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Eye on S'pore's 5G future: Why he chose a new career path in chipmaking
By Jo-ann Huang
Ever since Mr Kenny Siew managed to turn his grades around for his O levels, the importance of having a growth mindset has stuck with him. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

He specialised in petrochemicals but the SgIS scholar made the bold switch as adoption of the technology accelerates

If there is one key takeaway that Mr Kenny Siew has from his O levels, it is that hard work pays off.

He scored A2 for Additional Mathematics, which was a remarkable improvement from his F9 results during his mid-year exams. He also transformed his preliminary exam results of Cs and Ds to mostly As and Bs in the national exams.

The former Compassvale Secondary School student was so disappointed with his mid-year grades that it jolted him into action. Whatever free time he had outside of school went into studying for his O levels – he would be the first to arrive at Sengkang Community Club’s study space on weekend mornings and would not leave until closing time in the evening.

More on this topic: How this chemical engineer is charging up Singapore’s green plans

Mr Siew reaped the rewards of his determination and scored well enough to join a junior college. “I was so happy with my results that I cried,” recalls the 26-year-old.

This lesson of not giving up when the going gets tough stuck with him and taught him the importance of having a growth mindset, an approach he says gave him the confidence to pursue unconventional choices in his academic and career path.

The self-confessed “hands-on” person picked the polytechnic route even though he scored well enough to enter a junior college of his choice. He preferred the polytechnic’s practical and specialised style of learning which focuses on preparing students for the workforce.

“I wanted to see how studying Additional Mathematics in secondary school can be applied in real life,” he says.

Mr Siew knew he had to work hard to qualify for university as a polytechnic graduate. He performed well at Singapore Polytechnic’s chemical engineering diploma course and qualified for the chemical engineering degree programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

During his polytechnic days, Mr Siew made it a point to do internships in fields that were unrelated to his studies. In his final year at polytechnic, he took up an internship at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, where he was involved in the development of new anti-resistant antibiotics.

Despite being unfamiliar with the healthcare field, he took it in his stride and adopted a positive attitude.

“Initially, I struggled to keep up because I had almost zero knowledge, but I started to get the hang of it after a few months. Keeping an open mind is very important because it helped me to discover new things,” he says.

It was also this mindset that steered Mr Siew towards the electronics sector.

An unorthodox decision

Wanting to have a hand in Singapore’s 5G future, Mr Siew decided on chip manufacturing as a career even though he studied petrochemicals as a chemical engineering student at NUS.

He pursued his interest by applying for the Singapore-Industry Scholarship (SgIS) in his second year of university. SgIS is an undergraduate scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education in partnership with 118 sponsoring organisations across strategic sectors such as aviation, electronics, maritime and social services. 

With the scholarship, he could apply to more than one sponsoring company under that sector at one go. Mr Siew chose the electronics sector despite having no prior experience.

“Besides grades, the sponsoring organisations also look for other skill sets such as critical thinking or your ability to communicate well”

Mr Kenny Siew, recipient of the Singapore-Industry Scholarship

“Chipmaking is something totally new to me,” he says. “Having this growth mindset has really helped me to adapt much faster as I am more open to learning and acquiring new knowledge.”

He went through a series of interviews with several companies before he was accepted by RF360 Singapore, a unit of US-based chipmaker Qualcomm. Even though he had specialised in petrochemicals in university, he decided to take up the scholarship, which would mean switching to chipmaking after graduation.

Apart from an internship at RF360, the SgIS Scholars’ Development and Engagement Programme also opened other personal and professional growth opportunities for scholars like Mr Siew, such as mentorships and dialogue sessions with industry experts.

After graduating in 2022, he joined RF360 as a technology development engineer and worked in a department that explores and develops ideas to fabricate radio frequency filtering solutions to isolate the required bandwidths for devices. 

RF360 works to develop and manufacture innovative 5G solutions for mobile devices and fast-growing business segments, such as the Internet of Things (IOT), drones, robotics and automotive applications.

As the development and adoption of 5G accelerates in Singapore, Mr Siew intends to remain with RF360 over the next five years or longer to build experience and accrue skills in the exciting field.

For 18-year-olds who do not yet know which scholarship or field best suits them, he says students should do their homework and research the sponsoring organisations they are interested in before crafting their resumes accordingly.

He also encourages tertiary students to not fear rejection and apply for the scholarship regardless of how well they performed academically.

“Besides grades, the sponsoring organisations also look for other skill sets such as critical thinking or your ability to communicate well,” says Mr Siew. “If you don’t try, you won’t even stand a chance of being considered for the scholarship.”

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