Shopee Code League 2020

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Opening Address by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative and Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Shopee Code League 2020


1. Hi everyone, I am so happy to join you and to see so many people at this event.


2. COVID-19 has disrupted many things, but one thing which I am glad, is that the Shopee Code League has not let this set you back. You have pivoted, you have continued with this, and we are able to all meet – albeit virtually.


3. COVID-19 is the defining crisis of our generation, it has turned life upside down, it has disrupted the world economy, it has disrupted many things. But I wanted you to appreciate that it has not actually changed history; what it has done is that it has accelerated trends which are already there before. What do I mean? For instance, the rise of computers, computing, big data analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence – all these were there before COVID-19. But now there is an increased urgency, and we need to get a move on even more quickly.


4. As all of us reflect in the last two months, the experiences that we have been through – suddenly we have all learned about video cards, we have learned about microphones, we have learned about cameras, we have all learned to communicate, we have all had to learn a whole new etiquette – We have had to change and we have adapted. But there are silver linings.


5. The first thing for all of you coders out there is that you know you are going to be in great, great demand. You are in one part of the economy for which there is going to be an even greater and greater shortage of skilled professionals like you. And the opportunities are there for you to seize, so keep sharp, keep up to date and chase those rainbows which are available for you.


6. The other thing which has been very clearly evident in the last few months, is that if you look at the plethora of ground apps that have come up, in the case of Singapore and I think of – KampungKakis, FriendZone, – all these things which have risen organically to meet a need on the ground. We understand what people need, what people want and we are able to use our skills to meet those needs.


7. Even within the Government if you look at what GovTech has rolled out in the last few months. When we were distributing masks, MaskGoWhere was literally coded overnight. SupportGoWhere shows what programmes are available to help people and is also another example of that.


8. And of course we have had other things like TraceTogether, in which we are trying to supplement the very important human art of contact tracing. Not for technology to replace humans, but for technology to empower, to facilitate, and to accelerate the work of humans, because ultimately it is about making our world a safer place that is conducive for all of us to live, to enjoy life to the fullest, and to pursue our opportunities.


9. The local ‘Maker’ and ‘geek’ community in Singapore have known that I'm a long-time advocate of open-source software and open platforms. They know that I've been doing this even before it became fashionable. And now we have had a very healthy debate on contact tracing and on the way we use technology for it. Some of my friends in the community have told me, why not take the same approach to the TraceTogether programme? And you will have noticed that we in fact open-sourced the development of TraceTogether. We uploaded the BlueTrace protocol which is available for everyone to look at, scrutinise and to improve.


10. Now, we are also rolling out tokens so that everyone will be able to enjoy the benefits of protection, not only those with smartphones, but everyone and anyone. I have taken on the suggestions of my friends in the ‘Maker’ community and have told GovTech, let us organise a “teardown” of this hardware token. Let us get our people, the ‘geeks’, the ‘Makers’, the developers, and those in open-sourcing, to “lift up the hood” and see what's inside.


11. We will also share the first version of the firmware. And what we are really hoping for by organising this hackathon is that you will be able to examine it, improve it, feed the ideas back to us and help us make this even better. The reason for taking this approach is because I believe it builds trust, it helps make the services better, more responsive to meet the needs of people on the ground. And most important, it builds a stronger sense of community.


12. So my bottom line which I want to leave with all of you, especially since I am preaching to the converted here because there are thousands of coders, is that remember, it may seem like a fine technical art, but actually our skills make a real world difference. We can save lives, we can increase opportunities, we can make our world a better, safer place. And remember that beyond the technology, is values and that sense of community spirit, and the most crucial ingredient is trust, openness, transparency and collaboration. I know it is going be a very packed three hours, but I hope you have a wonderful time. I also want you to appreciate the opportunities that are expanding in front of you.


13. I wish you all the very best. Thank you for letting me join you.


Last updated on 10 Jan 2021