Arta Team Spotlight

Q&A with Kevan Tan, Software Engineer at Arta

Arta Team Spotlight

February 09, 2023

Meet Kevan

Kevan Tan is a modern-day renaissance man. Once inspired, he can teach himself just about anything, including new cooking styles, martial arts, and throwing pottery. Formerly a software engineer for GovTech Singapore focused on digital transformation within the public sector, Kevan is now on the engineering team at Arta Finance.

You’ve got a diverse set of hobbies you use to unwind after a day of software engineering. Can you tell me about some of them?

In grade school, I spent a lot of time on YouTube and the internet instead of studying for exams. Hopefully my parents don’t read this! When I saw something interesting, I would pick up initial skills online and seek real-world opportunities to go deeper.

With videos, you can start immediately with world-class teachers that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

I learned fun ways of preparing food, like baking, on YouTube. It was wildly different from the traditional Chinese wok-style cooking I was used to. I watched videos to understand the basic skills and then volunteered at my church’s bakery to get hands-on practice. A generous donor recently gave the church two industrial ovens, and a group of us turned it into a whole bakery operation. Through that experience, I learned western cooking styles like baking, roasting, and making stews. I found many recipes and examples on YouTube, but that can only take you so far.

I started learning how to make pottery using videos too. It began as a way to stay busy while social distancing, and thanks to Youtube, my “Covid hobby” became a true passion.

Lastly, I study a martial art called Wing Chun. It’s considered an internal, “softer” martial art since it doesn’t rely on brute force but more on intentional movement. I discovered it in a movie, watched a few videos to get the basic idea, and then sought out a local teacher.

It sounds like you get a lot of inspiration from social media. What are the pros and cons of learning from online platforms?

You can’t use all your senses when you learn from a video, but the level of information you can access right away is much more than would be covered in one class.

With videos, you can start immediately with world-class teachers that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Eventually, you reach a point where you need to use all of your senses in a real-world learning environment. For example, with baking, you have to physically do the work to know what it feels like to mix something or what it smells like to burn something.

Wow - you have an artsy side and a technical side. You are breaking stereotypes about engineers!

Thank you. But what interests me most about these “artistic” hobbies is the technical bit!

I find baking skills most interesting. There is a science to getting the perfect pastry or the absolute shiniest glaze.

It’s the same with Wing Chun. It’s about a specific form. How much of an angle, degree, and force are you applying?

With pottery, it’s all physics. You must pull the walls of a piece in a specific way to get the proper structure and shape. How much pressure is required? How consistent must the pressure be?

Well, how about your technical skills regarding your career? Are you self-taught in computer science too?

Yes, I started on my own through books, online courses, and internships before starting university.

I went to the Singapore University of Technology and Design and studied Engineering Systems and Design. I was fortunate that this program was hands-on, and all my teachers were passionate about the subjects they taught. It was an engaging and practical curriculum with access to laser cutters, 3D printers, and various manufacturing processes. The university’s mission is to give students the tools and knowledge to build their projects, and I took full advantage of it!

One of my teachers was so committed to teaching computer science that he started a business teaching primary and secondary school kids. When he needed help managing the classes, I joined as an assistant teacher, helping kids debug code and problem-solve. It was their first time programming, so it was crucial to help build their confidence. It’s important to make kids feel they can work with the tools, so they don’t get scared off by computers. I loved computers early on and enjoyed helping the kids get there too.

Having an inspiring mentor helps kids get excited about things. Did you have a mentor as a kid too?

My dad was a network engineer for HP, and my mom was a salesperson for Panasonic. We always had computers at home, and I was immersed in technology from a young age.

Dad gave me a laptop when I was ten years old. Initially, I wasn’t interested purely in computers, though. Instead, I was motivated to solve problems with my laptop so that I could play my video games.

Later, my parents combined their skills and started their own business, reselling Cisco switches. They provided an example of how being tech smart and resourceful could turn into a successful business.

How do you think your parent’s example has influenced your career so far?

I look for opportunities that require tech skills and an entrepreneurial approach. For example, after graduation, I took a role with Open Government Products, GovTech Singapore, a small organization of about fifty people. The premise was to turn government work on its head.

We were challenged to ask ourselves, “If you ran a government tech team with modern technology practices, what can you accomplish?”.

My immediate team was comprised of five people: a project manager, a designer, and three engineers. We looked for projects where we could solve real-world problems as a team and used business savvy and resourcefulness every day.

One of the projects we worked on was “RedeemSG,” a nationwide program to support Singaporeans and local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. My team designed and built the digital voucher system for the project.

Wow. Tell me more about that project.

All Singaporean households received S$100 in digital vouchers, which they could redeem at participating hawkers (food store owners) and merchants. The voucher was part of the Household Support Package that provided aid to families and, as they spent the money, supported the local economy. The voucher system ensured that its users spent the money locally.

We were challenged to ask ourselves, “If you ran a government tech team with modern technology practices, what can you accomplish?”.

Designing a simple and user-friendly experience was crucial because when you build tech products for the government, you create solutions that are to be used by everyone, from digital natives to the elderly. It was an incredible learning experience - and an important project for the country.

What a great first work experience. What did you learn there that you will take forward in your career?

There is a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience regarding finance and technology. I observed that most people want to do the “responsible thing” and cover their bases when it comes to managing finances. And, when it comes to technology, they want it to be easy and intuitive. Put those things together, and you can help many people with a great product.


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