From going to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to being at the forefront of tech and cyber developments, no two days are the same for Defence Executive Officer (DXO) Grace Sum. Discover her growth and impact in the realm of cyber strategy to safeguard Singapore’s digital borders.
What was your initial impression and/or understanding of a MINDEF/SAF career? What got you to join?
I am currently in the Cyber Strategy and Policy Department at the Defence Cyber Organisation, where I support the formulation of cyber strategies to safeguard Singapore’s digital borders against emergent cyber threats and ensure security of our increasingly digitalised and highly networked nation. I work with whole-of-government agencies like the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore to drive interagency processes for short-cycle cyber threat monitoring, early warning and incident response, through to longer-term strategic planning and cybersecurity capability development. Besides domestic agencies, I also see how we can grow our international partnerships and collaborate with them to deal with transboundary cyber threats.
In view of the constantly evolving nature of the space, we also have to keep our pulse on the latest technology and cyber developments, and assess how best to position ourselves to capitalise on emerging trends and hedge against unprecedented risks that may arise without warning.
How has a career in MINDEF/SAF changed your life and/or thinking?
My experience in MINDEF/SAF has taught me to be more resilient and to carve out my own space in a new and challenging environment. It has taught me that growth and stepping out of your comfort zone may not be a smooth nor comfortable process, but it will certainly be one that stretches and sharpens you, and positions you well for the next bound. For female DXOs especially, while security may be a domain that tends to be relatively male-dominated and one which we have less familiarity with, this at the same time allows us to bring fresh and unbounded perspectives to the table.
How is the MINDEF/SAF career a rewarding one?
A career with MINDEF/SAF is rewarding first and foremost because of the impact of the work in ensuring Singapore’s survival and success in today’s increasingly complex geopolitical and operating environment, and beyond that, contributing towards greater peace and stability in our region. The challenge of the work is also an exciting and rewarding part of the job as we contend with geopolitical events that might rapidly unfold, threats that might emerge without forewarning and trends that we might be unable to forestall. On a more personal note, the work here has allowed me to be at the forefront of many key events and negotiations, hear first-hand the thoughts of global leaders, and gain exposure to a range of fields that has accelerated my professional development.
What is the most memorable moment in your career?
The most memorable moment in my career thus far was when I had the opportunity to visit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. as part of my first work trip. The COVID-19 pandemic had hit shortly after I started work and as a result, I had limited travel opportunities during my first posting at the Defence Policy Office. Being able to visit the various facilities and be involved in dialogues with key US officials was an eye-opening and exciting experience. It also highlighted to me how the work I was engaged in was not done just at the margins, but at the heart of where security and policy decisions were made.
What have you learnt from your MINDEF/SAF career?
I have learnt to constantly be on the lookout for and be open to seizing opportunities that present themselves, and keep on my toes in responding quickly to changes. For a large organisation like MINDEF/SAF where there are many established structures and processes, it might not be natural to do so but I think this is where the most value can be created or unlocked. For instance, after my first posting in the Defence Policy Office, I was originally inclined to stay within the policy circuit as I enjoyed the international outlook and fast-paced nature of the work.
My current role at the Defence Cyber Organisation however, captured my interest as it was a new domain that was increasing in relevance and salience. While I did not have any technical background nor skills, making this pivot into cyber has been one of my most fulfilling career decisions as I was presented with many opportunities to develop new competencies, gain insight into a new domain and explore uncharted waters.
2015 Defence Merit Scholarship Recipient
Bachelor of Science in Philosophy and Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science
Manager, Cyber Strategy and Policy Department