Why a tech industry veteran joined the civil service: Five minutes with GovTech Singapore’s Chang Sau Sheong

By on 08/04/2024 | Updated on 08/04/2024

Chang Sau Sheong, deputy chief executive at the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, discusses his tech career, being a newcomer to the civil service, and sharing ideas between countries.

This is part of a ‘Five minutes’ series featuring speakers from the forthcoming Global Government Forum GovernmentDX event (Washington, D.C., April 18-19). During the conference, Chang will participate in a session on how government can make the most of analytics and AI.

What are you most interested in discussing at GovernmentDX?

I’m most interested in understanding how other government technology agencies tackle the problem of ageing systems and dealing with tech modernisation and refresh.

What drew you to a career in the civil service

I am new to the civil service. I joined just slightly over a year ago from the private sector, where I was in tech start-ups and large tech companies for close to 28 years before entering the civil service.

I joined because I’m interested in contributing to the public good and serving my country near the closing chapters of my career.

Read more: Taming the tiger: national digital chiefs on the powers and perils of AI

What have you achieved in your career that you’re most proud of? 

I’m quite happy to have had a very diverse career, from startups to large tech companies, from a software engineer to a CTO to a CEO. I’m most proud of my time in Singapore Power, the largest electric and gas utility in Singapore. I spent over six years in Singapore Power transforming it from a conservative utility company that only ran regulated businesses, to a modern energy company that had a diverse portfolio of businesses including electric vehicle charging, district cooling, private smart metering, smart buildings and more.

What do you like most about working in the civil service? 

What I enjoy most working in the civil service is being able to work with a group of colleagues who are focused on the public good and beyond meeting revenue numbers.

And what do you dislike about it? 

What I dislike most about the civil service is the amount of paperwork and processes to go through to get a job done.

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you and your colleagues?  

I was very inspired by Jennifer Pahlka’s Recoding America book, where she shared her experience in the US Digital Service and changing mindsets in the US government.

Read more: Smart fellows – Kok Ping Soon on leading Singapore’s digital government army

Are there any projects or innovations in your country that might be valuable to your peers overseas?  

In the few meetings I had previously, I have found that my overseas peers appreciate our National Digital Identity (NDI) project experience the most.

If you weren’t a civil servant, what would you be?  

If I wasn’t a civil servant I would be back at a tech start-up, leading a team to develop disruptive new products, or just being a software engineer and writing code.

Do you have any unusual hobbies?  

I’m not sure if it can be considered unusual but I enjoy baking, usually pastry and bread.

Is there something about you that people find surprising?   

People sometimes find it surprising that I have written five technical (programming-related) books and frequently write technology articles.

What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekends? 

I would normally be writing code or writing articles on my tech blog, sharing about my tech exploration, and spending time with my family – usually at home or near my neighbourhood.

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