Conversations with Goh Yeh Lin

By Sherry Tan and Nickson Quak

Goh Yeh Lin is currently the Head of Digital Plans and Policies at DSO National Laboratories, with prior experience in both the public and private sectors. He graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Applied Economics at the National University of Singapore (NUS) under a Ministry of Finance (MOF) sponsorship award. In this article, he shares his experience working at DSO National Laboratories and his insights on the digital industry.

My team and I constantly meet new people and are tasked with solving new challenges that are persistent in organisations.

70 per cent of my day entails discussions with different stakeholders to strategise new digital initiatives and refine existing plans. On some days, I also spend time conducting design-thinking or user-experience workshops.

The remaining 30 per cent of the time is typically dedicated to penning down thoughts and ideas, and preparing documents with my team.

I have been in the digital and technology sphere for approximately eight years. The digital and technology domain is definitely very exciting and brings much satisfaction.

I see technology as a two-sided coin. On one side, the possibilities are in the way we use technology to solve existing problems. On the other side, it is when technology presents completely new opportunities which disrupt the industries. This is similar to the Blue Ocean Strategy.

It is always gratifying to leverage digital technology to solve problems and make tangible improvements to people’s lives. At the same time, being right in the midst of constant changes and digital disruptions keeps me on my toes. I am also always reminded to challenge the status quo and to never settle for “good enough”. All of these are while appreciating the commendable work by those who have come before me.

DSO National Laboratories’ greatest asset are its people. The organisation is made up of a lot of passionate individuals who are pushing the boundaries of science and technology to enhance Singapore’s national security. Most of our research is classified but our commitments to deliver and succeed are clear.

My favourite aspect of the work culture is everyone’s willingness to help one another. While I am relatively new in DSO as compared to my peers, I have observed that being new is not a barrier to work. They are open to listening to new ideas and sharing their work experiences. This is important for digital transformation –  the willingness to share helps me better understand stakeholders’ requirements, which then translate into initiatives and policies that addresses key issues directly.

I started my career in the public sector with the Ministry of Finance (MOF). After that, I had a stint with the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) before moving on to consulting.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in consulting. I had learnt a lot from working with multinational firms, serving diverse clients, solving different types of challenges and working with teammates from all over the world. These experiences were really eye-opening for me.

Joining DSO felt like a homecoming to me. I moved to DSO because of two factors. Firstly, I resonated strongly with DSO’s contribution to nation building and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Secondly, being in a new unit – the DSO Digital Office was appealing to me. I believe I can deliver impactful outcomes and the idea of being in a new unit felt exhilarating.

The biggest difference has to be the respective sector’s Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

In the public sector, revenue and costs are important. However, there is also a strong element of doing good for the nation. For DSO, the technologies and innovations we seek to deliver are usually not available in the market or are too sensitive to purchase.

Meanwhile, the private sector has a strong focus on profits. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, this razor-sharp focus on profits often drives innovation and transformation at a rapid rate because ultimately, it is about which firm is better. This means that competitors have to out-perform one another. They have to make haste with this in order to survive and thrive. However, there is also an increasing focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which is a positive evolution of commercial businesses.

I consider myself to be quite a handyman. I have always been interested in technology as well as problem-solving. When I was younger, I used to deconstruct my old PCs to find out why my computer stopped working or why it started lagging in the middle of a gaming session.

My professional career in the digital field actually started when I was tasked with the budget and policy evaluation for the Infocomm and Media sector during my time with MOF. That exposure reinforced my interest in digitalisation and transformation. Thus, I decided to carve a career out of them.

It is very difficult to predict what will come out in the next three to five years, or what would persist and develop beyond just a hype, because technology and digitalisation evolve extremely quickly.

I believe user-centricity will continue to cement its footing in the digital field as digital products should serve a cause and its users. To do so, digital teams need to understand businesses’ and users’ needs. You cannot design good digital products or strategies without delving deep into the user experience.

I see users being the unifying focal point when it comes to solving highly complex problems. Different units in the same company can have frequent disputes about the relative significance of their respective KPIs and missions, but most would agree that customers/users are, ultimately, of paramount importance for the company.

More companies and individuals are looking to consume services over the internet and cloud. Companies want to focus on core offerings of their business where they have competitive advantages, while outsourcing the rest. Due to the heavy consumption of such services, I believe enabling digital elements such as cybersecurity will ride this trend.

