This 30-year-old went from struggling in school to finding a career in the civil service
Jackson Yap shares the trials and tribulations he had to weather over the years that eventually led him to where he is today.
If you told a 16-year-old Jackson Yap that he would be a part of the civil service more than a decade later, he would have laughed it off.
At the time, Jackson was a secondary school student from the Normal Technical (NT) stream with no clue of what to pursue in the future.
When a teacher broached the subject of a future beyond secondary school, he struggled to envision it.
“To me, it’s like, what future are you talking about? It’s going to be ITE and army after that and then, work.”
Despite his uncertainties, Jackson has risen above them to blaze a trail for himself as a product operations specialist at government-based technology team, Open Government Products (OGP).
Some of OGP’s products include the Health Appointment System (HAS), a booking system for vaccination appointments and parking.sg, a mobile application through which drivers can pay for their parking sessions.
His job scope includes responding to user queries and scaling OGP’s products to attract more users and serve their needs better.
Despite the role’s challenges, the 30-year-old remains steadfast in giving it his all. However, tenacity was not always a trait that came easily to Jackson.
The storms he weathered throughout his time as a student shaped his never-give-up attitude even through the toughest of times.
Uncovering his interests
The educational path Jackson embarked on was considered unconventional as it was a longer route than most.
In secondary school, Jackson was in the NT stream. After school, he would either game or play basketball with friends.
He shares: “We don’t usually have tuition or remedial classes after school. So, our school day ends early. And because there’s so much free time, we kind of like to do whatever we find fun.”
He chalks up the reason for choosing leisure activities over hitting the books due to past mindsets they harboured.
“By default, we all thought that no matter what, study hard or not, you are still going to end up in ITE. So, there’s no point in studying hard actually, thinking about it.”
However, in secondary four, he began to hope for his future as his teacher spoke to his class about opportunities in ITE and showed them a list of its available courses. Eventually, Jackson set his mind on pursuing a course in electronics and engineering in ITE.
From the course, he learnt about the operations behind electronics and the technology it consisted of, mirroring his interest in game technology in secondary school.
Struggles along the way
In his last semester of ITE, Jackson found out that he was eligible to enter a polytechnic course. He then enrolled in an electronics and computing course.
However, upon beginning his course, he soon faced difficulties keeping up. In particular, he struggled with mathematics-based modules.
“The first quiz my class took was fairly simple. On average, everyone scored in the 90th percentile range. But I ended up being the only one who failed badly.”
Undeterred, he dedicated his weekends to pouring over his mathematics textbooks. He soon saw improvements and was able to place second in his third class quiz.
While Jackson managed to do well for the rest of polytechnic with his newfound determination, he was met with tougher challenges in university.
While pursuing his degree at the Nanyang Technological University, Jackson had to juggle schoolwork alongside part-time jobs to afford school fees as money at home was tight.
As the situation got overwhelming, he knew he had to tackle it strategically.
In order to learn more about the job market, Jackson attended job fairs to speak with industry players. Through the conversations, he concluded that skillsets were significantly valued among companies.
Reassessing his priorities, he worked on cultivating his skills rather than achieving high grades. This meant taking up many internships during his holidays.
With his strategy, Jackson managed to gain relevant experiences and ended up in his current role at OGP.
Giving back to society through his vocation
Being one of the first to undertake the year-old post, Jackson initially had to spend time defining the job scope of the role in relation to OGP’s operations with little resources to fall back on.
Describing the experience, he says: “I had to go through a lot of trial and error and spend a large amount of time to get things right.”
Today, Jackson’s job scope alters according to each business quarter and the company’s needs.
Besides his aforementioned job scope, Jackson also contributes to product ideation and the hiring process of future operation specialists.
During the COVID-19 period, he was also involved in projects addressing pandemic related issues.
One notable project he undertook was a COVID-19 related operation of whitelisting clinics.
He was in charge of setting up a system for clinics to get registered under the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) vaccination system.
The initial process was manual, requiring him to vet through Excel sheets given to him by the clinics. Thereafter, he had to sort through the sheets and upload them into the system.
Realising the workflow was getting messy, he introduced new mechanisms to speed up the registration process.
Jackson simplified the process by creating a form for prospective clinics to input information into and enclosing a detailed list of instructions within the emails he sent.
His efforts did not go in vain as he managed to clean up the information up faster, which made things more organised for the clinics involved.
Clinics could then refocus on rolling out vaccinations promptly as the backend processes were simplified.
Sharing his takeaway from the experience, Jackson says: “Don’t just design processes to help with the streamlining of whatever you’re doing. Look at the real problem.”
He also mentions that the key thing he gives back to users as a product operations specialist is the inter-personal, human connection.
“I think the contribution will be there’s an actual person, you know, helping and guiding users about a product. So whenever users face problems, we are there to help.”
How to deal with uncertainty
For youths struggling to find their direction in life, Jackson shares two critical pieces of advice to handle feelings of uncertainty.
First, he advises not to pinpoint a niche for yourself too early on.
“Don’t focus on doing something to find your strengths and interests. When you do that, you can end up blinded by what you choose.”
Instead, Jackson recommends engaging in simple activities that make you happy, like sports. From there, one might discover underlying strengths.
Secondly, Jackson advises not to shy away from seeking help.
He explains: “Based on my own experience, it’s a lot about your own insecurities. Maybe you don’t know how to ask for help. Or you fear your questions sound stupid.”
To reach a stage where you are comfortable seeking help, Jackson emphasises the need to overcome insecurities that might fester on the inside as it acts as a barrier from receiving help.
“So after you overcome those (insecurities), don’t be afraid. Just ask for help if you need.”
Open Government Products is a modern tech team within the Singapore Government that builds technology for the public good. Learn more about OGP by visiting its website and Instagram.