Engineering diploma helps his dream take off
Polytechnic graduates tell AUDREY LEONG about the unique career paths they embarked on after their engineering diplomas
As a child, he dreamed of futuristic flying machines zipping through the air.
Now, Mr Jonathan Yong, 32, spends his days designing and bringing subsystems together to create unmanned aerial systems, optimising them to perform complex missions.
The senior research engineer with DSO National Laboratories credits his dreams coming true to one major decision - entering polytechnic, specifically enrolling in the Diploma in Mechatronic Engineering.
"It was the best decision I have made... The skills acquired in my polytechnic education gave me an edge in practical classes and in the development of my final-year project in university, a man-portable unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
"Classes were made interesting and relevant, and I was exposed to drones and robots... We also got to create prototypes of the designs we had," he said.
During his polytechnic years, he worked with a teammate to create a "touch-and-fly" UAV system, which would enable a drone to be flown semi-autonomously. The project gained a silver award at the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Awards and an innovation award at an international design competition and conference.
Mr Yong said: "I have always enjoyed finding out how things work and imagining how new flying machines of the future would look like, so the engineering course equipped me with the skills necessary to bring those imaginations to life."
He also scored the Defence Science and Technology Agency scholarship, which is awarded to students with an outstanding co-curricular activities record and a passion for science and technology.
He pursued his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in aerospace at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US.
Soft skills learned in poly propels him to regional work
Without his work, local research centres and solar installations around the region may not have an efficient way to compute and transfer data.
As a product application engineer for industrial network solutions company Westermo Data Communications, Mr Rico Lim, 33, provides technical training and support for industrial grade data communication devices which control and monitor systems in the transport, water and energy markets.
He was an "average student" when he took a Higher Nitec in Mechatronics Engineering at ITE, but his grades improved once he enrolled in the Diploma in Communications and Automation Electronics.
He enjoyed the problem-based learning method at his polytechnic as it encouraged not just mastery of subjects but also teamwork and critical thinking.
Mr Lim said: "The soft skills such as research and analytical skills that I picked up in school through my modules gave me a more holistic education, rather than just a technical one."
Mr Lim graduated from his diploma course with a near perfect grade point average (GPA) of 3.93.
He also received the Singapore Technologies Endowment Programme Scholarship (STEPS) in his second and third years of polytechnic, and was awarded the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal.
On top of his academic achievements, Mr Lim's final-year project team won second place at the Singapore Robotic Games in 2010 for an underwater robot.
He juggled part-time work and passion for programming
At 15, he was already passionate about programming, having picked up HTML for his blog.
However, he gave up the chance to study his dream course at polytechnic after his N levels due to financial difficulties.
Instead, Mr Fauzan Abdul Aziz, now 27, took up a Nitec in Security Technology and Higher Nitec in Cyber & Network Security at ITE East, a course he chose because he was passionate about learning about how computers worked.
After national service, he worked for a few months before enrolling in the Diploma in Multimedia & Infocomm Technology in his polytechnic's School of Engineering.
"I took a longer route because I wanted to lessen the burden on my family," Mr Fauzan said.
While he was in school, Mr Fauzan worked as a part-time food delivery rider, and would work on his laptop in between orders to make sure he could keep up with his projects.
Mr Fauzan graduated with a 3.98 grade point average.
Now he is on the Earn and Learn Programme (ELP) as an application developer at Accenture, a global management consulting and professional services company.
The ELP gives fresh polytechnic and ITE graduates on-the-job training as they earn another diploma or certificate.
Mr Fauzan said: "To become a developer, you can't isolate yourself, you need to become versatile and be able to talk to and have the confidence to work with people from all backgrounds."
Skills learnt still relevant today, says 1980s diploma student
Mr Foong Sew Bun, 54, creates disruption in the finance industry with lessons he learnt in the 1980s as a Diploma in Electronics and Communication Engineering student.
The global head of digital transformation (retail, private banking and wealth) at Standard Chartered Bank said the skills he learnt gave him the ability to "break down large problems into smaller ones to get to the root of the problem".
He said: "In polytechnic, I studied about networks and learnt how to put a user interface together, and now I am using that knowledge to create disruptive technology in the banking world."
Mr Foong spent more than sixteen years at IBM and was the first Singaporean to be recognised as an IBM Distinguished Engineer in the Asia-Pacific region in 2008. He was also chief technology officer for IBM Asean and Singapore.
He said: "My diploma gave me a strong foundation in computer engineering that helped me to pick up new areas such as computer science, artificial intelligence and more."
He earned his bachelor's and master's in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin and is now also an adjunct professor with the department of information systems and analytics at the National University of Singapore's School of Computing.
Mr Foong advice for polytechnic hopefuls?
"Follow your passion and find new ways to improve people's lives with technology. If you are passionate about something, you will always find something new to learn," he said.
Polytechnics' Open House
Discover a world of engineering possibilities at the polytechnics' Open House, from Jan 4 to Jan 6, 10am to 6pm, at their respective campuses.