PM Lee: To lure tech experts home, 'rethink what engineering means'

As Singapore seeks to inject more innovation into its economy, Mr Linus Lee, 29, would appear to be just the sort of tech professional it wants to lure back home.

Mr Lee, a data science manager with Twitter who has been working in Silicon Valley for about five years, has recently been exploring opportunities in Singapore.

But he told The Straits Times the fact that engineers remain undervalued in the country is factoring into his decision.

"A lot of the brightest students, if they remain in Singapore, go into law and finance, whereas in the US, in the top universities, the brightest students choose engineering because it is actually a career where they can build stuff," he said.

"Building things is regarded very highly in the US, whereas in Singapore it's not there yet."

That sentiment was something Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he heard expressed repeatedly by engineers he met in San Francisco and Silicon Valley last week.

PM Lee agreed that Singaporean companies do not always treat engineering as the core of the business and that this needs to change.

"They see it as a support function - my computer is broken, call an engineer and fix it. That's a different conception, and we really need to reposition our conception of what engineering is about, and how important engineering is to us," he said during an interview to wrap up his week-long United States visit.

Still, Mr Lee stressed that it would not be easy to get Singaporeans in Silicon Valley to return. "It's not just a matter of pay or having a job - they can find jobs. But to have the same challenge, same excitement, the same kind of technical demand on the person so he feels he is stretching the envelope and doing something meaningful... we need to work at that," he said.

He said the Infocomm Development Authority is working on proposals to try to draw tech experts back home - for instance, a programme for them to do short stints in Singapore - and will be announcing them soon.

His remarks come as the civil service is making a push to boost the number of engineers in its ranks.

This week, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced that the Government, the country's largest employer, will hire 1,000 engineers this year, expanding the existing pool by more than 13 per cent.

This article was first published on Feb 18, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.