The Diverse World of Computer Science

Scholarship Guide URA Scholar Wilson Chua Wei Cheng

URA Scholar, Wilson Chua Wei Cheng sets to achieve digital fluency and global exposure at Imperial College London.

The main reason why I wished to study overseas as a Computer Science student is the buzzword: “exposure”. I meant this in the sense of wanting to experience diverse places and cultures. To me, the environment contributes greatly to the university experience, even for a Computer Science degree. I also believe that the prime time to experience more of the world is during one’s youth. Being able to study while exploring more of the world allows me to achieve these “life goals” of mine.

Another reason was that Imperial College London’s computing course is pretty unique!  The first programming language taught is Haskell, a truly fascinating functional programming language that is usually more fun to think about than to code in. To engineering geeks like myself, the most attractive part of the course was its comprehensive exposure to practical aspects of computing, which I prefer to a more theoretical focus. It seemed to be a perfect place to improve my technical programming ability.

Hence, I researched online for scholarships that might help me achieve my aspiration to get into the Imperial College London. With the enormous demand for “technology talent”, there are many organisations offering Information and Communications Technology (ICT) related scholarships. However, having done Geographic Information System (GIS) work previously, I had an inclination for spatial data analysis.  This naturally led me to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Scholarship. For the more data science-oriented people, there is an increasing demand in URA for expertise in this field of work, i.e. analysing data sets to drive planning decisions.

URA is highly supportive of me honing my skills based on my own interests. When I asked my senior in URA about what courses I should take in relation to my future work at URA, the reply was that I should choose what I am passionate about. While this might seem vague, the wisdom behind this is that the field of computing is highly volatile. You will never know which field might be storming the industry next. It might be that your interest in robotics or video game development suddenly becomes hugely relevant and gives you the edge in a trending field. With that, I am personally looking to explore and expand my knowledge base. Being able to take on summer schools and external internships at other firms during summer breaks is an aspect of the URA Scholarship that I fully appreciate.

During last summer, I returned to Singapore to embark on a training attachment at URA. Many might wonder about what kinds of ICT work URA has to offer (I know this because I have been asked many times). URA’s Information Systems and Geospatial Group specialises in bringing many of URA’s systems to life. Some of these include public facing web applications such as URA SPACE, to internal tools that empower our planners. Many of the experienced system analysts at URA have deep knowledge and skill sets in different kinds of software, providing me with many opportunities to learn from them.

The challenges that system analysts face in URA are quite alike most typical large ICT businesses out there. It is difficult to develop applications that cater towards the user experience, while maintaining large system architectures that have to deal with issues such as scaling. As a result, the technical experience gained while working at URA is comprehensive and covers a great number of subject matters (i.e. literally the full stack).

In public service, developers can concentrate on developing stable and meaningful systems, and not worry about profit margins.  Indeed, as an engineer, I would prefer to produce well-polished products. Driving a project and seeing it come to fruition smoothly does leave a great sense of satisfaction, after all.

Work at URA is fulfilling in many ways. As a software engineer, I find the work highly diverse and dynamic. There are plenty of varied spatial datasets, complex web applications, and intricate databases that all require highly diverse technical skill sets to wrangle with. Software development at URA naturally requires a deeper level of understanding on how urban planners work, as close interactions with end-users are necessary to continually improve projects. Compared to school projects where you will be happy if you pass the automated code tests, now you are trying to make other people happy. Challenging, isn’t it?

Speaking about school projects, at the Imperial College London, my first year programming project theme was “making the world a better place.” We built and programmed a rover that can be scheduled to move about and do things, so we might have gone a little off-topic. That however spurred me on to consider the outcomes of what I will create.

As a future developer, I will be part of a team that creates digital tools for planners, which are used to gain deeper insights and make better planning decisions for a more liveable environment. Knowing that my work will be used well by others is enough to spark joy in me.

Now then, what about you?

URA Scholarship
Now: Bachelor of Engineering in Computing, Year 2 Imperial College London, UK
From: NUS High School