Every year, on 8 March, we commemorate the women in our lives and celebrate their achievements on International Women’s Day. Here in Singapore, we have our share of women making waves in their respective industries as well, some of them even achieving great things while still in their prime. Here is some of those young inspiring women from different industries, all of whom are still under 30.
AI: Annabelle Kwok, Founder of NeuralBay
Since young, Annabelle has always been interested in technology; in her primary school years, her parents got her a Lego Mindstorms set and she used the Lego bricks and electric cables to make her own robots. She also studied computer science in Temasek JC’s Integrated Programme and then went on to study mathematics at NTU.
In 2017, she founded NeuralBay, an AI company focusing on detection and recognition software for humans, objects and text and works with regional MNCs. Prior to that, she co-founded AI company SmartCow and was involved in the creation of a powerful deployment device called Tera.
Outside of work, Annabelle is also a jack of all trades; she is an MMA fighter, licensed windsurfer, musical theatre enthusiast and even joined a circus troupe at one point. At the heart of it all, she is also actively involved in community work. A university overseas programme in Togo, West Africa motivated her to start her own business so she has control over sending her technology to those who need it most. She is also an active volunteer with Make-A-Wish Singapore and partnered with local charity Daughters of Tomorrow to hire low-income women to work for her firm. And she’s also a personal friend of Barack Obama and his sister.
Founded in 2005 by Tammy Tang (aka furryfish) and Dawn Yang (aka pinksheep), this gaming organisation started off as the world’s first all-female DOTA team. Now, the organisation has expanded to include a League of Legends (LoL) sub-unit formed in 2013.
Their LoL squad is a team of 5, with 4 of the members still in their early 20s, and is coached by Amanda “Tania Mae” Tan. The team recently clinched second place in last month’s Female eSports League (FSL) Elite Main Event as the Singapore/Malaysia representatives.
Their DOTA 2 team also did well in the FSL DOTA 2 League last month, clinching first place over Philippines’ Rajoro Wings. This team includes one of the original founding Asterisk* members, Kimberlyn See (aka kimchi).
Aerospace: Lisa Goh, Astrophysicist (Trajectory Optimisation), Equatorial Space Industries
As a Year 4 Physics undergrad from NUS specialising in astrophysics, Lisa has always had an interest in space. So when her coursemate introduced her to NUS Enterprise’s startup company Equatorial Space Industries (ESI), she jumped at the chance to join the team. As ESI’s trajectory optimisation engineer, Lisa is in charge of designing the trajectory of Singapore’s first orbital space rocket, and optimising it to get to the desired orbit in the most time- and fuel-efficient way. She also works with the team’s software engineers to develop the Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) code, which directs the rocket based on feedback from the external environment.
Last year, the team won first place for their pitch and prototype at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre Innovation Challenge, a space challenge for space tech startups from all over the world. The young team, consisting of NUS alumni and current students like Lisa, aims to be the first orbital launch company not just in Singapore, but in the region.
Despite the highly-technical nature of her job, she tries to add in an element of fun to her work as well; to help her understand robotics and orbital mechanics better, she plays Kerbal Space Program, a game which lets you build your own rocket based on realistic aerodynamic and orbital physics. Despite being the only girl on the main team working on the rocket and being in a course that is also quite male-dominated, she gets along comfortably with her male colleagues and coursemates and doesn’t experience any major disadvantages – in fact, her male colleagues sometimes tend to go easy on her and treat her nicer!
Film: Rachel Liew, cinematographer
Rachel is not your conventional young filmmaker; for her NTU final-year project, she travelled to South Korea to film a 20-minute short called Han, which was about a Singaporean father whose son kills a Korean lady in a car accident, so he goes to Korea to reconcile with the lady’s family. She worked with her classmate Jonathan Choo, who directed the film, and the film features local veteran actor Zhu Houren (who is also the director’s father in real life) as the lead role.
For her work, Han clinched the Laszlo Kovacs Student Award – Golden Tadpole, at the illustrious 2016 Camerimage Film Festival in Poland. This award is not only the highest prize in the student category, it is also the highest student filmmaker award in the world. It also won Best Direction and DBS Best Picture awards at the 2016 National Youth Film Awards.
Other than making films, Rachel has ventured out to filming music videos. She worked with Jonathan Choo again to film for local singer Charlie Lim’s Light Breaks In music video. The video centres a mother who is a hoarder and her strained relationship with her son, which was loosely based on the relationship between Charlie’s father and late grandmother, who suffered from mental illness.
Maritime engineering: Tan Hui Xian, Engineer, Pacific International Lines
You could say that Hui Xian was set out to be an engineer; growing up, she’s always loved physics, maths and hands-on work. She then went on to study Maritime Engineering in Singapore Polytechnic.
Her job requires her to carry out daily operations, inspections and maintenance of various ship machinery. It’s a very physically demanding and risky job, working in a 40°C environment around hot oil pipes and electrical cables with no public holidays or weekends off for six months straight. However, there are upsides to her job as well; she has travelled to many countries, witnessed beautiful starry night skies and sailed alongside dolphins while at sea.
Working in a male-dominated profession has also resulted in Hui Xian receiving a fair share of discrimination and judgements from male colleagues. Despite all the difficulties her job entails, she continues to prove her ability and gain their respect by working hard. At the end of the day, seeing the engine run smoothly is what gives her the greatest sense of satisfaction and pride, and motivates her to improve.
RSAF: Cecilia Li, Air Defence Systems Specialist
Don’t underestimate Cecilia’s small stature – as part of the Ground-Based Air Defenders team, she works on the High Power Illuminator Radar, a key component in the I-Hawk missile system, which involves lifting lots of heavy equipment. To get to where she is now, she had to go through a lot of tough training that taught her independence, strength and the importance of protecting the country.
She is also the first RSAF female Warrant Officer and Specialist (WOSpec) to attend the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) course at the renowned Sheppard NCO Academy in Texas, USA. During that course, she learned a lot about leadership and got to observe how the US Air Force operated.
Back home in Singapore, she leads, trains and advises the NSFs in her team. Her determination and diligence at her work inspires the younger NSFs under her to build up their skills and improve themselves. For herself, she took on a part-time bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at NTU, proving that one is never too old to continue learning and improving.
As women here in Singapore, we’re fortunate to have fairly equal opportunities when it comes to jobs, as compared to other countries, like Japan, where working women encounter a glass ceiling in their jobs. However, there are some industries that are still perceived to be “a man’s job” here in Singapore, so hopefully these examples show you that women can succeed in any industry.
by Lydia Tan