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A purposeful career securing Singapore’s cyber space

DSTA Scholarship recipient Joshua Choo began his university life with Electrical Engineering as his major, but switched to Computer Engineering during his freshman year.

“I took a course on programming in my first year of university, and it changed my life,” says the 26-year old.

Initially, Mr Choo wanted to major in Electrical Engineering, as he believed that would see him applying concepts learnt from his two favourite subjects — Mathematics and Science.

The programming course, however, showed him that programming was a fascinating and powerful medium that would allow him to apply all that, and more.

He realised that programming offered a myriad of possibilities when it came to translating abstract concepts in Mathematics into concrete applications.

“The course left such a positive impression upon me, that I decided to switch to Computer Engineering as my major,’’ he says.

During the years abroad in the United States, at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, he worked on a variety of research projects and participated in hackathons.

These taught him how to effectively conduct literature reviews, pick up new technologies within short timeframes, and hone his presentation abilities — competencies that he now puts to good use at work.

Upon graduation, Mr Choo went on to complete his Masters in Computer Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.


Contributing back

Since his return to Singapore, he has worked for the past one and a half years as a Defence Research Engineer at DSO National Laboratories’ Computer Security Lab.

His work involves applying Machine Learning to analyse large amounts of data, which can be used to detect anomalous behaviour in computer network systems.

As these anomalies may be caused by benign or malicious reasons, the ability to quickly and accurately detect them helps security analysts to respond in a timely manner.

The work of rooting out cyber security weaknesses with the objective of enhancing Singapore’s cyber space capabilities is something that Mr Choo finds purposeful.

“I definitely feel that my work benefits society, as I am working on projects that prevent malicious actors from stealing important data,” he says.

Unlike school-based projects that have clear-cut deadlines and deliverables, these projects are more complex and multi-faceted.

“There’s no list of requirements that we can simply check off and call it a day. At DSO, I never stop learning and applying my knowledge to my projects,” he says.

Mr Choo also appreciates that DSO offers many opportunities for staff to go for short- or long-term courses to deepen their expertise.

Staff members are also encouraged to go for conferences and seminars to learn more about what others are doing in their field of work.


Unselfish work culture

Training and development opportunities aside, Mr Choo thoroughly enjoys what he does because DSO’s core values of “Knowledge Seeking, Creation & Sharing” resonate strongly with him.

Although their work is classified, he greatly appreciates the in-house “sharing culture”.

“As cyber-security researchers, we try to solve difficult problems in an ever-changing and evolving environment. It really helps when we have like-minded colleagues who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences,” he says.

There are also organization-wide annual exhibitions, where staff members across departments — from research and development to corporate teams — showcase how they are pursuing innovation and involved in other creative projects.

Mr Choo intends to persevere in his work of using technology to contribute towards Singapore’s defence, and hopes to one day make an impact in the domain of cyber security.

He is grateful for the scholarship, as it provided him with the opportunity to get a quality overseas education without having to burden his family financially.

“When I was overseas, I had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from leading engineers and scientists. Now, I have a fulfilling and interesting technical career,” he says.