TO SOFTWARE engineer Henry Ang Weixiang, seeing the product he helped develop come to life brings immense satisfaction that no other job can supply.
Says Mr Ang, 31, a senior member of technical staff at DSO National Laboratories (DSO): “What I love about my job is the ability to see and touch the secret-edge technologies we are developing for Singapore’s defence. Seeing some of these high-tech ‘toys’ makes me excited about my job and proud to be in DSO.
“I believe I would not be able to enjoy this unique perk at a deskbound job in other industries,” says Mr Ang, who graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering (Honours) in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University in 2007.
To learn the latest in safety engineering, safety lessons and best practices adopted by the industry, Mr Ang went on to pursue a Master of Science in Safety Critical Systems Engineering in 2012 from the University of York in Britain under DSO’s sponsorship.
Securing a ‘system of systems’
“Safety is of paramount importance in my projects and I was looking to bolster my knowledge and awareness in the development of software in safety critical systems,” he explains.
“In defence R&D, we need to ensure that the systems and technologies we develop are robust enough to operate in the harshest environments. A crucial aspect of this is ensuring that the system or technology is safe for the person operating it as well,” he adds.
“I am now able to communicate better with the stakeholders in system safety, and have more safety considerations in mind when designing a software,” says Mr Ang.
He counts a persevering spirit and a willingness to learn as qualities that have helped him thrive in his job.
“Software engineering or engineering in general is not a quiet walk in the park. Technical challenges surprise you at every corner, but the triumphs over these challenges are extremely rewarding,” he shares.
“Software engineering in defence R&D not only involves understanding a system, it also involves the understanding of how a system interacts with other systems — a system of systems,” says Mr Ang, who joined DSO in 2007. “Beyond this, you also need to understand hardware components in order to develop software that meets user requirements.”
DSO is Singapore’s national defence R&D organisation with the critical mission of developing technological surprises to sharpen the cutting edge of Singapore’s defence capabilities.
As a team leader, a typical work day for Mr Ang involves managing the people in his team and conducting software development work and integration tests with the project team in the laboratory. There are also times when they need to do system acceptance tests at customers’ sites.
Every project is run by a project manager, who is assisted by the leaders of the different functional teams. As a software team leader, Mr Ang is responsible to the project manager for the management of his team to produce the software deliverables.
Mr Ang, a software leader on three projects under the Guided Systems division, also has to develop software that enables the guided systems to be intelligent enough to perform their missions effectively with minimal operator intervention.
Project team spirit
Once, he was tasked to combine the software on several embedded platforms into a single platform. It was challenging as it involved understanding the design and functionalities of multiple complex software modules as well as the familiarisation of the device interfaces on different embedded platforms. Luckily, helpful and knowledgeable colleagues came to his rescue.
He says: “What pushes me on, despite the challenges, is the firm belief that my contributions directly enhance the defence capabilities of my country. The strong project team spirit also helps to encourage everyone to march on as a team.”
Working with leading-edge technologies and capable colleagues from multiple domains means he constantly needs to upgrade himself, both professionally and personally. Staff are empowered to identify their own training needs and arrange for the courses that suit their schedules.
“DSO is big on cross-divisional learning and sharing. There are regular technology fairs and talks to cultivate this sharing culture. The more experienced colleagues are always willing to lend a hand or share their advice,” says Mr Ang.
Good work-life balance aside, the staff are also a close-knit unit. “Social events like lab retreats and New Year celebrations help to create a cohesive working environment. I firmly believe this working environment allows me to learn and excel in my job,” says Mr Ang, who saw how the DSO family worked hard and played hard together during his internship there.
“If you are open to new engineering challenges every day and are keen to translate ideas into reality and want to make a difference, then DSO is the place for you,” he says.