FOR Dr Ryan Chong, being an engineer is more than just building things. As a section manager at Globalfoundries, a company that manufactures semiconductor chips, he has a very wide job scope.

He heads an 11-person process integration team, who not only have to integrate all the various functions performed by each manufacturing step, but also constantly look for ways to improve the process.

The 34-year-old, whose role involves more responsibilities beyond engineering expertise and technical leadership, describes himself as a “servant-leader”.
“I am my team’s servant-in-chief. My role is to remove all roadblocks, including administrative ones, to ensure my engineers succeed in their projects and daily work,” he explains.

He joined the company formally in 2005, but his association with it goes a long way back.

In 1999, as a third-year electrical and electronics engineering student at the National University of Singapore, Dr Chong did a six-month internship with Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing.

Chartered was bought over last year by Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), the high-technology investment arm of Abu Dhabi, and merged into Globalfoundries, another semiconductor company in which ATIC holds a majority share.

Dr Chong kept in touch with Chartered after completing his six-month internship. During his master’s programme, he collaborated with Chartered for his research and attended training conducted by its staff.

During his doctorate programme at the Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, he returned to Singapore to present his latest research to the company.

After earning his PhD degree, it was no surprise that Dr Chong joined Chartered. He was promoted to his current position in 2008.

His decision to further his studies was driven by what he felt were gaps in his education.

“I want to ask ‘why’ instead of ‘how’? I further believed that exposing myself to European research and British culture would broaden my horizons,” he says.

With his qualifications, he could have had a career in academia, but he opted for a job that would let him see the fruits of his labour.

“I cannot do research and hope that others will derive applications out of it. My passion is to build and I need to see the finished product to feel that I have contributed,” he explains.

He also relishes a highly driven environment, like the semiconductor industry, where he can work with like-minded people, and come up with products that will “change the world”.

“Hi-tech industries are dynamic. Technologies evolve at the speed of light and we are constantly trying to improve the chips that go into our TV, MP3s and mobile phones,” says Dr Chong, referring to the end-user electronics products that Globalfoundries help bring to the market.

“As such, every day bring different challenges. What is good yesterday is no good today,” he says.

For aspiring engineers, Dr Chong, who enjoyed playing with his Lego set as a child, has this advice: pursue your childhood dreams.

“If you like to build things, build it! If you like to dismantle things and build it a better way, dismantle it!

“Do not be swayed by the latest fads or highest earning surveys. Craftsmen of old, technicians, engineers — we are all the same — we just want to engineer things that work, things that make the world just a bit easier to live in,” he says.

He also wants to debunk misperceptions, specifically about engineers being nerds.

“Actually, we are, but only specifically, such as computer nerds. We are actually well-adjusted people who watch the English Premier League and read Elizabeth Gilbert,” he says, referring to the award-winning contemporary American novelist.

Also, being an engineer does not mean one needs to have excellent grades in mathematics and science, he points out.

While a good foundation in these two subjects is necessary, engineering is more than just left-brain performance. “Engineering requires a full range of skills such as problem solving, big-picture thinking and communication. Engineering is both science and art,” he says.