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A fulfilling career in defence technology

As a child, Mr Ong was already adept at problem solving.

“I loved taking things apart to figure out what made them tick. Whether it was a fan, computer or handheld game, I liked finding out how and why things worked the way they did,” he says.

He believes the seeds of passion for engineering and defence technology were planted in those early years.

Today, the 28-year old is a senior engineer with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), whose work involves harnessing digital technologies to enhance critical defence systems.

Known as Command, Control and Communication (C3) systems, these help to make sense of large amounts of information to effectively plan, monitor and orchestrate operations.

With digital technologies, Mr Ong is able to simplify or automate processes that previously required human operators, such as extracting information from text or detecting trends and anomalies.

His recent achievements include working with his team to develop a command centre system, which helps to orchestrate and simplify security operations at large-scale events, such as the National Day Parade.

The system enables parade personnel to monitor the execution of critical events related to the parade, as well as respond to incidents promptly.

Mr Ong also coaches his teammates to improve productivity and cooperation, as DSTA strives to stay on top of the software development game — which is constantly changing and evolving. As a scrum master, he leads brainstorming sessions aimed at improving agile development processes.

In addition, he is also involved in the design and development of digital apps. He is currently working on an app to help make sense of data from diverse sources and better prepare for possible security threats. 


Learning new skills 
As a young man, Mr Ong became intrigued by military technology, and his interest in it deepened while serving his national service. He believes that the use of technology is key in giving Singapore’s defence forces the edge to keep the nation safe.

“Engineering was a field where I could creatively apply my curiosity and problem-solving skills,” he says.

As a recipient of the DSTA Scholarship, Mr Ong had the opportunity to pursue Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, where he completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 

During his undergraduate years, the passion of his professors and classmates for technology further heightened his own interest in it. 

“We would work together to understand and develop complex software from scratch. I managed to pursue my interests in embedded systems, hardware design and cybersecurity, all of which provided me with the software engineering fundamentals that I use in my job today,” he says.

Mr Ong also took modules outside his major such as entrepreneurship, psychology and sound recording, which he feels have helped him to think laterally and apply concepts across multiple disciplines. 


Professional development
After working at DSTA for four years, Jonathan has developed a deep sense of appreciation for its work culture, as well as initiatives such as flexible working hours and a casual dress code.

He notes that young staff members are empowered to work on complex projects, and solve challenges through technology and innovation.

“We are encouraged to pick up diverse skills, which keeps our work engaging,” he says. 

Some of the new skills he has picked up include natural language processing and the application of machine learning models. He has also been exploring how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence can be applied to his work projects.

“These have all been refreshing and exciting experiences for me,” he says.

He adds that depending on their career aspirations and interests, software developers in DSTA can choose between specialising in a technical area, doing full-stack development or even managing a software project.

There are also hackathons that enable staff to network and learn from one another, as well as opportunities to join in-house technical courses and overseas conferences.  

Looking back, Mr Ong feels that the scholarship has opened many doors for him.

“I was able to study at one of the best universities in the world, and I now work in the exciting field of defence technology,” he says. 

“In the course of my work, I’ve picked up many useful technical skills, from app development to data engineering and even natural language processing. The work we do at DSTA not only contributes to Singapore’s defence, but also helps to improve the effectiveness of all those who use our platforms and systems to keep Singapore safe,” he adds.