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Techie on a mission

With the rise of tech companies like Google and Facebook, software developments have advanced rapidly in the last decade to benefit countless end users.

As a software engineer in Government Technology Agency’s (GovTech) Agile Consulting and Engineering Team, Mr Joel Kek, adapts new technologies for the government, building digital products that improve the lives of Singaporeans. For instance, the 28-year-old led an engineering team to create a new digital financial planning service that enables citizens to consolidate their financial information from banks and government sources and get insights into their financial health.

He was also part of a team that improved the work permit application system to provide a more seamless experience for users when they apply for work passes.

Meaningful work
Mr Kek was 18 years old when he took up the Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship. Although he felt a bit overwhelmed to make a career decision at that age, he knew he wanted “intellectually challenging
work that positively impacts others”. With no specific career path in mind at that time, he applied for a general
PSC Scholarship.

After he was awarded the scholarship, he went on to attain a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Stanford University. He chose the field as he loves the fast pace in the software world.

“It is possible to get the prototype of an app out within a day and disseminate it to many through the Internet,” he adds. “Seeing one’s work come alive and make a large impact is extremely satisfying.”

Upon graduation, he joined GovTech to embark on projects that serves the public good. Having interned at start-ups where monetisation was prioritised, he enjoys the privilege of building things that improve people’s lives – regardless of the bottom line.

Mr Kek is also thankful for the opportunities provided by the scholarship. These included leadership development courses and a government internship. The scholarship also allowed him to pursue his own
internships, and he was able to intern at a big tech firm in Silicon Valley and do non-profit work on healthcare software for developing countries.

Good intentions
Mr Kek is determined to put his skills to good use by helping the less fortunate. Together with his colleagues, he designed a holiday coding programme which has evolved into GovTech’s Digital4Good initiative, where GovTech staff teach the fundamentals of coding to less privileged children.

“Familiarity with computational thinking is a foundational skill for the future, but not all children have equal
access to such lessons,” he says.

He is heartened that the programme receives overwhelming support from his colleagues — “smart, kind people who care deeply about what they do”.

“At present, more than 200 GovTech staff have dedicated their time to these children, and I’m glad to work with people who are so keen to make a positive impact,” he says.