Having immersed himself in the cybersecurity industry for the past 10 years, Chang Yin Hong, currently a Cybersecurity Researcher at GovTech, shares his Silicon Valley experience and how he is applying what he learnt to broaden his technical capabilities in the public sector.
5 April 2021 / By SGN
Ever since he was a young boy, Yin Hong looked up to his dad as a role model. Working as an IBM engineer, his father played a crucial role in cultivating Yin Hong’s interest in computers and technology. “I remember the first time I saw my dad at work and was really fascinated by the concept of the internet and how a simple modem can connect people around the world,” Yin Hong shares. After developing an appetite for various hardware and software technologies, Yin Hong decided to further his interest by pursuing a Computer Engineering degree at the National University of Singapore which would launch his career in cybersecurity.
Yin Hong kicked off his career in Singapore at D’Crypt, a company using cryptographic technology and components, before joining FireEye as a Malware Researcher. The time he spent in these companies exposed him to new methods in identifying software vulnerabilities, studying hackers’ techniques, and broadening his understanding of zero-day vulnerabilities. “I’ll never forget the feeling of experiencing my first zero-day. As I was still rather inexperienced then, it was exhilarating to make such a big discovery for my company and help to come up with the solution to resolve it,” he says.
Stepping outside of his comfort zone
In 2017, DiDi Chuxing, China’s leading mobile transportation platform, set up its research brand DiDi Labs in Mountain View, California. The company was looking to set up a team to build cybersecurity products, as well as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms used in autonomous vehicles and wanted Yin Hong to join them as a Staff Researcher.
For Yin Hong, working in Silicon Valley was a dream come true. However, it was difficult because he had just gotten married and his wife was apprehensive about relocating to a new place. “We had a long discussion. My wife wanted to support my dreams and we decided that I should head over first to settle down before she joined me.”
Living his dreams in Silicon Valley
Moving to a foreign land with no family or friends was challenging. “I remember feeling lost and lonely in the first 3 months. In particular, I remember lugging my belongings (weighing 30-50kg) up multiple flights of stairs when moving into my new apartment. All by myself!”
Working at DiDi was an eye-opener for Yin Hong. He shared the sense of accomplishment witnessing DiDi Labs’ growth from a start-up when he first joined, to a sizable company. “It was very satisfying to see the growth of the security product from infancy to deployment around the world. Detecting more and more of these cyber-attacks made me feel the impact of my work.”
To develop his professional network, Yin Hong also mingled and formed strong bonds with his colleagues and other Singaporeans in the start-up and tech scenes. To unwind from work, Yin Hong enjoyed hiking through a multitude of scenic nature reserves. Occasionally, he would attempt to recreate his favourite Singapore food, or simply visit Chinatown to get his Asian food fix. However, Yin Hong lamented that “nothing beats the food back home”.
Reuniting with his family and home delights
After 1.5 years in the U.S., Yin Hong contemplated if it was time for him to head back home. In an outreach event organised by the Singapore Global Network, Yin Hong learnt about similar cybersecurity roles in Singapore. The opportunities at GovTech stood out to him as he learned about its meaningful and large-scale work. He recounts, “I also learnt that GovTech’s ABC values (Agile, Bold and Collaborative) and start-up culture closely resembles what I enjoyed while working in Silicon Valley.”
Bidding his bittersweet goodbye to Silicon Valley, Yin Hong came home to his loved ones and his favourite Hill Street Char Kway Teow in Bedok.
Building Tech for Public Good
It didn’t take long for Yin Hong to feel at home. Leveraging his diverse experience, Yin Hong is now a Lead Cybersecurity Specialist. “I focus on designing and developing cybersecurity products for the government to mitigate cybersecurity threats and strengthen our systems strategically. In my role, I’m blessed to do technical work and work with and mentor younger tech talent. I hope to be able to help advance the cybersecurity capabilities of the Government,” he shares.
Yin Hong feels that Singapore is an up-and-coming tech hub. “In the U.S., there is a large pool of tech talent with practical experience and great technical skills. The tech communities there have strong bonds and are known for their open and fun work culture. While we might not operate on the same scale in Singapore, I think we are heading in the right direction to develop our communities.”
Aside from the multitude of privately organised conferences and meetups in Singapore, the Government also organises STACK and STACK-X conferences and meetups. Yin Hong continues, “I have had the opportunity to meet many talented and experienced engineers in Singapore, and with more young talent joining the tech industry, I am sure that our tech scene will continue to grow.”
Cross-border career relocation advice
Yin Hong emphasised the importance of planning and only pursuing if you are truly interested in cross-border career opportunities. “It’s important to stay curious and explore areas that interest you. For me, I wanted to discover different technology areas and spend time picking up relevant hands-on skills in the U.S.,” he explains.
Yin Hong shared that he proactively connected with like-minded people at (virtual) conferences and learnt from their experiences and thought processes before moving. Those interactions provided him with fresh perspectives, which were helpful when making his decision.
“The idea and process can be daunting at first, but once you are determined that it is something you want to pursue, no challenge is too difficult to solve, and you’ll learn to have fun in the process!” he concludes.
Interested in more stories from people who have relocated from the U.S. back to Singapore?
On 14 May, 10 am SGT / 13 May 7 pm PDT, GovTech is hosting a live chat for overseas tech professionals. Hear first-hand from the following GovTechies:
- Ramakrishnan Sowmya: Lead Engagement Manager at GovTech’s CODEX team that works on the Singapore Government Tech Stack and Government Commercial Cloud products. She was previously working at Google U.S. as Global Programme Manager and is also the co-founder of Satva Inc.
- Wang Zhen: Distinguished Engineer at GovTech. He was previously working at Google U.S. as a Senior Software Engineer before becoming the Vice President of iSeed Ventures.
- Lee Tze Yuan: Engagement Manager at GovTech’s National Digital Identity team. He was previously working at GroundTruth U.S. as Product Marketing Manager.
Sarah Thiam, Senior Manager, GovTech, will moderate the session and share tips on moving to Singapore and navigating opportunities at GovTech.
Register your interest here https://go.gov.sg/igtlivechat1-sgn
About Yin Hong
An explorer at heart, Chang Yin Hong previously moved to Silicon Valley to pursue his dreams. He is currently back in Singapore as a Lead Cybersecurity Specialist at the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), specialising in cybersecurity product development.
Connect with Yin Hong here.