25 May 2018: Using technology to do good: Yale-NUS graduates head into the technology sector

By Regina Marie Lee | Images by Yasunari Watanabe

The technology sector is one of the industries that students from the Class of 2018 are going into after graduation. For Yong Kai Yi (Class of 2018, in photo above), this was an unexpected journey as she had originally intended to major in Literature or Psychology. “The fact that I’m here at all and going into any kind of technology-related role is not what I, or my friends and family, would have envisioned for me four years ago. I was in the arts stream in junior college and failed math all the way through,” said Kai, who will be joining the user trust team at Grab as a data scientist. Grab is a Singapore-based firm offering ride-hailing transport services, food delivery and payment solutions.

After some exposure to math again in the Common Curriculum course, Quantitative Reasoning, she felt her interest piqued and decided to take some Computer Science courses. “The course was called ‘Introduction to Computing and Programming for All’, so I thought, hey, I could do it too.” She persisted through initial struggles and did well, going on to major in Mathematical, Computational and Statistical Sciences (MCS). Kai said that the Yale-NUS environment, where students can have diverse interests and are not restricted by an artificial “arts” and “science” divide, empowered her to explore MCS and develop a liking for it.

It was not an easy road, admitted Kai, who said she often felt like she was playing catch-up. “I spent my entire junior year taking all the classes I could and overloading. Everyone seemed as though they knew programming already and I felt like I was really behind. But after junior year and an internship, I felt more confident academically and career-wise,” she said.

At Grab, Kai is looking forward to being pushed out of her comfort zone and gaining technical skills. She interned with Grab in end-2017 and enjoyed the dynamic and challenging work. “It was like nothing I had done before, as the company is growing really fast and there are always new challenges,” she said.

Also an MCS major, Aaron Ong (Class of 2018, in photo below) is heading to Shopee, an e-commerce platform, to work as a back-end engineer in the core systems team. While he was set on working in the technology sector when he entered Yale-NUS, he developed a specific interest in software engineering over time.

Aaron said a large part of his learning was through taking the initiative to do freelance work, internships and hackathons. “The courses are good for providing the fundamentals, such as how to optimise algorithms and think about software-related problems. But you have to look outside the coursework if you are interested in the engineering parts that the curriculum does not cover,” he said. For example, he found opportunities to develop software on a freelance paid basis, learning how to work with user needs.

Hackathons with peers at Yale-NUS were his first opportunities at exploring software engineering. Working in a team helped him learn to write code that could be shared with others, said Aaron. “My takeaway from Yale-NUS is quite intangible. I learnt how to manage a high workload and communicate better, which is important as the role of a technologist is becoming increasingly communication-based,” he said.

Evan Ma (Class of 2018, in photo below) is also heading into a technology role, with a business element, at GSK, a global pharmaceutical and healthcare company. There, he will use technology to improve consumer healthcare as part of GSK’s Business and Technology Future Leader Programme (FLP).

Evan said his interest in GSK grew after speaking with professionals in the healthcare industry. “The vision they had for healthcare in the future made me optimistic about how emerging technologies could be used to make an impact,” said Evan, who is an MCS major as well. During the interview process, he got to understand the “complexities of managing difficult situations in healthcare” and felt he could make an impact by being in healthcare.

Evan said he was looking forward to using the knowledge from school to facilitate big impact in healthcare through the smart and contextual use of technology. He said, “Health problems are so invasive, and there are many possibilities to use technology to either mitigate or to pinpoint sources of the problem.”

Making meaningful change is important to Evan. “During my time at Yale-NUS, one of my core philosophies is how we can be ‘responsible citizens in the 21st century’, to quote Founding President Pericles Lewis,” he said. “Responsible means I understand my place in the institutions I’m in, and think critically about what it means to work towards a common understanding of what is good and which groups of people I’m potentially benefitting or alienating,” he added.