Shopee’s Philip Cheng carves out his career in Data Science and Engineering after returning to Singapore

Have you wondered what it takes to lead an Engineering team in one of the leading tech companies in Singapore and the region? Philip, an Engineering Lead at Shopee, shares his experience building his expertise in the dynamic e-commerce industry, and how he seeks to make a difference with technology.

By SGN | 7 Oct 2021

Navigating the ever-changing e-commerce space is no easy feat, but Philip is surely someone that enjoys the challenge of leading his team to build the best technical systems at Shopee.

Philip joined Shopee as a Machine Learning Engineer. Besides building Shopee’s real-time machine translation service from ground-up, he also oversaw a series of architectural enhancements to Shopee’s machine translation service to improve translation accuracy and system scalability.

Today, Philip leads a team of engineers to further develop machine learning capabilities and improve productivity for Shopee sellers, consumers and internal teams.

Returning to the Red Dot

Having spent several years in the United Kingdom pursuing an education in Computer Science and Engineering, Philip shared that one of his fondest memories was to watch live football matches where, “the atmosphere at Old Trafford with tens of thousands of cheering fans was just impossible to describe.”

Aside from the football matches, Philip reflected that studying abroad gave him the opportunity to learn to be independent and step out of his comfort zone. He also found his interactions with people from all around the world to be a valuable experience that helped him to broaden his perspectives beyond Singapore.

While staying overseas after studying may be an option for many, it was always Philip’s intention to return to Singapore, as he considers this his home, where his friends and family are.

One of Philip’s outdoor trekking trips at Lake District, during his time in the UK.

He was also drawn to the potential of the tech landscape in Southeast Asia, one that offers many tech opportunities to grow his professional career.

“I was glad to be finally home, but that was followed almost immediately by a sense of sentimentality and uncertainty. Looking back, it definitely took a period of adjustment to get used to the changes in lifestyle, weather, and the transition from student life to work life,” Philip recalled.

For those who are considering a similar move back home, Philip believes that it is a personal decision that one has to make by carefully weighing different priorities in life and opportunities available at that point in time. While Philip did consider remaining abroad for a few years to gain some work experience, his desire to return home for his family brought him back to Singapore.

Growing his passion for technology with Shopee

Philip’s tech journey started out when he joined the robotics club at his secondary school. This sparked his lifelong interest in algorithms and software engineering. With a goal to make real and practical contributions to tech, he then decided to pursue a higher education in computer science and engineering.

Upon returning to Singapore from his overseas study, Philip explored different tech roles across industries, including a data analytics role and a software engineer role, before taking a leap of faith into the data science field with Shopee.

Once onboard, he was given the opportunity to work on real-time machine translation alongside passionate data scientists and engineers. While it was a steep learning curve in getting up to speed with the latest techniques, he enjoyed the autonomy and empowerment given to his team, to make a significant impact in improving Shopee’s technical capabilities.

Shopee’s hyper-growth business is one that continuously provides opportunities for him and like-minded individuals to explore technologies and deep dive into data, allowing them to adopt a curious attitude towards new tech developments.

“At the back of my mind, there is always a sense of wonder. And despite working in this field, I still get amazed at what is possible,” Philip said.

Day in the life of a Tech Lead at Shopee

Beyond the data and technology, it is the human talent that makes a difference in any company. Having a collaborative and inclusive workplace environment, Philip sees the importance of allocating time to interact and hold discussions with his own team members, and across teams.

It is through these discussions, that the teams are able to bounce off ideas to find technical solutions and learn from one another. In between discussions, Philip reviews the work done by his team and provides consultation on project-related matters.

On his most memorable experience as a tech lead thus far, Philip recalls fondly of his first 9.9 Super Shopping Day campaign — the countdown to midnight.

“We closely monitored various system metrics and were all ready to spring into action when required. Midnight came and passed without any major issues, it turned out to be a peaceful night for us. After the peak traffic period had passed, we could finally relax, and we celebrated by watching a movie,” Philip said, as he described how rewarding and exciting the experience was.

Making an Impact with Technology in E-commerce

The tech industry is constantly evolving and adapting, challenging us to grow and think how best we can further explore its potential. As someone who has always enjoyed the challenge of building tech capabilities, Philip hopes to see more tech enthusiasts explore the growth opportunities available.

“Data is an important resource in the increasingly digital economy. We can see evidence of this all around us. Take the Shopee app as an example, machine learning is used throughout the process, from returning relevant search results to planning optimal routes for delivery drivers. The pivotal importance of data leads naturally to an abundance of opportunities for talent that can leverage the data.”

To stay abreast of changes in the dynamic tech industry, he has found himself benefiting from the company’s strong culture of learning and training opportunities, and recognises that it’s vital to continually upskill oneself and take ownership of one’s personal and professional development.

As a passionate tech professional, Philip shares his advice for those who are looking to build a career in tech, “If you enjoy tackling challenges faced in large-scale systems, and making an impact on millions of lives in your work, a career in data science and engineering may be just for you.”

This article is done in collaboration with Shopee. As the leading e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia & Taiwan, Shopee connects shoppers, brands and sellers across Asia and other fast-growing markets – empowering anyone to buy and sell anywhere and at any time. Visit here for career opportunities with Shopee.

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