Left: Koh Yi Sheng manages a team that leverages emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing in his role as Development Programme Manager at DSTA. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical and Electronic Engineering as well as a Master of Science in Computer Science, both from Imperial College London.
Middle: DSTA Scholar Toh Wei Xiong is currently pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Right: Phyllis Poh researches cybersecurity tools and techniques as a Member of Technical Staff / Defence Research Engineer at DSO. She has a Master in Information Engineering from Cambridge University.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) usually come to mind when “defence” is mentioned. However, just as pivotal to our nation's security is the work done by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).
DSTA's mandate is to deliver leading-edge technological and engineering solutions to meet the defence and national security needs of Singapore. The organisation's multidisciplinary nature of work spans from capability development, to digital and cyber solutions, to the sustainment of weapon systems throughout their life cycle, to ensure that the SAF is ready to deter any threats.
Similarly, DSO National Laboratories (DSO) supports Singapore's security via its extensive research and development of cutting-edge defence technologies. To put things into perspective, DSO looks into 50 research areas across the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.
Providing further insight into DSTA and DSO are scholars Koh Yi Sheng, Toh Wei Xiong and Phyllis Poh.
Yi Sheng, 29 years old, is a Development Programme Manager at DSTA who manages a team that leverages emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing. 22-year-old Wei Xiong is currently pursuing Electrical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States, and will be expected to apply his knowledge in robotics upon his return to DSTA. Phyllis, 23 years old, is a Defence Research Engineer at DSO specialising in cybersecurity.
You chose to accept the DSTA Scholarship when there were other options out there. What led to the decision?
Yi Sheng: During my time in National Service, I learnt to operate the Leopard 2SG Main Battle Tank, and the experience allowed me to see how technology is a force multiplier for the SAF. I have always been interested in science and technology, and I felt that joining DSTA would be an excellent way for me to contribute to the greater good of the country while also furthering my interests.
Phyllis: I believe that defence is where the most cutting-edge research and development in technology happens, so the DSTA Scholarship was a good choice for me. When it came to choosing which organisation to apply to, from my experience in DSO during the internship, I knew that this was a place where people constantly sought to push the boundaries of science and technology for meaningful work. This was just the sort of environment that I was very eager to work in.
Wei Xiong: DSTA applies science and technology to augment MINDEF and the SAF's ability to defend Singapore. This mission aligned with my aspirations of developing cutting-edge technologies to address the problems that we face. I am also deeply fascinated by robots from a young age. As robots become more intelligent, they could play an important role in the nation's defence. The opportunity to incorporate these smart machines into our defence force appealed to me the most when I was considering which scholarship to take up.
Wei Xiong, you are currently studying for a degree in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, US. How has the experience been for you so far?
Wei Xiong: My university experience thus far has been very fulfilling. Pursuing a degree in another country so far away from home means that I have to learn to be independent and adapt quickly. It has also forced me to step out of my comfort zone on several occasions. Being reserved naturally, I knew I had to speak up more so that I would learn more from our interactions and make more friends at university. Although such experiences may appear to be harrowing at first, they allow for personal growth by letting me understand myself better.
Being a student also gave you an opportunity to intern back at DSTA. Was that the case for you, Yi Sheng?
Yi Sheng: Yes. During the summer break after my second year at Imperial College London, I had the opportunity to intern at DSTA's Land Systems Programme Centre, where I learnt more about the Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Technology (C4IT) systems used in the Army. I also got the chance to experience how DSTA works with different stakeholders involved in the development process.
Phyllis, how was your transition to DSO upon graduating from Cambridge University?
Phyllis: I come from a background in Information Engineering studying information theory, communications, and machine learning, so going into cybersecurity was a very refreshing experience. While this meant that I brought with me different perspectives and was able to combine techniques like machine learning with cybersecurity, it also meant that I had to put in constant effort to keep myself updated in the field.
Having interned in DSO before, the transition was relatively smooth. My former mentors are now colleagues, and have, as always, been extremely approachable and helpful with getting me settled in. I already was familiar with them and DSO, so it was basically like returning to continue my internship, except that I am a bona fide staff member now!
Can you tell us more about your role and responsibilities?
Yi Sheng: As a Development Programme Manager, I manage a team of developers that harnesses emerging technologies to automate processes and enable data-driven decision making. We build systems to automate data analysis that would otherwise take hours or days to complete, and add metrics that can help quantify insights for better decision making. As part of my work, I frequently spar ideas with MINDEF/SAF counterparts, and work together closely to explore how technology can be best applied to benefit the SAF.
Phyllis: As a defence research engineer in DSO's Computer Security Lab, I conduct research and develop methods and tools to help strengthen Singapore's cybersecurity systems. In a rising age of information and technology, keeping Singapore's systems (and the data kept within) safe from intruders is especially important. Thus, it's essential to prevent incidents like leaks and hacks, which compromise the security of our data.
Wei Xiong, how are you looking to apply what you have learned to your work with DSTA in the future?
Wei Xiong: I aspire to build intelligent, robust and useful robots in the future to help the SAF. In particular, I am interested in developing autonomous robots that can collaborate with other robots to achieve a common goal. I take pride in being part of a team that employs technology to improve the lives of others, and look forward to working with other talented and like-minded engineers in developing solutions to tackle the challenges faced by our defence force.
How is the work culture at DSTA and DSO?
Yi Sheng: Innovation is a big part of our culture, so learning and technical proficiencies are highly emphasised. Our colleagues are very open to sharing technical insights, and there are many opportunities to attend courses internally and externally. We even have a dedicated DSTA Academy to facilitate our learning! Our management empowers us, with policies such as flexible working hours and career development plan reviews, to ensure that we are meaningfully engaged in our work.
Phyllis: In the Computer Security Lab where I work, teamwork is a big thing, and there's this emphasis on constantly learning and challenging ourselves to reach further. So there's a lot of teaching and sharing of useful resources, and interesting discussions on the latest in science and technology. It's very encouraging!
Finally, why should aspiring scholars join DSTA or DSO?
Yi Sheng: At DSTA, we work on practical and innovative solutions to provide the technological edge for our nation's defence and security. I derive a lot of satisfaction from being able to do hands-on work, and seeing our solutions operationalised. There are also many opportunities here for you to hone our technical competencies through multidisciplinary work, as well as milestone courses along the way to grow leadership skills.
Wei Xiong: Apply to be a DSTA scholar because the work we do is meaningful, and you will play a role in developing state-of-the-art systems for our country. You will also be fully supported by the DSTA Scholarship Office during your studies, and gain first-hand experience in various technological areas through internships offered under the scholarship programme!
Phyllis: If you've got a passion for research and development, and want opportunities to express your own creativity and critical thinking skills, DSO is the place for you! Here, we constantly encourage staff to dream big, and proposing intriguing ideas that contribute to giving Singapore's defence its technological edge is rewarded.