Photos: J.Judisun Photography
Thanks to decades of pop culture and preconception, the stereotypes of programmers are usually unflattering and mostly unappealing – as Chang Sau Sheong candidly (and rightly so) articulated and reminded this writer over tea.
“The depiction of a programmer on TV,” he said, “has always been that of a loner [playing] with a Rubik’s cube, socially awkward, mathematically [gifted] and sometimes even bordering on an autistic kind of personality.”
“Programmers are no different from anybody else except that they are more methodical when it comes to solving problems,” he added.
Sau Sheong went on to share the extent of such misconceptions perpetuated by movies and television shows of the typical programmer: male in a hoodie, sitting in a dark room and not talking to a soul for two weeks while trying to build a software.
“That’s all a myth!” (Laughs)
And if you ever think that the career path of a software developer would be a boring one for creative folks – you are probably wrong.
To be a good programmer requires a little more than merely knowing how to code, says Sau Sheong, who’s widely known as the “Codefather” for being the oldest active coder in the industry.
The best ones, according to the master himself, are those who can solve problems creatively, possess good interpersonal and empathy skills.
“Anyone can learn to code [because] understanding programming is not difficult but to be able to do it well, that’s very different,” said the 44-year-old.
“Programming isn’t just about creating software. It requires problem-solving skills and most importantly, you have to be able to think creatively, understand the client’s needs and work well with others.”
And it is precisely the creative aspect from software development that got Sau Sheong hooked and led him to an illustrious tech career that has spanned over two decades, and counting.
In truth, Sau Sheong never planned on becoming a programmer.
The self-described creative had wanted to become a journalist and “influence people with [his] writing” but a turn of events as a result of parental objection eventually landed him with a computer engineering degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 1995.
“It was quite a terrifying experience for me when I first started [in NTU],” he recalled the time when he didn't know much about software, “But it turned out alright because there are actually a lot of outlets for people to show their creativity.”
Two decades later, Sau Sheong’s passion for coding hasn’t wavered one bit.
He said, “I still code today because I want to. I code for work. I also code for fun. It’s a hobby and I will code for as long as my vision allows me to.” Hence his “Codefather” name.
Since his foray into the tech world some 21 years ago, Sau Sheong has been at the forefront of technological revolution.
The veteran engineer wrote a portal software (a first ever back then), and co-founded a start-up with that technology; survived the dotcom bubble days in the early noughties; and managed teams at tech giants like HP, Yahoo and Garena.
The veteran engineering manager now heads the digital technology team at Singapore Power after his stint as the Director of Engineering at PayPal last year.
Sau Sheong and his team of engineers are now working to deliver innovative products and services that could significantly help “[Singaporeans] improve their lifestyles” and “reduce the cost of energy usage.”
“After having worked in start-ups and American tech companies, I decided it’s about time for me to contribute back to Singapore,” he shared about the motivation that made him join Singapore Power.
Today, the father-of-one has even combined his love for coding and writing, and has written four technical books - a childhood aspiration the published author clearly has not abandoned despite his successful career in technology.
“I write to fulfill my childhood dreams [of writing],” he shared, “I couldn’t write as a journalist but at least I’m writing technical books now.”
We can’t help but wonder if Sau Sheong’s success, apart from his expertise and years of accumulated experience, has anything to do at all with his streamlined wardrobe.
Unlike most corporate executives with shirts and ties, the Managing Director of Digital Technology at Singapore Power rocks up to work everyday in his signature look – a dark plain T-shirt over denim pants combo.
They say, “simple is genius”. Like the many great leaders of our time, known for their unvarying signature style, Sau Sheong also sees fashion as a frivolity. He buys “a dozen of” the same tees from Uniqlo and “[wears] it for the next few months.”
“My wife tells me I’m a boring person [because of my limited fashion options] but I just don’t want to spend time thinking about clothes,” he laughed.