to-text tool for military training.
After completing her degree, Claudia is interested in creating new solutions that have a lasting impact on the quality of Singapore’s defence. Particularly, she is interested in high-performance computing, which involves optimising software so that it runs faster, or uses fewer resources. This is essential for developing efficient machine learning programmes. Ever eager to learn, her interests do not stop there: “I hope to work on more projects in the hardware area of high-performance computing, which involves register-transfer level and silicon optimisation, either at school or through another internship at DSTA! If possible, I think it would be really fun to design my own chip architectures.”
Her advice to aspiring scholars? “It is very important to be clear about the job scope that you will be doing and to ensure that your interests are aligned with it. This will help you decide if a career as a defence engineer is a good choice for you!”
For Xun Yong, the choice was clear as well. “The DSTA Scholarship represented many exciting opportunities – studying at top universities, exploring a wide range of technical areas for a career, and contributing to Singapore’s defence and security. It was easy to make a decision after weighing out the benefits of the scholarship,” he says.
Working with The Best
Like Claudia, he has no doubt that the scholarship has given him an education beyond comparison. His time at Imperial College London introduced him to a wide range of engineering fields such as control engineering, software engineering and robotics, while his master’s degree armed him with industry applications and experience: “I was also able to take up a Master of Science in Mobile and Satellite Communications from the University of Surrey, UK, which had established good working relations with major satellite industry players such as Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, Airbus and more. There were ample opportunities for me to learn from senior industry leaders who spoke at seminars, and to collaborate with the industry for my master’s thesis project.”
Xun Yong also had the opportunity to participate in DSTA’s Global Internship Programme, where he was attached to MBDA Missile Systems in France for a month. “My mentor, an expert in Guidance, Control, and Navigation, also taught me more about how Control Engineering is applied in the algorithms that control a missile’s autopilot system,” he adds. During other summer vacations, he explored a wide range of technical areas and learnt about analytics and datalinks as an intern at DSTA and DSO.
A New Space Paradigm
These days, Xun Yong is a Senior Engineer at DSTA’s Air Systems Programme Centre, where he supports government agencies through satellite technologies. This includes haze monitoring, air crash search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. “It is an exciting time to be in the space industry as the whole industry is undergoing a tremendous evolution, which we have termed ‘New Space’. Investments are shifting the economics and use-cases in this field, driving increased access to space, spurring rapid technological advances, and lowering costs and time to develop small satellites,” says Xun Yong. He hopes to be able to lead a programme to deliver new and advanced satellite solutions to improve support for government agencies, and beyond that, have a leading role in creating next-generation solutions.
“The DSTA Scholarship gave me the opportunity to pursue a world-class education in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Satellite Engineering which has served as a solid technical background in my daily work, and also enabled me to continue growing on the job,” he reflects. In his years on the job, he also developed skillsets in other domains such as cybersecurity, system engineering, project management, and leadership.
“There is a wide scope of interesting and challenging work available at DSTA with opportunities to scope out the latest technology areas such as Internet of Things, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity,” he says, pointing out the countless possibilities for those interested in science and technology. “You should also have a deep desire to contribute back to the public service and Singapore and of course, find the best engineering and technological solutions for Singapore’s defence and security,” he advises.
An Early Start
Lin Hui is a Defence Engineer from the Sensors Division of DSO, working on satellite systems. Her journey to DSO started as early as Secondary Three, after her exposure to Quantum Mechanics under the Young Defence Scientists Programme. She furthered her interest through a related project with DSO on Quantum Entanglement and while in Junior College, she worked on another research project with DSTA under Research@YDSP. It was through these experiences that she was first introduced to DSO’s “friendly working environment”.
It seemed inevitable that their paths will cross again, and it did. “I’ve actually never planned to do satellite systems,” she explains. “Back then, I was looking to continue my specialisation in embedded systems and firmware programming, which was my field of study at university. Coincidentally, the Space Systems Programme in DSO was looking to hire someone with this skill set and, after learning more about the programme, I found the projects relevant and interesting, so here I am!” she exclaims.
(Re)united We Stand
Thus, Lin Hui became reacquainted with DSTA/ DSO, who gave her many opportunities to build her skillsets and experience. “I completed an internship with the C3 (Command, Control and Communications) Development Programme Centre in DSTA. My time at DSTA included helping out in the development of a maritime surveillance software and picking up a new programming language, C++,” Lin Hui elaborates.
Learning how the technology development process and reviews worked was instrumental in preparing her for her current role: building a research payload that will be launched into low Earth orbit and exploring new techniques and creating technologies for use in future space missions. Along with assistance from her seniors, she was able to pick up the relevant skills and concepts quickly. “Thankfully, I have wonderful colleagues who will, out of their own work time, conduct weekly sessions to teach us about these technical concepts,” she says. Within the first year, she and her team were tasked to put together a ship-targeting Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR), despite her lack of experience. But with help from senior engineers, her team managed to integrate an old radar with a new, non-compatible module and managed to test and validate the new technology.
A Career Like No Other
“The projects that are done in DSO and DSTA are unlike research in universities or other research organisations,” says Lin Hui. “Here, Research & Development is done to solve specific problems faced by our stakeholders, that impact our national security. My advice (to students) would be to read up on defence technologies or defence-related problems to broaden your perspective and better understand our work. There is a wide variety of career opportunities that are available to DSTA scholars. The projects handled by DSTA and DSO span across multiple disciplines and, hence, require expertise from various fields. Even within my department, there are engineers doing software, hardware, firmware, mechanical and even thermal design.”
For Lin Hui, the sky is literally no longer the limit as she hopes to make her own breakthrough someday: “My personal dream would be to one day come up with my own technology and see it through from the fundamental stages of research to the final development and to launch it on a satellite!”