#WorkinginCSA: Developing the Next Generation of Cybersecurity Talents

11 May 2021

Simon Eng, Senior Assistant Director

Cybersecurity is an important growth sector in Singapore as well as globally, and it is important to build a strong cybersecurity talent pipeline so that we can ride on the digital wave. Hear from Senior Assistant Director of CSA’s Ecosystem Development Division, Simon Eng, as he talks about his work in developing the next generation of cybersecurity talents in Singapore.

1. What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?

Early in my career as a network engineer, I had to work closely with the cybersecurity team. Over time, my interest in cybersecurity grew and I kept myself abreast of the latest technological developments during my spare time and took courses to build a strong foundation. As I started applying the cybersecurity knowledge that I learnt to my work, I found myself drawn deeper to this exciting field where there are always new things to learn. As someone who loves solving problems by doing things differently, I find cybersecurity satisfying as it constantly challenges me to think outside the box.

2. Tell us something interesting about your job that not many people know about.

I am leading the SG Cyber Olympians programme, which aims to nurture a pool of exceptional young cybersecurity talents. Part of my work involves developing various technical Capture-the-Flag (CTF) challenges. I love the exchange of ideas and working side by side with youths and partners on how to create CTFs and make their challenges more realistic.

One interesting thing was that during the Cyber SEA Games 2020, we could not conduct a conventional CTF assessment physically due to the pandemic situation. We had to think out of the box and eventually, developed a CTF conducted over Telegram! We also had to find new ways to prepare the selected youths for the competition.  It was immensely satisfying to see our efforts pay off when the team came in first!

3. What is a typical day at work like for you?

I spend most of my time brainstorming and fine-tuning programmes with my team to solve various workforce challenges in the cybersecurity industry under SG Cyber Talent initiative. Workforce development is dynamic and multi-dimensional. We have to collaborate with many private and public stakeholders and constantly try to create win-win arrangements.

One example is our SG Cyber Educators programme. From our conversations with educators, academics and career counsellors, they shared they would like to know more about developments and career prospects in cybersecurity.  To this end, we organised the inaugural Cyber Educators Symposium and brought together participants from industry, associations and public agencies.   It was a challenging task as we had to adjust constantly due to the fluid pandemic situation.  In the end, the team’s resilience enabled us to organise the event online, with more than 500 educators registering for the event.

Another aspect of my work includes engaging commercial overseas training providers to contextualise their training locally in niche areas such as 5G security and Operational Technology. Recently, I had the chance to conduct cybersecurity training for new hires in CSA, covering network security and cyber operations. It was heartening to see their enthusiasm and I was impressed by the well-thought out questions that they posed.

4. What makes you excited about coming to work?

Making a difference in people’s lives. I am driven to help others, especially youths, find their calling. It is very rewarding to have someone appreciate my efforts, even if it is through something as simple as a thank-you note. I also gain immense satisfaction from working on projects to encourage continuous learning for both students and professionals.

To me, people are the most critical resource we have, and it is important that we groom and nurture them to be the best that they can be.

5. What are 3 qualities that are important for someone in your role to have?

Teamwork – Nobody has all the answers, but as a team, we can learn from each other and achieve our goal faster. Success always tastes sweeter this way!

“What If” mindset – Some may call this the ‘hacker’ mentality, where we must always be willing to ask questions, relook the situation and experiment with new ways of doing things.

Resilience – Not everything we plan will go smoothly or succeed at first, so it is critical to be able to pick ourselves up quickly after a setback and keep moving forward.