Driven by magic of computing

The Economic Development Board has been nurturing key industries that are driving Singapore's economy and will take it into the future with attractive employment prospects for people here. Arti Mulchand profiles computer security professionals in the information and communications technology sector.

In 1980, Ho Yean Fee was 18 years old and waiting for her A-level results after studying at Hwa Chong Junior College.

She wanted to become an architect but an invitation to kill time by taking a computer course with a schoolmate changed her world.

"I was amazed by the power of computers," says Ms Ho, now 52 and vice-president for development (product and innovation) at German multinational software corporation SAP.

"I was convinced it was the way of the future and would have a major impact on the way the world worked. I wanted to be part of that game-changing process."

She decided to go to the Ohio State University to read computer science and, upon graduation, became a software engineer with a Boston-based firm.

In 1987, her sister sent her a newspaper ad for a position at the then newly formed R&D division at the Institute of Systems Science (ISS). That year, she returned to join the inaugural team of research assistants at the ISS, and worked on multilingual computing.

In 1996, she founded an IT start-up called Star+Globe Technologies, which created multilingual technology solutions.

However she was lured back to the lab by business partner, Sybase, which asked her to help set up the Sybase Asia Development Centre in Singapore. Then in 2010, SAP acquired Sybase.

Today, she leads SAP's team of software developers. Already, she has three patents to her name, including for fisheye-based presentation of data on mobile devices.

Her team's focus is on "next generation software" - simplified software that can be deployed from a cloud and run on mobile devices, as well as on software to raise developers' productivity.

She has a busy work-day, which can start close to midnight when she touches base with SAP's offices on the United States east coast.

In the morning she connects with its west coast before attending to countries east of the US.

She says: "The hours are long but they are exciting. You can travel the globe in a single day. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

She describes information and communications technology (ICT) as if it were a fantastical wonderland. "ICT creates the magical things that computers are able to do. It makes escalators go up and down, sends SMS, gets us on Facebook and changes the traffic lights."

The length of her days is made more bearable by the flexibility she is allowed, and the fact that her pilot husband also has a demanding schedule. The couple enjoy horseback riding and love boats. They own a speedboat, a powerboat and several kayaks. They share their Sentosa Cove home with an 11-week old puppy, QT.

Apart from leisure breaks, the sheer amount of adrenaline the job generates also keeps her going, especially given how rapidly the field has evolved.

Nowadays software is not just the work of a programmer.

Ms Ho says: "It's called design thinking. It draws from the input of everyone from artists and scientists, to sociologists and psychologists to create innovative software. They come together to solve a single problem."

ICT is also developing quickly in many areas.

She says: "We are really only at the beginning of the ICT and Internet revolution.

"In the future, everything will talk through software. Watch it coming, prepare to embrace it, and sail with it."

This article was first published on May 5, 2014