Photo Credit to DSTA - Sharon Ang
By Chen Jinyao
With Singapore gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic in these recent months, engineer Sharon Ang from Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) was handed a critical mission — to quickly develop a Command and Control (C2) system to help in the fight against the virus. This system will provide information updates on a common platform for inter-agency task forces and help them plan and coordinate operations for migrant workers.
Ms Ang, 31, met the challenge head on; a team was formed and a C2 system was rolled out, with progressive enhancements to features and user interface.
She says: “The long hours put into refining the system and ensuring that it performed without glitches for those at the frontline was no doubt tiring and stressful, but the sense of satisfaction was immense knowing that we could make a meaningful contribution.”
Ms Ang first pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2007 under the DSTA Scholarship. After graduating and working at DSTA for four years, she applied for the DSTA Scholarship (Postgraduate) in 2015 to do a Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction (MS-HCI) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States.
Before applying for the DSTA Scholarship, Ms Ang had no idea what being an engineer entailed. However, after attending the DSTA Scholarship Tea Session, she was intrigued by the organisation’s systems and capabilities and her interest in defence engineering was piqued. She decided to apply for the scholarship, and has not looked back since.
“To me, the DSTA Scholarship was really a leap of faith that turned out right,” she says.
Designing user-friendly systems
One of her earlier projects after joining DSTA was the delivery of remotely operated robots which can execute complex — and dangerous — tasks such as removing explosives in the battlefield. These robots could carry sensor attachments to also detect and identify chemical and radiological sources, keeping soldiers out of harm’s way.
She also worked on soldier systems, and discovered that it was not enough for a system to be just functional and technically sound – it also had to be user-friendly and intuitive to use.
User experience design is often thought of as separate from the area of traditional engineering, she says, but it is nonetheless key to a system that is highly usable.
She adds: “User experience is important as the majority of end-users are national servicemen who do not use these systems daily, and require an intuitive interface for effective training.”
Passionate to learn more about how she can improve the user experience for soldiers, she took up the DSTA Scholarship (Postgraduate) to pursue the MS-HCI at Georgia Tech. The programme has a strong focus on the development of user interfaces that are useful, usable and enjoyable to use.
When she returned from her studies, she joined DSTA’s C3 Development Programme Centre. Now a senior programme manager PO, she oversees multiple projects developing command and control applications for the army. Such systems are the nerve centre for operations, aggregating and analysing information from diverse sources so that operators in Command Centres have enhanced situational awareness to make more informed decisions.
On these projects, she applies the user experience research methodologies learnt in Georgia Tech on a C2 system development project, using design innovation principles during the process.
Instead of diving head-in to work on the system’s technical specifications, she and her team take part in exercise observations, and conduct interviews and focus group sessions to understand what the system’s users wanted and needed.
They produce various prototypes, which undergo a series of trials, after which, the design is refined taking into account user feedback.
One project Ms Ang had worked on at the C3 Development Centre was the Integrated Operations Centre (IOC) that her team developed for the National Day Parade (NDP). The IOC enabled the NDP Committee to monitor the execution of critical events related to all aspects of the parade – for instance in logistics, medical, transport, security and maintenance.
She says: “With the IOC, the committee only had to refer to a single system that automatically fused real-time updates and details, instead of monitoring information from disparate sources.”
Satisfaction from fighting alongside the SAF
The many opportunities for interesting projects as well as job rotations are some of the reasons that Ms Ang enjoys her job at DSTA.
She says: “The rotations allow me to gain exposure to the varying aspects of defence engineering and deepen my technical competencies. Being involved across a range of projects requires me to adapt quickly and my work is never mundane.”
She also appreciates the culture of open collaboration in the organisation in which everyone can speak freely during brainstorming sessions. But of course, at the end of the day, what really matters is job satisfaction.
Ms Ang says: “DSTA is like the invisible force fighting alongside the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). My work is meaningful as I get to tap cutting-edge technologies to design and develop systems that contribute to Singapore’s defence and security.”
Singapore citizen; excellent GCE 'A' Level results or equivalent qualifications (e.g. International Baccalaureate, NUS High School Diploma) or polytechnic diploma; outstanding co-curricular activities record; a passion for science and technology
VALUE OF THE AWARD:
For DSTA scholars studying in Singapore:
Tuition and compulsory fees; annual and other allowances (e.g. books, computer); sponsorship for Overseas Student Exchange programme; sponsorship for studies, inclusive of master's (if applicable); internship opportunity; Global Internship Programme
For DSTA scholars studying in overseas universities:
Tuition and compulsory fees; overseas maintenance and other allowances (e.g. books, computer); return economy airfare; sponsorship for Student Exchange programme; sponsorship for studies, inclusive of master's (if applicable); internship opportunity; Global Internship Programme
Four years (local); five years (non-English speaking countries); six years (English speaking countries)
To find out more about the DSTA scholarship, go to www.dsta.gov.sg/join-us/student/scholarships-awards