By SGN | 5 April 2022
While her day job is building an engineering team for Rec Room, Seattle’s game startup unicorn, Sarah Tan is also passionate about cooking for the homeless and raising funds for charity. She stays rooted in Singapore by recreating many home delights, and friends say her curry puffs are tastier than Old Chang Kee’s!
Tell us a bit about yourself – what brought you to the U.S.?
Grad school. I’d always wanted to do a graduate degree, so when I heard about the (now defunct) concurrent degree program with NUS School of Computing and the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon, I jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t actually do any research on that program — I just thought its description sounded cool! If I had known the majority of ETC’s graduates went into the game industry, I probably wouldn’t have applied. I had every intention of returning to Singapore after my master’s, and the game industry in Singapore is somewhat lacking. As luck would have it, just as I was about to graduate, the Rec Room CEO reached out to me, and the rest is history.
What does a day in your life look like?
It has changed a lot as the company has grown over the years, but it always starts with a standup meeting. Back when I was an individual contributor, the rest of the day would be programming, interspersed with a couple of meetings or interviews.
My days are pretty different now, as I recently became the engineering lead of growth and am building this team from scratch. I do a lot more strategic and tactical planning, cross-team interactions, hiring, and mentorship while dreaming of the day when Rec Room is big enough to open an overseas office, because you can be sure I’ll pitch the heck out of Singapore!
What project are you most excited about at work?
My company just raised $100M and became Seattle’s newest unicorn, so this is exciting for all of us.
My growth team’s goal is to learn as fast as we can. Instead of spending months working on a feature, my team ships small features every few weeks (or weekly, once we have enough devs — we’re hiring!), analyzes the resulting data, then iterates on it or pivots to a different idea. My favorite previous projects are from my time on the economy team, where I helped establish an in-game economy. We’re on track to pay out over USD 1M to our creators this year!
What do you do to relax?
I cook! I’m very passionate about food and love developing new recipes. I recently did a banana bread baking class for the ladies at Rec Room, and they were blown away by how good it was. What they didn’t see was the amount of iteration and research that went into perfecting the recipe. You can only get good experimental results when you understand the science and effects behind each ingredient, material and technique.
How do you stay connected to Singapore?
I think I do a pretty lousy job of staying in touch with people in Singapore. I video-call my parents regularly, but it’s just the occasional text chat for the rest. Pre-pandemic, I would attend almost all the in-person SGN events in Seattle. In terms of remembering my Singaporean roots, I cook. Lots and lots of home delights, like curry puff (better than Old Chang Kee’s, I’m told!), satay, kueh salat, bak chor mee, and many more!