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Ready to byte into the brave new digital world?

These grads are ready to byte into the brave new world with sought-after positions in the digital economy
by Foo Jie Ying

Alicia Lim

A French philosopher once wrote that clouds help us dream of transformation. They still do, but we are not talking about the puffy ones gliding above our heads.

Welcome to a brave new digital world of work, where clouds refer to networks of remote servers, lakes are actually data repositories, and an Apple is the smartphone nestled in your palm.

Much like how the iPhone in 2007 upended the PC market and gave birth to a new industry of app development, the fourth industrial revolution is shaping the economy into one that is more global, technology-driven and flexible, and where traditional jobs are hollowed out by robots and automation.

Little wonder that more NTU graduating students like Alicia Lim are switching gears to pursue careers in the digital economy instead.

She had planned to work in the media industry, but an entrepreneurship and start-up bug she caught while studying at NTU’s communication and information school led her to her territory sales account manager job at Amazon Web Services, an on-demand cloud computing platform which counts global brands like Expedia and Airbnb as clients.

What set the wheels in motion for the communication graduate was realising that technology has the power to cause tsunami-like shifts.

Says Alicia: “I’ve always been reading about start-ups and other technology-related news, and that really shaped my interest. It’s an ever-changing landscape, and I’m always curious to find out more.”

Johan Kok

Johan Kok, who is graduating from NTU’s dual-degree Renaissance Engineering Programme, can relate to that. The data engineer at ride-hailing platform Grab engineered his move into computer science after coming down with a technology fever during his year-long exchange at University of California, Berkeley.

“In Berkeley, there’s a lot of hype around computer science – my university is near Silicon Valley after all. I realised that computer science was a good platform for people to build creative ideas at very low cost,” he says.

With knowledge and experience gained from working on a few artificial intelligence projects and hackathons, Johan nailed a real-time pricing mechanism in two weeks as part of his interview with Grab. Needless to say, he got the job.

“I do hope that one day, I can create a technology-driven solution that solves a pain point in society, and use this idea to form a start-up,” says Johan, who was in NTU’s URECA, a programme for undergraduates to get deep hands-on research experience.

You need to be open-minded, react fast to changes, and be ready to learn continuously.

Yeo Lee Guan

The allure of tech companies and high-potential startups may stem partly from their well-documented employee benefits, like overflowing pantries, free massages and even subsidised gym memberships. “The pantry in Grab is probably better stocked than a lot of kitchens at home,” Johan quips.

The main draw, however, lies in the job’s rigour and dynamic work environment of these newer companies, say the NTU graduates.

At e-commerce platform Shopee, where Yeo Lee Guan works as a business development consultant, this means planning for a promotional campaign only at 5pm for the next day.

“This is unlikely to happen in huge corporate companies,” says the graduating Renaissance Engineering Programme student, who has done internships at Rolls-Royce and SIA engineering. “At Shopee, every day is about having fun while working hard together.”

For Dylan Tan, there is an additional perk to working at Facebook – he is living out his childhood fascination with science and technology.

“Working in Facebook also means I get to interact with the best and brightest all around the world,” says the fresh NTU electrical and electronic engineering graduate who has a minor in entrepreneurship.

But as with new adventures, the unknown often comes with, quite literally, some technical glitches. Johan’s first few months in Grab were spent catching up on the latest technologies Grab uses.

Dylan Tan

“Grab draws on open-sourced technologies that were new to me, and I had to spend the first few months brushing up on new core concepts. I’m glad to have really experienced and helpful colleagues who guided me along the way,” he says.

Alicia recalls having to watch video tutorials on loop and reading about the Amazon Web Services cloud so she could understand its infrastructure and basic architectural principles. Never quite a “numbers person”, she also struggled initially with the huge volumes of data to process.

That’s where the NTU training comes in handy. Adaptability and problem-solving, the graduating students say, are just some of the transferable skills they have picked up from their time in university.

Says Alicia: “The eye-opening overseas opportunities and exposure that I had as a student helped me step out of my comfort zone. I might not have realised it back then, but my two internships, at The Walt Disney Company in Singapore and integrated advertising agency Havas Worldwide in Shanghai, taught me about how different markets work. I am able to draw on this knowledge since Amazon operates on a global scale.”

Dylan, who now handles Facebook’s clients in the Australia and New Zealand markets, adds: “What’s more useful than book knowledge is picking up thought processes and frameworks that are transferable to any role. NTU really honed my ability to think critically, which is essential in any demanding role.”

While robots will not take over the world yet – at least not in Singapore, which is ranked one of the top tech-ready economies in a 2018 study by the Economist Intelligence Unit – only those who can constantly adapt and catch up with the latest technologies will survive in this age of digital Darwinism.

As Lee Guan puts it: “You need to be open-minded, react fast to changes, and be ready to learn continuously.”

It’s no rocket science.