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DSTA – Cutting-Edge Technology Behind Military Capabilities

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Alvin hopes to bring the use of big data and Brain Computer Interface systems into our defence.

At four years, he was playing computer games and was exploring Microsoft Disc Operating commands. ‘I guess these early interactions with the ­computer might have sparked my interest for computing,’ chuckled Alvin, who is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Computer ­Science at Georgia Institute of ­Technology.

Alvin was drawn to the DSTA Scholarship because he came to appreciate the importance of defence technology to Singapore’s peace and progress through his time in National Service. ‘Defence technology allows our military forces to stay competitive ­despite our limited resources,’ he explained. ‘If I can contribute to that, I will.’
Alvin was involved in designing and ­implementing software to improve his unit’s work ­processes – a role which brought him into regular ­contact with DSTA engineers who were ­developing the software. He found that their work in ­science and engineering is what he is passionate about. It was from these ­experiences, that Alvin was encouraged to take up the DSTA Scholarship.

A World Of Opportunities
As a DSTA scholar, Alvin has had many opportunities to learn beyond his tertiary studies. He had an internship with ­DSTA’s InfoComm Infrastructure Programme ­Centre where he had hands-on opportunities to develop cyber defence tools and software.

‘The work I was exposed to covered many advanced computing topics not ­covered in school. The biggest takeaway was realising how much more there was to learn and being able to learn from ­experienced engineers in the department,’ Alvin said.

In addition, Alvin took part in DSTA’s Global Internship Programme, which offers DSTA scholars the unique and rewarding internship opportunity to learn and work alongside engineers in top ­multinational companies. He worked at Rolls-Royce’s ­Advanced Technology Centre in ­Singapore, dealing with big data analytics. ‘I got to ­apply machine learning techniques ­acquired in school on actual real-world problems,’ he said.

Besides laying the foundation for technical skills, the DSTA Scholarship has also enriched Alvin with life skills and ­memorable adventures. ‘I ­remember celebrating Thanksgiving with friends from Georgia Tech. We hiked up a mountain in the middle of an unexpectedly cold winter night to catch the sunrise from the peak of the mountain,’ Alvin recalled fondly. ‘Experiencing the different cultures, I learnt that we need to keep an open mind and not be afraid to admit our mistakes and ignorance.’

Alvin is eager to begin work at DSTA after his graduation in May 2015 because of the many exciting projects DSTA oversees. His personal to-do list is extensive. Amongst other goals, he hopes to apply big data in the battlefield and wants to see Brain Computer Interface systems integrated within our military systems.

‘In this era of technology, I believe that it is not about size. It is about the fast beating the slow,’ he explained. ‘The advancement in computer science has the potential to help a small country like Singapore achieve a global competitive edge.’

He is also keen to build his skills in managing engineering projects. ‘To me, project management is both an art and a science that requires a wide spectrum of qualities. As a project manager, one gets to affect ­every aspect of a project,’ Alvin said.

Working Hard
Before he entered Nanyang Polytechnic, Alvin’s mother was hospitalised by thyroid disease and his family of five became dependant on his father. “During this difficult period, I worked at a restaurant to supplement the family income,” he said. Alvin had not paid much attention to his studies in his earlier years, but these events made him realise how vulnerable he was and how important further education is. He started to study diligently and his hard work earned him the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science in 2008, ­following his outstanding academic achievements in polytechnic.

‘I believe that achieving success is a combination of hard work, talent and luck. As we don’t have a say in either luck or ­talent, we should work hard. Effort is the only variable we can alter,’ said the ­Chinese philosophy buff.

Alvin also feels that scholars need to place public interests above self. ‘A ­scholarship should not be thought of as free education or a title,’ he said. ‘A scholarship is a commitment to serve, contribute and lead in the organisation you represent – by working hard, of course.’

Alvin Khong Farn Loong
DSTA Scholarship
Age: 25
Now: Pursuing Master’s in Computer Science, jointly offered by NTU and Georgia Institute of Technology
From: Nanyang Polytechnic