When Desiree Chen joined the AI Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP)® in 2020, COVID-19 was already wreaking havoc on the economy. Like many other people, she was afraid of the prospect of unemployment during this tumultuous period. But stronger than that was a desire to acquire a well-rounded set of AI and data science skills. And so she put aside short-term uncertainties to pursue her long-term plans.
Desiree graduated from Nanyang Technological University in 2008 with an honours degree in Maritime Studies and was working at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore for more than seven years when she decided to embark on the Master of Science in Business Analytics programme at the National University of Singapore. The postgraduate studies gave her a good foundation in analytics, and she went on to join Singapore Airlines as a Pricing and Merchandising Analyst.
Her work experiences allowed her to understand how technology can help organisations manage huge amounts of data in a more efficient manner, and she often found herself at the intersection of business and technology. “That allowed me to grow professionally, to empathise and work better with business units and technology teams,” she said.
By the time Desiree applied for AIAP, she had already built up a good working knowledge of AI, both on her own and through her work.
“I spent about five years prior to AIAP building my foundation in Machine Learning (ML) and gaining work experience in various aspects of AI and data science,” she said.
However, she felt that her knowledge was incomplete and wanted to deepen her skills. “I wanted to be exposed more to the engineering aspects of AI and data science projects,” she said. “In my interactions with industry, I observed this growing and crucial need to have a good infrastructure in place, so that organisations can really grow their AI and data science capabilities and not run ML models locally on laptops.”
She knew that AIAP would provide her with the opportunity to hone her engineering skills and equip her with the knowledge and hands-on experience to deal better with these areas of AI.
For Desiree, the most interesting aspect of the apprenticeship programme was the opportunity to work on a real-life data engineering project – something which she did not get to focus on in her previous roles.
During the seven-month project phase of AIAP, her team was involved in integrating data versioning and data cataloging features into a data platform to support industry projects undertaken by AI Singapore.
As someone who was relatively unfamiliar with software engineering, one of Desiree’s concerns before she joined AIAP was whether she could keep up with the rest of her cohort.
She needn’t have worried. Whenever she encountered technology stacks that she was not very familiar with, she found that she could always approach her mentors and team mates for technical advice and guidance.
In fact, one of the things that Desiree really liked about AIAP was the culture of knowledge sharing. “Those around me were helpful and forthcoming in sharing their expertise, and the mentors always encouraged us to ask questions. I learned to ask the right questions to get the answers that I needed,” she said.
Through regular architecture design meetings, Desiree also developed a better understanding of the various trade-offs in architecture design. And she felt a great sense of achievement when she was able to integrate data versioning into the data platform and demonstrate to AI engineers and fellow apprentices how the feature could be used in the various projects undertaken by AI Singapore.
While all this was ongoing, Desiree also managed to squeeze in the time to obtain her AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty certifications.
Desiree graduated from AIAP on 9 April 2021 and joined Singapore Exchange Limited as Vice President of the CFO Unit (Data and Business Analytics). Under the guidance of AI Singapore’s Talent & Career Management Team which provides career advisory and development support to the apprentices, she secured this role and gets to apply the data engineering skills gained from AIAP and her analytics expertise from previous work experiences.
Desiree sees AIAP as an important step in her growth as an AI and data science practitioner. To those contemplating the same path, she has this to share: “Do not choose this journey just because everyone says that it is the next big thing or that you can earn a higher salary. While that may be the case, you have to ask yourself if you are truly passionate about this. You need to have passion for those parts of the journey where it gets tough, when you get tired and you doubt yourself. It is not all smooth-sailing. You need to be resilient.”
“This is a journey in your career,” she said. “Think of it more as a marathon than a sprint to the finish line, and learn to enjoy the ups and downs.”