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Scaling new heights

He loves it. It loves him not.

If his first tango with the programming language Java is anything to go by, then it’d appear that Mr Yin Yi De loves programming — but it’s not reciprocated.

It happened during an elective in his second year at University College London.

After poring over hundreds of lines of code to solve a bug that had plagued him the entire day, his program finally managed to compile. But in his excitement, while trying to duplicate it, his hand slipped and he accidentally deleted the entire program.

He then spent the next eight hours working feverishly through the night, re-coding the entire project from scratch.

“You asked for a memorable experience,” he says with a laugh. “That was definitely memorable, albeit horrendous.”

Despite that disastrous experience, his love for programming remains undiminished.

“I immediately took to programming because I really enjoyed the process of thinking through programming problems, and seeing my solutions work out,” he says.

As an economics undergraduate, he did not see the merits of programming and data science until he had taken some econometrics modules.

Through them, he realised the importance of data in forming his views beyond traditional economic theories.

He recalls a research paper that used data, supported by insights from behavioural economics, to explain why a specific labour supply curve deviated from the conventional upward-sloping curve.

“Through many encounters like this, I became fascinated with the way data can be used creatively to debunk preconceived notions and offer new insights.”

While the seed of a postgraduate degree in computing and data science had been planted in his mind, Mr Yin was reluctant to follow up on it, as he did not want to burden his parents with further financial responsibilities.

But that changed when he went to a Government Technology Agency (GovTech) networking event in London and found out about the Smart Nation Scholarship.

Awarded by the Infocomm Media Development Authority, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and GovTech, the Smart Nation Scholarship aims to develop and nurture technology talents and leaders in the public service, letting them carve out their own career pathway in applied technology.

When Mr Yin learnt more about GovTech, it dawned on him that working there would give him the opportunity to do meaningful work that would benefit society, let him pursue his own interests, and help to bridge the gaps in his computing knowledge.

Today, he plans to pursue a Master’s degree in computing science, as part of the pionering batch of Smart Nation scholars.

“I think data science has massive potential to drive progress for Singapore,” he says. “It can empower our decisionmakers to carry out evidence-based decision-making, which will help us to optimise the use of limited resources and target important issues that have a real impact on the lives of

Take Singapore’s transport system as an example. By collecting and analysing commuter data, the government can optimise the provision of transport services according to the level of demand, while taking into account infrastructural limitations.

His eyes light up at his own mention of the word “infrastructure”, in which he sees a great deal of potential. He is particularly intrigued by the Smart Nation Sensor Platform which gains insights via data collected by sensors mounted on lamp posts. Starting with his internship at GovTech next summer, Mr Yin hopes to work on projects that will both hone his skills as a programmer and allow him to serve the public good.

“Ultimately, I want to do something meaningful that involves a skill that I can develop over time,” he says. “I’m new to the world of programming and technology, so I’m just excited to explore whatever comes my way.”