Securing a job at a Silicon Valley startup straight after graduation sounds like the perfect dream for a big techie like Glenn Low, and one that eventually came true for him. Shortly after graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Singaporean was offered an opportunity to work with American advertising platform startup Rocket Fuel, where he had interned at as an undergraduate in the NUS Overseas College (NOC) Programme.
Glenn (right) at a Hawaiian-themed company party with his Rocket Fuel colleagues back in the US
It was a perfect opportunity for him, as his then-girlfriend – and now wife – Sarah Luo was also pursuing her PhD at the University of California, San Francisco at the same time. This allowed them to spend the next few years pursuing their careers and professional goals in the United States’ West Coast, with Glenn subsequently moving on to digital performance marketing company Criteo.
However, Glenn knew that this was not going to be a permanent move for him, as Sarah was due to return to Singapore after completing her PhD to fulfil her scholarship bond with local statutory board Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). “I knew that at some point in time I would return back to Singapore to settle down, but I did not know when that time would be,” he said.
Fast forward to 2017 – both Glenn and Sarah have relocated back to Singapore, and welcomed a baby boy to their family early last year. “Back then, I had the option of staying and working in the Bay Area, and my wife and I could have attempted a long-distance relationship. However, I felt it was important for us to be together, geographically as a family unit. So, naturally, we came back to Singapore.”
Lessons from Abroad
Glenn may now be thousands of miles away from where he started his career, but he is still greatly appreciative of his time overseas – in particular, the opportunity to work in the heart of the world’s startup hub.
Glenn and his wife Sarah at the Googleplex, California, taken years before he had joined Google
“I remember reading an article published in 2015 where Minister Chan Chun Sing encouraged Singaporeans to venture abroad to gain experience, and to obtain a global perspective before returning home,” he recalled. “Looking back, I felt the overseas experience had allowed me to be more aware of my narrow perspectives and internal biases. Living overseas for a few years gave me a broader perspective of life in general.”
Glenn’s experiences in the fast-paced Silicon Valley also offered him many insights and parallels to our country, and how he, as a Singaporean, was able to offer his own unique values to the environment. “Ex-Minister George Yeo had a nautical metaphor, in which he described Singapore as a highly-manoeuvrable speedboat moving alongside the super-tankers of the larger nations,” he said. Glenn explained that he saw a need to adopt the said ‘speedboat’ approach in having to think on his feet and adapt quickly to situations.
Glenn enjoying his hike through Yosemite National Park’s Giant Sequoia grove
Parallels between Singapore and the Valley
These newfound experiences and worldviews he brought home has led him to believe that Singapore is poised to be “one of the world’s leading start-up hubs” in the region for all entrepreneurs in due time. “It’s heartening to see the local startup scene take off by leaps and bounds. An encouraging development I have seen in recent years is our country’s willingness to allow startups to test out their ideas, even if they may end up challenging some of our deep-rooted policies or ways of life,” said Glenn.
“Another area which I think we have done well is in the increased focus on teaching students how to code at a younger age. Once our younger generation learns basic coding skills, similar to how English, Math and Science are emphasised in schools, we will likely have more students test out creative ways of using their technical knowledge,” he added.
Glenn has since plied his trade at many tech giants here in Singapore – including Facebook and Google – taking the chance to further these learnings of diversity, open-mindedness and quick iterations, and using these to augment the strong Singaporean values he inculcated growing up in Singapore.
Adjusting Back Home
Relocating home to Singapore after spending multiple years overseas had its challenges too. “Having experienced the cool climate of the Bay Area, Singapore’s hot and humid weather was definitely something I wasn’t looking forward to,” joked Glenn. “I also wasn’t used to the petite food portions that are served in food centres when I returned and had to order multiple plates during mealtimes – but I could probably owe this instead to my Singapore food cravings!”
That aside, Glenn did not face other readjustment issues when moving back to Singapore. “In general, returning home was a breeze because Singapore tends to be a lot more efficient than the US in many things,” he said, citing his frustrations at the inefficient operations experienced while abroad. “In Singapore, we are accustomed to locals providing feedback and demanding excellence in almost everything we come across. I’m very glad that the government and companies take such feedback seriously, and would usually follow up well to fix the issues.”
Glenn and his family visiting the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Christmas Day 2017
Glenn was also able to keep up with the latest Singapore news and developments while abroad. “A way I kept up with the goings-on back home was to rely on my network of Singaporean friends returning to the Bay Area from Singapore. As we caught up over meals, drinks and gatherings, I’d get good stories of their experiences back home,” he said. “On top of that, there are also many Singaporean events happening in the area throughout the year – like those hosted by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) – and they would usually attract many Singaporeans like myself since they usually serve free Singaporean food!”
“I have also attended many events hosted by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) and it was at one of them that I met my wife!” he added.
For Singaporeans considering their return home, Glenn shared that, while it is always important to consider what is right for yourself and your family, it helps to keep in mind that Singapore is home. While he particularly noted the healthcare and educational systems in Singapore as ‘top-notch’ and ‘unparalleled’, there are, of course, always still room for improvements. “But on the whole, Singapore is probably still one of the best countries to live in, with a vibrant mix of locals and foreigners living together on our island.”
“When we returned back to Singapore, we were welcomed by friends and family, and it was easy re-assimilating back into life at home,” he said.
“Likewise, Singapore will always welcome you with open arms.”