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Transport project engineer is moving with the tough times

Land Transport Authority project engineer Daniel Ong says the Covid-19 pandemic has driven home the importance of “keeping a nimble mindset”

By Rachael Boon

Embarking on a new job at the Land Transport Authority (LTA) before the Covid-19 outbreak was not what local scholarship holder Daniel Ong saw coming.  

The 26-year-old LTA Scholarship holder describes that it felt like being thrown into the deep end when he took on the role of a project engineer in the fare systems division, as part of his first rotation under the scholarship programme.

“Just when I was learning the ropes from the seniors, many things started to change as a result of Covid-19… we were forced to adapt and cope,” he recalls of his early days in his new role.

He also saw first-hand how a big organisation like LTA underwent “quick, large-scale change”.

Mr Ong, who graduated in 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration, says the “steep learning curve” taught him the value of adaptability. He adds: “The pandemic really drives home the importance of keeping a nimble mindset.”

“As part of the project team, we support our technical counterparts whose work is related to computer engineering. There is a need to be familiar with their job scope in areas such as software, system architecture, security and machine hardware. I t’s a lot to keep up with for a new engineer on the team, and I’m thankful for my colleagues who are always willing to answer my questions,”  he says.

Despite being new to the job, Mr Ong says he is given ad hoc assignments, which provide him with plenty of experience. And as a scholarship holder, he has the opportunity to regularly engage with the organisation’s senior management.

The LTA local undergraduate scholarship covers tuition and compulsory fees, maintenance allowance, hostel fees for locals, and the sponsorship of one approved student exchange programme or summer school.

At work, Mr Ong’s main role is overseeing projects to completion, and he also has opportunities to be involved in new domains. “I was involved in an exploration project on artificial intelligence (AI) and had a chance to understand how AI develops specific domain knowledge.”

Another project that M r Ong worked on exposed him to a range of wireless technologies such as radio frequency identification and Bluetooth, to consider the possibility of incorporating such technology into Singapore’s transit landscape.

He also enjoys the cross-training that the scholarship programme provides, where project and executive teams interact and work with one another.

“I’m actually quite excited to join the executive teams and get my hands dirty. I feel it’s the fastest way to learn… (and) allows me to better appreciate the challenges and complexities on the ground, and the considerations when designing systems for operation and maintenance.”

This year, Mr Ong hopes to improve and streamline certain “repetitive and tedious” processes in his department.

He says: “I am now able to better appreciate the work that LTA is doing for Singapore. By adapting advancements in technology into our work, LTA is the driver of land transport in Singapore for the future.”

In such a technology-driven future, he imagines developments such a s “AI-powered service kiosks, which could be one-stop points for commuting needs”.

And in the light of a post-pandemic future, he adds: “These kiosks could be voice-activated, thus minimising contact, easing screen navigation and enhancing commuters’ experience. One day, commuters may not even need to take their cards out to tap on fare readers with hands-free technology.”