The second batch of apprentices from the AI Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP) has recently graduated! After 9 months of extensive research, exploration, discussions and hacking, they are now ready to call themselves “AI engineers”. How has the journey been like for them? Let us hear some of their stories.
Delon first got to know about AIAP from the AI Singapore website. He had always been interested in the use of AI to solve practical problems since his university days and prior to AIAP, he had worked in a research department in a statutory board. To make the selection into the programme, Delon practised Kaggle challenges and coding interview questions and this had helped him develop his skills in computational thinking needed for the role.
The apprenticeship programme not only exposed Delon to a variety of practical problems which can be solved using AI, it also taught him a wide range of deep learning and statistical modeling techniques. Throughout the programme, he was greatly appreciative of his project mate, mentor and project manager’s support and guidance.
After having successfully worked with a real-world problem during the apprenticeship programme, Delon is set to further hone his skills in AI as he joins another statutory board to work on AI-related projects.
Jieqi is a NUS computer science graduate and had worked as a software engineer for three-and-a-half years at a tech start-up prior to AIAP. The use of AI to solve different problems in recent years – from the automation of processes too mundane and repetitive for humans to perform to the rise of personalised services targeting individual consumers – piqued her interest in this domain. She saw the potential for AI to be applied in just about any industry and that motivated her to apply for the programme. Although Python was not her primary language as a software engineer, she had no problem picking it up and became proficient enough to make it for the selection.
During the first 6 weeks of the programme, the apprentices went through a curated series of self-study lessons which Jieqi found useful as a guide to further explore the AI landscape on her own. Having the opportunity to work on an actual project thereafter allowed her to put into practice what she had learnt. It was also interesting for her to work with people from different backgrounds, many of whom were willing to share their experiences and knowledge. She also found the opportunities to share about her own learning journey with various VIP groups who came to visit as well as at a special AI for Everyone (AI4E) International Women’s Day session very fulfilling.
While the work had been challenging, Jieqi believes that having a positive attitude helped her successfully complete the apprenticeship programme. She looks forward to re-joining the tech start-up she left but with a different job scope where she will have more opportunities to contribute within the company in the data science domain, in addition to software engineering.
A mechanical engineer by training, Shirlene did science policy and industry development in a government agency after graduation. Subsequent further studies in healthcare systems and operations brought her into contact with data analytics. Along the way, she became proficient in R and also picked up a bit of Python. With the birth of her daughter at the end of her master’s programme, she took 2 years off to be a full-time mother. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, she chanced upon the apprenticeship programme from the AI Singapore website and decided to apply for it.
Looking to deepen her technical skills to complement her policy-making and project management experience, Shirlene had the opportunity to work for a health-tech client, helping to develop models for fraud detection in healthcare images. Although there were times when dense equations and concepts appeared too daunting, her personal interest in healthcare and the supportive learning environment in the apprenticeship programme were instrumental in making the journey a positive experience.
Shirlene believes that to grow in a field, it is important to be part of a community. Even as the apprenticeship ends, she will be keeping in touch with her peers. She will be joining a data security AI start-up as a product manager where she will get to combine her technical and project management skills.
Soh Wee Tee
With a PhD in physics and working as a researcher in magnetism and spintronics, Wee Tee first became interested in AI in early 2018. Before long, he was reading up extensively on machine learning techniques as well as working on Kaggle-type projects a few months prior to the AIAP selection.
A plus for Wee Tee about the apprenticeship programme were the very open, friendly and collaborative discussions that took place every day. While his main project involved anomaly detection, that did not prevent him from venturing into other areas like natural language processing and reinforcement learning. A particularly proud moment was being able to implement the AlphaZero algorithm, the chess-playing AI, from scratch.
Wee Tee is of the opinion that it is important to stay in touch with rapid developments in AI by reading important papers while also at the same time, have clarity of one’s interests in order not to lose focus. Working hands-on on projects that one finds interesting and learning along the way is the best way to acquire concepts and skills.
Grateful for having been given the chance to transit smoothly into the AI industry, Wee Tee will be working in the field of natural language processing on projects to better the lives of Singaporeans.
Every journey has a beginning and an end. Although they came from different backgrounds and were at different stages in life, the common interest in AI and the belief in the positive impact they can make with this technology brought them together. Whether it was huddling together to debug a piece of code, presenting their findings or just chilling out over a beer after work, everyone has something to remember about the 9-month apprenticeship programme.
Let us wish them success in their new endeavours!
Basil is the technical community manager and editor at AI Singapore, committed to bringing Singapore’s AI ecosystem to new levels by working through communities, teams and individuals. Dream big or go home!