How this 24-year-old found her passion for the social sector thanks to a leap of faith into tech
Sandy’s traineeship with The Volunteer Switchboard saw her wearing multiple hats in the tech, social service and business fields.
While most family dinners revolve around topics about one’s day, Sandy Chua and her parents would usually discuss solving engineering and mechanical problems.
With both parents working as engineers, it comes as no surprise that the 24-year-old is interested in the technology field. So much so, that she would innovate ways to help her job.
In a previous role as a junior consultant at a public relations agency, Sandy had to monitor local radio stations and record mentions of the company’s clients. These recordings could take hours, and she was plagued by issues like poor internet connection or her laptop running low on power, especially when she recorded on the go.
But instead of working around her schedule to find a location where there was Wi-Fi or a power socket available, Sandy resolved her issues by devising a radio server with her friend that would record all the radio stations around the clock and upload the clips to a cloud instead.
Her innovation allowed her team to reduce the time spent on the task by about 95 per cent, as they were able to download specific clips they needed whenever they wanted.
So it came as a surprise that Sandy shared that when she tried switching into the tech solution fields, she was only met with dead ends as she could not meet certain job requirements.
“Most of these programmes actually have requirements. You cannot be a fresh grad in the past two years, need to have a minimum age of 25, or something like that; there’s always criteria that I did not meet…” says Sandy, who majored in Psychology.
With most options exhausted, Sandy chanced upon the National Youth Council’s YouthTech programme and applied to be a technical specialist.
“I was just hoping for the best when I applied because I did not know what kind of programmes would be suitable for me anymore… This was really my last straw,” recalls Sandy, whose backup plan was to take up a part-time job while learning web-development in her own time if she did not get in.
The NYC YouthTech Programme, which ran for two years till Sep 30, provided young graduates and working adults up till 35 years old with a one-year full-time traineeship opportunities in various industries, including those in social and community sectors.
The YouthTech traineeship brought Sandy to The Volunteer Switchboard, a social enterprise that partners with various organisations to create volunteering opportunities for individuals and corporations.
She initially joined as a business analyst, and the social service agency was in the process of revamping its Volunteer Management System (VMS). The VMS is a platform where organisers can send out invites, get sign ups, and keep track of past volunteering events and their attendance.
At the time, Sandy was told that they would be adding more features and upgrades to the VMS which was “quite old and a bit buggy”. She was tasked with gathering business requirements for an upgrade initially but three months into the role, Sandy and her team found out they bit off more than they could chew.
“We realised that it was practically impossible to actually start coding by December, and we wouldn’t be able to do it ourselves, we would definitely need to outsource the vendor because it was such a huge project.”
Sandy added that getting these requirements from the different charities would require “a lot of skill sets” in business, social service and tech – with the three sectors each demanding a myriad of criteria.
Though Sandy started off her first major task with optimism, she began to doubt herself when she missed her own deadlines for the document and it went through several whole rewrites.
“I definitely broke down a few times just trying to get the things together.”
But it was through these moments that Sandy discovered her resolve and found ways to use her abilities to improve the system and help the community.
As she continued to work on the project, she also began to see issues within the social service industry, which could be addressed with improvements to The Volunteer Switchboard’s VMS. For example, certain charities sometimes receive an “influx” of donations that they cannot fully utilise.
“They might get 100 crates of butter and it’s expiring in a year. They don’t know who else to give… So you would love to have this kind of platform to encourage people to speak to each other and communicate better.”
For Sandy, the most rewarding part was when the vendors found her document to be well-written and “way more than what other people have given them”, especially since it was her and her team’s first time producing it.
Three months before the end of the traineeship, Sandy approached her boss about the possibility of staying on. Her boss shared plans on how The Volunteer Switchboard would expand, by organising tours and writing children’s story books.
Impressed by the ideas and intrigued by its potential, Sandy renewed her contract and is now working full-time, working on one of the story books.
“Seeing the growth of a company is something you don’t get every day,” shares Sandy, who adds that the journey would be more interesting as compared to an already established one.
“When she shared about the books and the tours and how she wants to expand them and how we are trying to get our platform up, it was something that I could see myself doing and trying to support.
“I actually want to stay so I never even applied (for jobs) anywhere else.”
Despite her challenging start with The Volunteer Switchboard, Sandy remains optimistic and continues to grow from her experience in both tech and the social sector.
“I might make mistakes here, or I might do something else. But if I’m given this opportunity. I’m gonna do it to the best of my abilities and see it through. If I fail, then so be it, learn from it, do it better the next time.”
For more information about the YouthTech programme and career-related resources, click here.