5Qs with Sarah Tan, Engineering Lead at Rec Room

Our 5Qs series is a chance for you to get to know more about folks in the Singapore Global Network community, where we pose 5 questions to exciting individuals to find out more about what they do!

5 April 2021 / By SGN

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!

1. 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.

Sarah’s parents visited the Rec Room office and tried its game for the first time!

2. 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!

(left) Sarah and her team showcasing a school project at Games For Change Festival; (right) Sarah speaking at Pixel in Singapore

3. 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!

Rec Room’s headcount has grown 5x since 2018

4. 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.

(left) Sarah and her curry puffs; (right) Sarah enjoying a visit to the Queen’s night market in NYC
Some of Sarah’s home creations (left to right): satay, vegan fruit tart, and bak chor mee

Using food to give back is important to me. I’ve cooked for the homeless in my local community, and I’ve done a couple of “food fundraisers” where 100% of the sales is donated. Those fundraisers have been a huge hit, raising thousands of dollars even with food priced below market rates. I’ll probably do another one for the dumpling festival in June, so if you’re in Seattle and want some bak chang, hit me up!

5. 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!

Sarah and her family in Singapore

About Rec Room

Rec Room is a Seattle-based, fast-growing startup valued at USD 1.25B. The company is hiring multiple positions with attractive benefits. Check here for details. Follow Rec Room’s happenings here. Connect with Sarah here.

Don’t stop here, check out these other great reads…

Michael Nichols, Head of Innovation Consulting Asia-Pacific at Bosch, shares his Journey from the States to Germany to Singapore
From growing up in Oklahoma, to living in Ukraine and Germany, before …
A Boomerang Adventure: Chang Yin Hong’s Journey to Silicon Valley and Back Home
Having immersed himself in the cybersecurity industry for the past 10 years, …
The Power of Community
Why is building support groups and communities for founders more important than …
Life on The Northern Fringes of the World: 3 Things You Should Know
In the second instalment of our Making Every Second Count series, we …
Alumni’s Guide to Japan: 4 Secrets to Perfecting your Move to Japan
In our third instalment of 'the Alumni's Guide to The Galaxy' series, …
Why I built Asia’s first gender lens VC fund
Virginia Tan champions gender lens investing for emerging Asia as she believes …
How Singaporean Music Director Lenny Wee Empowers Celebrities to Hit All the Right Notes
Ever wondered what it is like to work with celebrities like Jennifer …
The Medical Concierge Group CEO and Founder Daniel Choo shares his Start-up Journey and the Secrets to Succeeding in Indonesia
Recognising a gap in the private healthcare market in Singapore and Indonesia …
#IWD2021: Singapore’s Women Leaders Driving Change in China
Women have always been an important driver in economic development, especially in …
5Qs with Susan Seah, Founder of The Koa Club
Our 5Qs series is a chance for you to get to know …
From Strength to Strength: How Life’s Triumphs & Tragedy Have Shaped Olaplex CEO JuE Wong’s Journey
Singaporean JuE Wong holds many titles: an indefatigable champion of women, a …
From Expat to Expert
Ever wondered about life as an expat in Singapore? In our new …