First female wins top S'pore IT award

For the first time in 15 years, the Singapore Computer Society confers highest honor to a female IT veteran, for her contributions to IT development in the country.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--A female IT professional has been conferred the IT Leader of the Year by the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) at its annual awards Friday. This is the first time a female has won the top accolade in the 15-year history of the awards.

Tan Yen Yen was recognized for her instrumental contributions in boosting the local talent pool and furthering the country's attractiveness as a research and development (R&D) hub, the SCS said in a media briefing last week. The IT body also singled out her involvement in the establishment of Hewlett-Packard's research facility in Singapore last year, during her tenure as vice president and managing director of HP Singapore.

Tan, who spent 18 years at HP, is currently senior vice president of applications at Oracle Corporation Asia-Pacific.

The IT veteran of 24 years said being conferred the IT Leader of the Year was a "very big honor and a pleasant surprise". She also expressed hope that there would be more female recipients of this award in future.

Tan, who is also chairman of the Singapore Information Technology Federation (SiTF), told ZDNet Asia that throughout her career, she "never felt there was a glass ceiling". According to the mother-of-four, it is important for women to understand the opportunities out there, which are not only to move laterally, but also upward.

The past two decades of her career, added Tan, has been an "amazing journey" and also a "humbling experience [because] only when you admit you need to learn, you broaden your thinking".

Prior to Tan's win in the category, there had only been three female winners in other categories. In 2009, Pearleen Chan, senior director of consulting group at IDA International, a subsidiary of Singapore's ICT regulator the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), was inducted into SCS's Hall of Fame. That same year, Winne Soh, co-founder of Dream Axis won the IT Youth award. Carmee Lee, now mentor principal at MindChamps, won the Friend of IT award at the inaugural awards ceremony back in 1997.

Asked why it took so long for a female to win the IT Leader of the Year, Vincent Lim, chairman of SCS' IT Leader Awards 2011, noted that over the past 15 years, award nominees were predominantly male. This is consistent with the demographic profile of IT professionals, where 70 percent of the IT workforce are male, he explained in an e-mail.

In addition, three to four out of 10 graduate from IT courses from polytechnics and universities are male. This current landscape in Singapore's IT community explains why there are more male nominees and recipients, Lim said.

Another IT veteran was recognized by the SCS for having played a crucial leadership role in shaping the path of IT development in Singapore. For his contributions, Lee Kwok Cheong, CEO of the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), became the latest member to be inducted into SCS' Hall of Fame. Incidentally, Lee had won the IT Leader of the Year award back in 2000.

Lee moved to Singapore from his birthplace Hong Kong in 1983, after which headed the computerization program of Singapore's civil service, culminating in the nationwide IT2000 masterplan. Previously chief executive of National Computer Systems (now called NCS), he made a mid-career switch in 2005 from IT to education.

"It is gratifying that the IT community still remembers a person who has left [the industry]", Lee told ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of the media briefing. According to him, there is not a sharp distinction between his education and IT careers as his experience in the IT professional services arena had exposed him to issues such as manpower and training.

Other winners this year are 27-year-old Douglas Gan, who was awarded Young Professional of the Year, and 19-year-old Vishu Prem, who won the IT Youth accolade.

Gan boasts over 10 years of experience in the IT industry, having started PureHostings.net, one of Singapore's pioneering Web-hosting companies, at the age of 16. He is currently is the founder and CEO of location-based service ShowNearby, which he started in March 2008. Global Yellow Pages pumped S$3.5 million (US$2.7 million) into the company last July, which Gan said is a "huge testament that this product is monetizable".

His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to not be "naive" and think that innovation or creativity is enough. Instead, startups must understand the business processes behind "making money from your innovation", as well as sustaining and growing the business.

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