The science of solving problems

WHILE some pupils may have found it tough, software engineer Samantha Lee loved solving problem sums in primary school. At home, she enjoyed dismantling broken electrical appliances with her father, an electrical engineer by profession. She was intrigued by how components came together to make things work. Spurred by her passion for tackling problems, she took up a computer science degree at the renowned Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in 2012 on an ST Engineering Overseas Scholarship. The scholarship includes tuition fees, maintenance and pre-studies allowance, return economy airfare as well as the possibility of sponsorship for exchange programmes and a master’s degree. Scholars also are given attachment or internship opportunities in ST Engineering companies. Ms Lee, 24, says: “It may sound contradictory, but I chose computer science because I enjoy human interaction and enabling people’s lives. “At its core, computer science is about solving very real and practical problems.”

On choosing ST Engineering, Ms Lee says: “It is a global technology, defence and engineering group that aims to create worldclass solutions to solve real-world problems. There are many areas where I can pursue my interests, such as the aerospace, electronics, land systems or marine sectors.” At CMU, she was challenged by the academic rigour. She says: “I loved that we were given practical, real-life problems. For instance, we learnt about web applications by creating our own mini social network.” Says the scholar, who graduated in 2016: “I had a great time at CMU and forged meaningful friendships. Going to Carnegie Mellon would not have been possible without the ST Engineering Overseas Scholarship.”

Mastering solutions

In her current role as a software engineer, Ms Lee is involved in developing solutions to address the needs of smart cities, such as those powered by the Internet of Things (IoT). Her work puts her squarely in Singapore’s ongoing push towards becoming a smart nation. For instance, she is part of a research collaboration that taps data analytics to improve package delivery. Unlike most routing applications, which only take distance and traffic conditions into consideration, Ms Lee’s research also considers risk factors and quality of delivery service. Then, the programme uses the complex data to suggest the most desirable path and mode of delivery for a package to be delivered from point to point, saving time and cost. Ms Lee also specialises in the area of public safety and security. Her work addresses the urgent need faced by global cities to increase vigilance and emergency preparedness in response to security threats. Last year, she was tasked to improve public emergency response systems by integrating post-dispatch advice (PDA) protocols. Says Ms Lee: “During an emergency, when time is of the essence, PDA protocols can provide call takers with information to provide timely constructive advice. For instance, they can advise people onsite to perform simple medical procedures to victims while emergency vehicles and personnel are en route.”

As her client who requires this system is based in Hong Kong, Ms Lee travels there frequently to understand customers’ requirements and record workflow details so she may work on them in Singapore. The scholar, who joined ST Engineering on graduating, shares that the challenges of her job include having to pick up new technologies and skills quickly. She takes them on within a small and young development team, working under inspiring mentors who are eager to teach. “My work as a software engineer is meaningful because it has a real impact on people’s lives. I’m also glad that my job is not entirely deskbound. It fits well with my active personality,” says Ms Lee, who enjoys running and working out in the gym. As a scholar, Ms Lee will get opportunities for job rotation, overseas postings and intrapreneurship projects. She will also be sent for training to keep abreast of the industry’s latest trends. The passionate software engineer hopes to gain more technical experience to build a strong technical foundation before taking on management roles in the future. With ST Engineering making strides in new business areas underpinned by advanced technology such as robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, she is primed for an exciting career.