From Private to Public Sector with Tim Groleau, Lead Software Engineer

Lead Software Engineer Tim Groleau shares about the OGP product that changed his life and convinced him to switch from the private to the public sector.

Tell us more about yourself!

I am Tim, a Lead Software Engineer at OGP. I am the technical lead for the FormSG team, a government form builder, and I contributed to the technology behind Singapore’s strategy towards living endemically. I have been living in Singapore for 22 years with my beautiful wife and family. I am an engineer with serious goals and responsibilities, but I stay a child at heart. In my free time, I play Classic Tetris on my NES, and hope to reach the maxout score of 999,999 one day.

Tim and his wife
Training hard at Tetris on his NES

What’s the most exciting part about your job as a Software Engineer?

I enjoy finding ways to maximise efficiency. As a software engineer, my power lies in being a multiplier. Programming and automation bring repetitive tasks to a level of efficiency no human can hope to match, and while this is true for all automations, software can change and grow at tremendous pace. This is even more true now with Platform and Infrastructure as a Service, where we don’t need to wait for hardware to deliver impactful solutions.

What is the most impactful work that you have done since you joined OGP?

Zendemic, the COVID-19 case management system, was built in weeks to sift through “standard” cases automatically and quickly, while surfacing cases where help was needed to public officers

It has got to be Zendemic, the COVID-19 case management system. As COVID-19 cases grew in Singapore, the processes that were in place and working well for less than 50 cases a day were no longer sustainable. The operational forces on the ground were getting swamped, and it was within the realm of possibilities that if cases continued to grow, there would be more work coming in than could be handled.

OGP formed a workforce to deliver automations into the system, and we had several weeks of really high-intensity work to build it. Dealing with public health issues, there will always be people in unique circumstances who require special assistance, but if operations teams are spending all their time sifting through “standard” cases, then the people who need the most help are not getting it in a timely manner. Working on Zendemic allowed us to move the “standard” cases automatically and quickly, while surfacing the cases where help was needed to public officers.

You were previously from the private sector. What made you decide to join the public sector as a Software Engineer?

Parking.sg! I’ve been in Singapore long enough to have endured the parking coupon system of Singapore. It worked, but you just can’t shake that feeling of “Really? I have to punch cards?”

Say goodbye to parking coupons with Parking.sg

Parking.sg has been a godsend to me as a driver. It can be the poster child for apps done right. It has one job, does it really well, super easy and straightforward to use, and solves annoyances from previous systems for the public good. I wanted to make more apps like that.

In your opinion, what is the key difference between the public and private sector?

In the private sector, companies may have multiple products, but as they are driven by the bottom line, they make very conscious decisions to expand, modify, or retire their products and hence stay within a relatively narrow problem domain. With the public sector, the focus is on issues faced by public citizens or public officers, which expands the problem domain and the solutioning possibilities.

During our Hack for Public Good in January, it was amazing to see the kinds of ideas that surfaced, from allowing public officers to build quizzes, to matching volunteers with beneficiaries, to combating scams etc. This is specific to OGP though, as we tackle problems where we are needed most, and not simply defined by the mission of a specific ministry or agency.

How would you describe what is unique about OGP culture?

That all teams are mini-start-ups here. They work independently, and the products do not depend on each other. We have general principles that we all work with, but because a team is never blocked by another, it has full control to deliver its solution and make changes to the product it owns. As we grow, we are aware that having some shared standards, tools, and services will become necessary and we’re often discussing where the line is.

Any advice for aspiring engineers who want to work for public good?

Public good is not necessarily only driven by government agencies, so you can get started with your own initiatives. For example, if you were planning to donate for the public good (say $100/month), you could use part of that budget to build and maintain a service you know is useful to the public instead. $100/month can take you pretty far with cloud services, and you’d gain a lot of experience with the engineering process.

Of course, to work on high impact projects, that would usually be driven by the public sector. Do join us if you’re keen to build tech for public good as part of your career!

Interested to work on tech for public good? Check out our SWE openings or find out more about our products.

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