In my opinion, constant learning and upgrading is key to staying relevant in the workforce, particularly in the digital and technology industry. Beyond professional development, I took those courses because I was also genuinely interested in the topics.

The digital field is very broad. I think it would be overly myopic to say that youths today should study to become Machine Learning engineers because what is relevant today might be outdated in the next three to five years.

Basic digital literacy is definitely important but a career in the digital industry needs to be driven by interest and passion. My advice for youths, in general, would be to learn whatever they are interested in. They should be curious and explore even the areas tangential to technology like in the arts and social sciences because they may never know whether that spark of interest or the next big idea will originate from these areas.

In this day and age where almost everything is digitised, having a good sense of how to protect oneself in the digital world is vital. A basic understanding of cybersecurity and data security would be the baseline. We need to know how to protect ourselves and our data as we leverage and exploit digital tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Office suite.

In addition, it would be good to have a basic knowledge of coding (which has been the trend within the past few years) like how to use Python. It is unlikely that everyone can be an expert in Python, but having a basic understanding on how it functions and what it can be used for, would be beneficial.

I don’t think there is an exhaustive list of academic or professional qualifications for digital plans and policies. However, I would say that we are generally looking for people who can operate in the nexus between the business and the digital fields. Speaking from personal experience, I view my role most analogously as the bridge between business problems and technological possibilities.

I have to know about the technological space to keep up with the latest technological trends— but I do not have to understand it as deeply as a professional with a degree in Infocomm Technology would have to. What I think is more important is to have the acumen to identify business areas that can be improved, or disrupted by digital technologies.  

In short, the requirements for a role in digital plans and policies goes beyond academic qualifications – it entails one’s tenacity to always be willing to learn new things and to stay relevant, be appreciative of the current progress and yet be constantly seeking out for digital transformation opportunities.

The most important soft skill in this line of work is to have empathy. Even though there is an overall move towards digitisation across different industries, digitisation must be anchored on the desire to benefit humanity. Sometimes, this involves figuring out why users are unwilling to digitise. By “walking a mile in their shoes”, empathy allows any digital professional to be a credible force in the digital transformation line of work.

I believe that aspiring youths looking to enter the digital field should be “T-shaped professionals”. The horizontal part of the “T” refers to the ability to broadly understand the general trends and topics in the industry, as well as the ability to collaborate with specialists in another area.

On the other hand, the vertical part of the “T” refers to deep expertise in one particular area. Aspiring youths should actively explore this “T-shaped professional” framework in their own respective ways. They can do so by figuring out what constitutes the horizontal and vertical part of their “T” respectively.

I think what has been most motivating for me is that I see value in my work. I come to work every day knowing that there are always new things for me to explore. To me, the digital field is an enabler for a wide plethora of functions. These range from research and development to corporate functions, such as finance, human resources, and even shared services.

In addition, my teammates keeps me going – we collectively set goals and own outcomes. This resonance keeps us disciplined and drives us to excel.

Hard days are definitely plentiful in the digital transformation domain. The challenges that we face range from communicating our digital transformation ideas to stakeholders, to performing change management and empathising with their “pain points”. We also have to carve out time for heavy preparation work before we can even get to designing and planning the digital transformation.

We have gotten through hard days like these because of our resilience and determination to pull through them. I always like to vision how success and the “light at the end of the tunnel” would look. Beyond that, I also take long walks and slow jogs to unwind after a long day.

I hope that I will still be doing all that I am currently doing – advocating for digital transformation, speaking to users to understand their “pain points” and designing digital plans and policies. Aside from those responsibilities, I hope to take on a more mentorial role to induct and guide young professionals to join the digital field.

To all the aspiring digital professionals out there, don’t be shy to speak with industry professionals!  Many of us are quite happy to speak with youths when they reach out to us over social media platforms like LinkedIn.

Upon developing a broad sense of the industry, including its general trends and the potential areas that you might be interested in, then zoom into one or two areas to specialise and to develop deep expertise in. This is to make them your niches and your “expert domains”.

The key thing is to really do something that you enjoy and can immerse yourself in. I think that is when you find the passion in your career, and upon finding it, you find that hours on the job can really feel like minutes.