Sharon Cao – Making the switch from teaching to tech

The fast-changing nature of technology is what excites Sharon Cao to continue a career in this field.


Looking back, switching from teaching physics in Shanghai Medical University to a career in IT was the right move, even though it was actually a pragmatic decision.

When I moved from Shanghai to Singapore in the 1990s, I had to change my career path in order to find a job. I started off as a programmer and later moved to enterprise architecture as I wanted to learn more and gain an end-to-end view of the IT system.

Singapore has been my second home ever since then, and my daughter and grandchildren also live here.

I joined the Bank during Singapore’s “circuit breaker” period or quasi-lockdown in April 2020 as a product owner of Enterprise Architecture Management. Joining during the pandemic is certainly a unique experience, but the culture and the leadership here have made me feel very comfortable as people have been supportive and helpful.

While my interest in technical research remains from my days in academia, what I really like about my field is how fast technology develops. Previously when I was in physics, changes did not happen as quickly as compared with IT. The speed at which technology moves is something that captivated me and that’s a major reason why I continued in this line.

One commonality in both physics and IT is that women tend to be the minority. Back when I was a student in Fudan University, there were only four women out of a class of 40. There are also not that many women in enterprise architecture as it’s quite technical.

On a positive note, things are changing and there are certainly a lot more women pursuing science and technology now. I am hopeful that more women will come onboard as mindsets change.

After more than two decades working in technology, one piece of advice I have for younger colleagues entering this field is to always keep the passion to learn and chase new technology.

Secondly, make sure you work with smart people who can push you to be better – the Bank has spadefuls of them, so try to position yourself accordingly.

The biggest challenge in my work is to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction as there are various architecture management practices by the different domains. Taking the most suitable approach with group decisions requires consensus and communication.

Someone once told me to treat human or relationship problems at work as physics problems to solve. That helped me to change my mindset; at work, you need to manage people and stakeholders, you can’t just focus on programming.

What I’ve learnt along the way is to focus on communication and networking to get things done. I was once a programmer and all I wanted to do was code. But I realised that sometimes, I needed to talk to others to get solutions instead of staying in a silo. Collaboration is really key to getting things done no matter how much you like just working on your own.


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