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From legalese to geopolitics: How rotations fuel engineer's growth
LTA scholar Muhamad Zaki Hamzah Lee began his career in engineering, but he has since broadened his expertise to include legal knowledge and data analytics, as well as a substantial understanding of geopolitics. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

Though trained in engineering, this LTA scholar relishes the opportunity to delve into different facets of the dynamic world of Singapore’s transit sector

Growing up, Mr Muhamad Zaki Hamzah Lee travelled everywhere by public transport as his family did not own a car. 

Over the years of taking different train and bus routes, he slowly came to realise how seamless his rides were despite the complexity of the system and that there were always new developments in transportation. 

“While I was at Raffles Junior College, the Marymount MRT station opened outside our school,” recalls the 31-year-old Land Transport Authority (LTA) scholar. 

“It felt really special to be one of the first people to take a Circle Line train and experience a newly minted train station.” 

That was also the time when he was considering which scholarship to take up. Mr Zaki naturally gravitated towards the one offered by LTA, driven by his desire to contribute to the longevity of an efficient public transport system that impacts the lives of millions, including his.

He joined the agency full time after graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2017. What he did not anticipate was how his skills would also expand in other directions to support the growth of Singapore’s world-class transport network.

The NUS mechanical engineering graduate’s career began in engineering, but he has since broadened his expertise to include legal knowledge and data analytics, as well as a substantial understanding of geopolitics.

Learning legalese to be effective

Mr Zaki’s LTA journey of multiple possibilities kicked off the first day he reported for work as an intern.

“I expected to go into a conventional office, but instead, I had to find my way around container offices in the Tai Seng area that were surrounded by concrete blocks,” he recounts, about his assignment to the team that was commissioning new trains for the Downtown Line. 

“To help me understand the complexity of LTA’s work, my mentor handed me a very thick book of contractual documents for the Downtown Line,” he recalls.

“He said for me to do the job well, I had to understand all the requirements in the contracts.”

The stack of contracts was so thick that Mr Zaki never thought he could finish digesting all the content or even understanding the legal terms. 

This experience served him well in his first work posting four years later, where he was tasked to prepare specifications for new trains for the Jurong Region Line. For the next few months, he worked closely with the LTA legal team and soon became adept at reading and drafting legalese.

“That was when I realised that being an LTA engineer wasn’t just about understanding science or designing things. It was about effectively working with different stakeholders and executing the vision properly,” he says.

“I burnt the midnight oil learning the legal terms and was able to advise my team when they had to work on such contracts.”

This legal crash course was on top of his other duties, where he had to help his colleagues ensure the operations and maintenance of existing trains were being conducted properly. 

From train tracks to tracking data

Over the past few years, Mr Zaki’s work at LTA has exposed him to new fields of work, expanding his skill set and experience.

In one of his job rotations, he assumed the role of a data scientist within LTA’s Information Technology, Cybersecurity and Digital Services Group.

“I worked with the team to analyse MRT ridership data, and we built a dashboard to compare the numbers against key performance indicators,” he says. 

In another role, he learnt the nuances of geopolitics and cross-border collaboration. Mr Zaki was involved in the discussions for the building of the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link.

“I worked with our Ministry of Transport as well as their counterparts from Malaysia,” he says.

“I travelled to Kuala Lumpur for meetings, worked with senior staff and management across various disciplines and supported discussions with Malaysian representatives.”

“In the work that we do, new challenges arise which no one has the answers to yet. It is up to us as engineers to break them down.”

Mr Muhamad Zaki Hamzah Lee, recipient of the LTA Undergraduate Scholarship

Mr Zaki currently works as a senior engineer in the Systems Assurance department, where his team ensures that the transport systems are working reliably and safely. Among his responsibilities is the Downtown Line’s signalling system, which keeps the driverless trains running safely in real time.

He relishes his journey of diverse roles at LTA, saying: “The best part about the LTA Scholarship is how it has propelled my growth by allowing me to do rotations to explore different interests and directions in my career.”

Developing multiple perspectives and skills is vital because public transportation is fast evolving as society and technologies progress.

“In the work that we do, new challenges arise which no one has the answers to yet. It is up to us as engineers to break them down and solve the parts one by one,” he says. 

“There is an eagerness among LTA staff to collaborate and have interchanges within teams. You don’t feel like you are doing a ‘one-track’ job, and you know that other people appreciate you.”

Mr Zaki completed his four-year scholarship bond two years ago but is eager to continue making strides in LTA. 

“I am proud to be a part of a valued pool of talent who work on our railway system,” he says. 

“It’s not a generic job, and I have skills that are not easily replaceable. That gives me a sense of pride and value.”

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