When Isen Ng first joined the Singaporean startup scene, he never imagined that his career would advance the way other programmers could only dream of.
Starting out as a junior software engineer at Singaporean startup tenCube, Isen was eventually relocated to California’s Bay Area when technology giant Intel bought over the company. During his 6-year overseas work stint, he was the core developer for Intel Security’s flagship mobile product McAfee Mobile Security.
Isen in surf gear during his time at the Bay Area
However, Isen made the decision to return home in September 2015, and back to the Singaporean startup scene. Now a Senior Software Engineer at Singaporean startup Treebox Solutions, Isen spoke excitedly about the abundant opportunities back home, especially with the growing startup community in Singapore.
“It is improving by leaps and bounds, with more startups than ever,” he noted, “There are incubators, venture capitalists, and even celebrity investors to help accelerate the startup scene. While my single, biggest worry about moving back was whether there were enough career opportunities here, along with meeting new people and being able to attend large scale conventions, among others - my concerns turned out to be unfounded.”
Coming Back for Love
Isen’s fiancée, Dionis, is also a part of the flourishing Singapore startup scene, running her own food delivery service, LeanBento.com. Dionis is also a key reason Isen decided to come back home.
Isen (left) and Dionis back in Singapore
“You never let go of a good catch,” he said fondly of his fiancée, whom he got acquainted with on an online social platform after being introduced by a common friend. The couple started keeping in touch regularly and eventually went on a coffee date when Isen was back in Singapore for a holiday. The rest, he said, is history.
“She is… independent, driven and ambitious,” he shared. “I find that attractive that as I grow, she is growing too. We motivate each other to push on, to try new things and to progress, never to become complacent or remain stagnant.”
With Dionis keeping a keen eye on the local market to grow her business, Isen made the move back to show his support. “She’s definitely elated that I’ve come back for her,” he affirmed.
Settling Back Home
The return home for Isen was surprisingly simple, despite his initial concerns. For one, his parents were happy to have their son back under their wing. “[They] kept my room as-is and welcomed me back with open arms,” he said with a laugh. Isen didn’t seem to face many challenges when adapting to life in Singapore – in fact, he reckons he’s adapted ‘pretty well’.
“Singapore is a concept that never left me,” he mused, “I thought it had, but it didn’t. The culture, the public transport, the politics, the language, the food… I understand them all. I even thought that I might have forgotten how to chit-chat with Singaporeans, how to order kopi-o kosong, or where to find the best street food. But no, they were just hidden in a corner of my conscience, ready to be activated again. Singapore was where I grew up. Even if I was away for the longest time, I’d still understand how Singapore operates.”
While Isen acknowledges that Singapore may not have as vibrant a culture as the Bay Area does, he cited a number of the Lion City’s other positive attributes. “The streets are safe, the schools are good, and the food is very delicious.
People get along with each other, and the public transport is unparalleled. There are definitely matters that can make the people disgruntled, but having experienced issues other advanced states are facing, Singapore is doing really well,” he said assuredly.
Creating a Lasting Impact
To Isen, Singapore also presents a great opportunity for him to create a lasting impact in the ecosystem. “The little nut or bolt you see yourself to be in a maze of complex machinery, may not be that insignificant after all,” he reasoned. “In Singapore, I feel that I can actually affect the outcome of a matter, more so than in the Bay Area or anywhere else in the world.”
Isen elaborated on how he came to this conclusion. “Singapore is a small place – in relation to our small community, our voices are louder and our leaders actually listen to the common folk. A sound suggestion could be easily raised to your local town council or your local MP. In many other places, the Bay Area included, it would take a significant amount of power to raise an issue.”
Isen (middle) with his colleagues at Treebox Solutions
Isen also believes that his years of experience in the Bay Area has also helped him develop and improve on his core work skillsets, thanks to being ‘honed and sharpened by the multitude of product managers’.
“I am now able to critically define a product's value, identify its target audience, and refine its monetisation strategy. Having experienced the Bay Area’s trends first hand – which is always at the forefront of the rest of the world – I can foresee trends in Singapore and predict Singaporean consumer perceptions. I hope to bring some of their values back to Singapore to modernise not only the work place, but even my home and hopefully the people around me. I want to contribute to make Singapore a better place, and I think I have the necessary skillsets to help further the Smart Nation initiative.”
Plans for the Future
One of Isen’s predictions is that Singapore’s future ‘will be governed heavily by software’, and as such, he said, “I will always be thinking of ways to promote software development to the younger crowd in Singapore.”
At the moment, he is planning to pilot a volunteer programming initiative for children known as ‘CoderDojo’, which he was heavily involved in during his time at Intel Security. He plans to pilot the initiative with children of Treebox’s employees, before opening it up to a wider audience in the near future. “It might take a long time,” Isen admitted, “But I hope that this initiative can get more people interested in software development, and even consider it a worthy academic subject.”
With opportunities abound and marriage on the cards, Isen is glad he made the move back to Singapore. “It feels like home to be spouting Singlish again, back where I belong. Even if I hadn’t come back with marriage in view, I would still eventually come back to Singapore.”