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Turning interest into passion

Embarking on a mechanical engineering career would have been expected of Mr Jeffrey Chai, 26, after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Nanyang Technological University last year.

Interestingly, a career in data science and artificial intelligence (AI) was initially not on the cards for Mr Chai, who had received the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) Mid Term Scholarship during his second year of undergraduate studies.\

He only became interested in these fields during the last two years in university, after his peers who were reading computer engineering introduced him to data science and AI concepts.

Adding to that, Mr Chai’s undergraduate internship at MPA’s Next Generation Port Systems Department in 2018 gave him a deeper appreciation of digital technology adopted by the maritime industry, as he was involved in projects such as development of the Next Generation Vessel Traffic Management System, and also the use of video analytics for detection of dark smoke emission by vessels.

Learning about data science and AI
As Mr Chai learnt more about data science and AI, he realised that their relevance to almost every industry is becoming increasingly important, which piqued his interest further.

“Data science and AI are importantfor MPA to provide quality services to the maritime industry stakeholders and maintain our global port competitiveness,” he says. “The use of data visualisation and analytics with real-time information can streamline workflows as well as augment decision-making processes.”

That was when he deepened his skills in programming languages such as Python and R through online courses and with the help of friends who had coding experience.

He even devoted at least two to three hours a day to related self-learning activities despite having to manage a busy academic schedule.

Upon the completion of his studies, Mr Chai was given the opportunity to work as an assistant manager in the Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Department at MPA.

This department develops and manages data science and AI systems, projects and services for MPA’s digital transformation.

It also designs data science and analytics capability development road maps for MPA’s officers to become equipped with digital skills.

“MPA scholars will be given exposure to different areas of work through a series of planned postings and rotations,” he adds.

Mr Chai feels that it is important to keep an open mind to learn new skills, and never underestimate one’s own potential.

“Start now and try all possible means to do so. Do not be afraid to take the first step in doing something new or unfamiliar. It is part of the learning process,” he says.