Thinking out of the bot

Most people associate robotics with a male-dominated activity, but that did not stop polytechnic student Melissa Ng from excelling in it when she took it up as a co-curricular activity (CCA) for five years in primary and secondary school.

Now 19 and in her final year in polytechnic, she recalls a light tracing activity during a robotics lesson in primary school that ignited her interest in the world of robots. She says: “I was fascinated by how coding could bring hardware to life and how possibilities could be opened up with information technology (IT).”

It was no surprise then that she took up a Diploma in Information Technology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, under the Singapore Digital (SG:D) Scholarship (Polytechnic) offered by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

In secondary school, she was part of a team that represented Singapore in the 2015 World Robot Olympiad in Doha. Her team also clinched the top spot in robot performance and strategy at the National Junior Robotics Competition in the same year.

Ms Ng, one of the few girls on the robotics team, was determined to show that girls were equally capable in programming and tackling complex technology concepts.

Paving the way for her passion
Ms Ng’s involvement in robotics competitions has helped her greatly in her diploma studies, which covers topics such as IT security and machine learning.

What she learned during her CCA also helps her grasp programming concepts that are taught in school.

“Programming involves understanding fundamental concepts and building upon them, coming up with more complex algorithms. Hence, the first step in programming is to build your foundation. With this knowledge, I can delve further into IT concepts that have been taught,” she says.

Ms Ng also relished the intensity of robotics competitions, during which she had to build robots and programme them to complete “missions”. These included picking up props and overcoming surprise obstacles in the shortest possible time, and with the most stable movements.

During her secondary school years, she was a judge at the Robofest competition and volunteered at Grace Orchard School, where she taught basic robot building and programming to students with special needs.

One of the highlights of her polytechnic years was a six-month data analytics internship with technology start-up Sphere8 in Bangkok last year. She chose to intern abroad and with the company because the internship not only gave her a mentor who showed her the ins and outs of operations at a start-up, but also provided her an opportunity to work outside of Singapore.

Moving forward, Ms Ng plans to study IT in university, specialising in either computer science or information systems. With her passion firmly rooted in IT, she says: “Technology is advancing, and the level of innovation has not reached its limit. There is still so much that I’d like to use technology to do good and help others.”