BROWSE NEWS

Rebel With A Cause

 

‘Singapore 100 Women in Tech’ (SG100WIT) is an annual list compiled by the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) to recognise women in Singapore who have made significant contributions to the tech industry. For 2023, SIT’s Associate Professor Jeannie Lee made it to the prestigious list. 

A/Prof Jeannie Lee received recognition as one of the Singapore 100 Women in Tech. (Photo: Jeannie Lee)  

If you think that succeeding as a woman in the tech industry is hard today, imagine what Associate Professor Jeannie Lee had to go through when she started out as a software engineer some 20 years ago. 

In fact, it goes even further back. She reveals: “From high school all the way to university, I was sometimes the only girl in my computing class. Being so outnumbered, I ended up developing imposter syndrome, where I was constantly asking myself if I was good enough.” 

While it was challenging trying to succeed in a male-dominated environment, A/Prof Lee has somehow managed to face adversity head-on with her own brand of ’rebel’ attitude. 

“From my choice to join one of the few high schools in Singapore that offered Computing as a subject, to pursuing a Computer Science degree when my parents wanted me to pursue a degree in business instead, it has all been sort of a mild rebellion towards conventional thinking.”

Making It in Tech 

Even if rebellion was what threw her down the path of tech, A/Prof Lee would soon realise that she had an affinity for it, as she graduated with first-class honours in Information Systems and Computer Science at NUS. 

This was followed by a decade-long stint in the United States, where she would work with some of the world’s largest tech companies, such as Qualcomm. Her job scope included researching and developing ground-breaking and novel consumer products. 

It was also in the US, during her PhD programme, where she started to develop and hone her research interests in multimedia, computer user interfaces and Extended Reality (XR). 

“I was always interested in multimedia, and XR is potentially the next step where you can create an entirely new world that blends the physical and virtual space. This represents a new computing paradigm that goes beyond keyboards and touch screens and has tremendous potential for improving and impacting our daily lives.” 

Back to School… As an Educator 

In 2014, after being away for more than a decade, A/Prof Lee decided that it was time to return home. After considering her options, she decided to apply for a faculty position at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). 

She explains: “I briefly considered returning to the private sector, but ultimately, I felt that working in a university like SIT was where I could be closest to cutting-edge R&D. As clichéd as it sounds, teaching also gives me the opportunity to influence young minds. I felt that this job was the perfect way for me to pursue my research interests while getting others interested in what I was doing.” 

As an educator today, A/Prof Lee is able to use her past experiences to motivate and encourage her female students. One of the ways she does this is by creating a safe space where students can share their ideas and aspirations without the fear of being shot down. 

“I try to show them that there’s nothing wrong with trying and that as a female, they can make things better by introducing a diversity of views, especially in an industry so severely underrepresented.” 

Outside the classroom, A/Prof Lee also organises talks, courses and events to raise awareness for women in tech.  

“One of the most memorable events was in collaboration with Google to create a tech and fashion event for female students. The event sought to break down mental barriers by demonstrating that tech and fashion need not be divergent topics. We proved this by showing them how computer applications could help match outfits. I also taught participants how to create interesting fashion accessories using programmable circuit boards.” 

Filling the Gap 

Even though the representation of women in tech has increased significantly over the past couple of years, A/Prof Lee believes there is still a gap that needs to be filled. 

“The number of females enrolled in ICT degree programmes at SIT has improved, but we can still encourage better diversity and female representation. We can do more as a community to build interest in students from a younger age. At the same time, we also need to provide women with the necessary resources to build their confidence and manage any self-doubt. Because we want to show them that this is a viable career choice just like any other.” 

Singapore Girls in Tech 2023 

In addition to A/Prof Lee making the SG100WIT List, two SIT students also made the ’Singapore Girls in Tech’ category for 2023.