DSTA director recognised among top S'pore women in tech

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15 Oct 2021 | PEOPLE

DSTA director recognised among top S'pore women in tech

Story Teo Jing Ting // Photos courtesy of DSTA

Ms Gayle Chan, DSTA's Deputy Chief Executive (Information), has earned a spot on the Singapore (SG) 100 Women in Tech 2021 list.

A military buff, Ms Chan joined DSTA in 2001. Nearly 20 years on, she is now the Deputy Chief Executive (Information) and has been named one of Singapore's top women in tech.

She was part of the team that brought in the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters in 2011. Then in her late 20s, Ms Chan was a project engineer who had been working on the naval helicopter acquisition programme for six years.

Since joining the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) as an engineer with the then-Air Systems Division in December 2001, the self-professed military buff has contributed to the build-up of Singapore's naval helicopter and military aviation capabilities.

In 2017, Ms Chan was tasked to establish DSTA's Digital Hub. There, she led a team to combine diverse expertise across DSTA to ideate, experiment, and rapidly prototype new and promising digital capabilities for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

In July 2021, she took up her current appointment as Deputy Chief Executive (Information), using digital technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, cloud and cybersecurity to develop capabilities for Singapore's defence and security. 

Today, the 43-year-old has made it to this year's SG 100 Women in Tech 2021 list.

Organised by the Singapore Computer Society, in partnership with the SG Women in Tech and Infocomm Media Development Authority, the list highlights the diversity of roles that women play in Singapore's infocomm tech sector, in the hope of inspiring more females to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

We speak to Ms Chan to find out about her love of technology and her thoughts about landing a spot on this list.

Ms Chan was part of the team that acquired the S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters in 2011.

Hi Ms Chan! Congrats on making it to the SG 100 Women in Tech 2021 list – tell us how you feel about this achievement?

I'm honoured and thankful. I think having role models is important. When there are real-life examples of successful women out there, it could motivate others and inspire them to chase their passion in tech, by showing them they have an equal opportunity to succeed. Having a career in technology means having to constantly challenge ourselves by keeping up with ever-changing digital capabilities. The SG 100 Women in Tech award helps to encourage that passion, through its support and acknowledgement of the contributions and achievements of women in tech today.

Ms Chan (second from right) and her team received a token of appreciation of their support for the SAF helicopter crew's deployment in the US in 2011.

We heard you were a part of the team that acquired the RSN's S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters.

I was a project engineer working on the manufacturing process, testing and delivery of the helicopters for six years. When I was at San Diego for the testing and training phase of the helicopters, what stood out for me was seeing how acquiring the platform impacted the squadron pilots, maintenance engineers and their families as they had to go overseas and put in long hours to familiarise and train on the helicopters.

That was a turning point for me – I no longer saw myself solely as a project engineer, but as an on-site representative for DSTA and the SAF.

While it was a challenging project, the crew trusted our team to do what was necessary and what was best for the programme. I learnt that we should never lose sight of who we are working for and I really valued the trust they placed on our team.

What was the most memorable project that you've worked on?

In 2019, I helped to conceptualise BrainHack, a cybersecurity and AI youth camp. This is an annual event for students to gain hands-on experience in digital tech, in the areas of AI, cybersecurity, app development and even space technology.

It was a novel but meaningful experience for me because, for the first time, my "customers" were students. It reinforced the critical role that technology agencies such as DSTA must play in fostering interest in STEM and defence applications among our youths.

Ms Chan (front row, centre) and her colleagues during BrainHack 2020. During one of the camps, participating students were tasked to pit their robots against one another to complete search and rescue missions.

You've been in DSTA for almost 20 years! What do you enjoy most about your job?

Getting to work with cutting-edge tech to solve operational challenges is the best part! It's been really exciting to see how we can best harness AI for defence applications. We are looking at using AI, data analytics, and Internet-of-Things to improve how the SAF operates, from intelligence applications to better manned-unmanned teaming.

Besides collaborating with MINDEF and the SAF, we are also establishing many new commercial and academic partnerships to bring in great commercial ideas and technology into our applications – like how we are leveraging the best gaming and simulation technologies to innovate training for our soldiers.

Ultimately, it's about people. I've had the privilege to work with so many motivated, multidisciplinary teams, and it's wonderful to see how bringing technology and domain experts together with a shared goal can really drive an idea to a great product.

Lastly, what would you say to aspiring young women who want to be in the tech industry?

I think the best piece of advice I can give to them is to pursue your interests and ignore unnecessary "norms" or peer pressure. Always push your own boundaries and horizons, you'll find that there is something new to learn every day!

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