The personal journeys of this year’s IT Leader Award winners have been as rich and varied as the opportunities afforded by their chosen industry. Organised by the Singapore Computer Society (SCS), the awards seek to recognise the achievements of IT practitioners and provide role models for the industry. This year’s awards were presented by Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, at the SCS Gala Dinner on 4 March 2011.
Mr Lee Kwok Cheong: Perhaps you can see me as an example of someone coming from another place and integrating well here.
IT Hall of Fame
For IT Hall of Fame honoraree Adjunct Professor Lee Kwok Cheong, the IT journey began in his native Hong Kong in 1983, when he was head-hunted to help kick-start Singapore’s national computerisation programme. Over the years, he has witnessed many of the key turning points in the country’s IT history.
When he first arrived, there were only 800 IT professionals in the whole of Singapore, recalled Mr Lee. But shortage of manpower was to be no obstacle to the country’s ambitious plans to become a regional software centre. Recounting the early years in a past interview, he said, “We were a young bunch. We kept pushing. When we achieved something, we would look for something else to push. In that way, we moved the Civil Service Computerisation Programme from one level to another.”
Today, Singapore is recognised as a leader in the use of IT, and many countries come here to study its eGovernment solutions, noted Mr Lee.
In 1989, when the National Computer Board was corporatised to form National Computer Systems (NCS), Mr Lee assumed the role of its Chief Executive Officer (CEO). “In many other countries, taking a public sector organisation and turning it into a private company would often mean a loss, but I think we did quite well,” he said, pointing to NCS’s presence in 10 countries today.
But perhaps even more gratifying for him, given the recent debates over immigrants in Singapore, is to have been accepted as part of the Singapore community. “My sons do NS (National Service),” he quipped. “Perhaps you can see me as an example of someone coming from another place and integrating well here.”
Ms Tan Yen Yen: I've gone through over 20 years (in IT), and I stayed on because I found it to be ever-changing.
IT Leader of the Year
IT Leader of the Year Ms Tan Yen Yen started her journey in Singapore, graduating with a degree in Computer Science from the National University of Singapore and going on to build up a career in the IT industry here. Ms Tan is the first woman to be awarded the accolade since the inception of the IT Leader Awards. She spent about 18 years with Hewlett-Packard before joining Oracle Corporation Asia Pacific as its Senior Vice President of Applications eight months ago. She was also the first woman chairman of the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation – an office she has held for three years in a row.
Her IT career, she said, has been “a humbling experience”. “I’ve gone through over 20 years, and I stayed on because I found it to be ever-changing. There are always new things to learn to broaden your thinking. And IT touches every aspect of our lives – how we work, live and play.”
Young Professional of the Year
Mr Douglas Gan: I was born at the right time. The Internet is a very interesting environment and I see a lot of opportunities.
The third award winner, Young Professional of the Year Mr Douglas Gan, opted to take the entrepreneurial route. The Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate set up his first company – PureHostings.net – when he was 16. The web hosting services company went on to sprout seven subsidiaries with 52 resellers in over 30 countries before it was sold to Skydio.com in 2005. Mr Gan went on to set up youth-based web forum OhGenki.com, which was sold to StreetDirectory.com in 2006.
In 2008, Mr Gan founded ShowNearby with a good friend Mr Lee Chang Jin. The web and mobile location-based service provider furnishes users with information on points of interest and allows business owners a channel for promoting their offerings and connecting with their customers. The company attracted the interest of Global Yellow Pages, which invested S$3.5 million. “I was born at the right time,” said the 28-year-old. “The Internet is a very interesting environment and I see a lot of opportunities.”
Mr Vishnu Prem: I think to attract good people into IT,
we need to find people who are not just in it for the money, but who are really passionate
For IT Youth Award winner Mr Vishnu Prem, the IT journey began with a book. At the age of 12, he received a book on “C++ programming for beginners” and was hooked. “I became very interested in programming because it gives you the opportunity to create something new. There is a sense of power in doing something like that.”
The first public project he did, when he was 16, was to reverse-engineer Google’s PageRank algorithm to create a people ranking system for Facebook. Since then, he has moved on to mobile devices and has been doing iPhone programming for the past two years.
Mr Prem, who is currently doing National Service after graduating from NUS High School, is set on a career in IT because he cannot envisage himself doing anything else. “My basic principle is that if I do something I do not really believe in, I most likely will fail,” he said.
He believes that identifying such passion is key to attracting the right talent into the industry. “I think to attract good people into IT, we need to find people who are not just in it for the money, but who are really passionate about it.”