The fast-changing nature of work has prompted many Singaporeans to upgrade their skills to stay relevant. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts of young Singaporeans who have recently done so to give their careers a boost, or even pursue new paths in life.
In this instalment, Mr Benjamin Quek, 28, describes how his desire to stay relevant in the face of new technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) prompted him to take up a master’s degree in intelligent systems. This helped the former product development engineer demystify concepts around AI and start a new career in software development.
A qualifier: I wrote this article with the help of ChatGPT, as I believe lifelong learning is about adapting to new tools and making them part of your skillset.
I was genuinely interested in how products go from design to production, so I picked engineering product development as my undergraduate major at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
After graduation in 2018, I worked as an automation engineer and product development engineer in industries such as manufacturing and medical devices, before pivoting to software development in 2022.
Why the change? When the pandemic happened, everyone started to embrace Information Technology (IT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools that enabled us to work more efficiently.
While I agreed with them on the benefits of such tools, I disagreed with their skepticism that these tools are complicated and undecipherable black boxes.
I noticed that some around me displayed a fear of programming and software, branding it as something they would never understand.
The scary thing was when I saw a little of myself in them.
Even though I am in my 20s, I felt there was no excuse for me to stop learning new skills.
While my undergraduate degree provided me with relevant industry skills, I knew I should not allow them to stagnate.
I took the plunge and enrolled in the part-time NUS-ISS Master of Technology in Intelligent Systems (MTech IS) programme in 2020.
I picked this course because I believed it would help me demystify the AI buzzword and build up my confidence through learning about concepts such as computer vision and practical programming projects.
Computer vision is a field of AI that turns images or video input into meaningful information which can be used to perform tasks such as classification or recommendations.
Looking back, another perhaps more important skill I use every day at work now is debugging and fault finding.
This was cultivated through the various projects as part of the practice modules which are a key component of the MTech IS programme.
In one such project, my team set out to create an automated rehabilitation exercise assistant to help patients perform guided rehabilitation at home.
Their exercises were tracked using computer vision and automated updates on their progress sent to healthcare professionals.
Through the project, I learnt about how to turn ideas into code to address real world problems.
As I was working as a product development engineer at the time, it was not easy for me to switch between designing and testing prototypes to working with software.
One way I tackled this was to look for similarities in both, such as adopting the same thought processes I used for product design and translating that into software development.
Despite these challenges, I was able to complete the MTech IS programme in 2021.