As an undergraduate, Mr Edmund Teo Kwang Hock burrowed himself in embedded receiver design for his final-year project at the National University of Singapore.

At a career fair on campus, he met the human resource team from DSO National Laboratories, which introduced him to an embedded systems job.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Engineering (Honours), he joined DSO five-and-a-half years ago.

Now Mr Teo, 31, a senior member of technical staff with DSO’s Networks Division, is putting his engineering degree to good use in his role as a defence scientist.

“Continuous learning and job satisfaction are important to me. I wanted a job in which I could contribute to the nation and continue to learn new things — both of which are met at DSO,” he says.

Test of expertise

One career milestone that remains deeply etched in his mind is his very first presentation — in the audience was the then Minister for Defence with various Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) service chiefs.

It was an intimidating experience for the young engineer who had just started his career, although Mr Teo passed muster.

“It was a test of my technical knowledge and presentation skills. Fortunately, with my management’s support and with adequate preparation, it went well and I learnt a lot through the experience,” says Mr Teo.

Being perched on the frontiers of discovering new science and technology keeps Mr Teo constantly on the learning curve. What excites him too is the abundance of opportunities to participate in new projects.

R&D requires perseverance

In any research job, the biggest challenge is uncertainty, says Mr Teo. He explains: “In R&D, we are always trying to break new ground — it takes experience, the courage to take risks and the commitment to proceed with a technical approach that has never been implemented.”

Innovation in R&D requires hard work and a sense of perseverance to translate ideas to real systems.

“We can make certain assumptions in some simulations, but actual performance can be verified only when the prototype is ready, which could take several years.

“We also have to be ready to handle any technical or programmatic issues that crop up along the way.”

It helps to keep a positive perspective and understand that going through the challenges is part of the learning process.

Then, there is the teamwork culture that promotes knowledge-sharing which is conducive to an R&D environment.

“In order to develop feasible defence solutions, we must take an active interest in the ‘know-why’ and have a good grasp of the root cause of issues or challenges the SAF faces,” he says.

Usually based in the laboratory, Mr Teo’s work evolves with the project cycle — from the early phase when he does research, requirements study and system simulations to system development and testing and towards the end of the project, he is outdoors doing field trials to ensure a system works as designed.

It is not all work and no play. The company has a pro-family culture — staff can plan their own work schedule so long as they fulfil their work objectives.

It also actively promotes a healthy lifestyle. An hour is set aside every Friday to encourage staff to engage in sports.

Growing opportunities

As Singapore’s national defence R&D organisation, DSO was started four decades ago with a team of just three people tasked by the late Dr Goh Keng Swee to conduct research in electronic warfare.

Today, it has grown into an organisation of about 1,300 researchers, scientists and engineers who conduct R&D in defence technologies in the domains of air, land, sea and cyberspace.

There are seven R&D divisions spread across a wide technological spectrum — from components technology to materials, electronic warfare systems, unmanned systems, lasers, signal processing, and computer and network security.

Since DSO is still growing, it offers plenty of career opportunities to both fresh graduates and mid-career switchers.

“Our mission is to create technological surprises that provide the SAF with a superior technology edge. This means constantly out-performing ourselves and seeking to be the best,” says Mr Teo.

“To achieve that, it is critical to be innovative and have a passion for lifelong learning. In the long run, especially during the tough times, your passion is the driving force that will keep you going,” he says.