From biology graduate to database engineer

11 June 2024

“How did a biology major end up as a data engineer in DBS?

It all began with an article on how a scientist successfully used a programming language to automate the processing of lab work, that sent me down a rabbit hole, seeking out article after article on similar topics. I emerged hours later with my decision to learn the same programming languages.

When I stumbled across that article, I was five years deep into my seven-year journey to obtain a degree in Biological Sciences. The first three years were spent at Temasek Polytechnic, followed by undergraduate studies at Nanyang Technological University.

I was also in a coveted internship at a prestigious organisation, but didn’t enjoy the work and couldn’t imagine a future down this career path. 

Don’t get me wrong, biology as a subject still fascinates me to no end – it’s just that I wanted to be more involved in building and creating things from scratch. 

So, for my final two years at school, I tried to merge the two worlds. I went to class as usual but spent any pocket of free time coding so I could speak the programming language like a native.

For my final year project, I worked with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research to develop a machine learning model to predict how well different molecules can stick to proteins – in other words, find ways to discover how new drugs can potentially react to the human body. 

Upon graduation, I worked at the Infocomm Media Development Authority to help automate processes for data scientists as well as train AI/ML models.

Still, I yearned to build something I could call my own, instead of just being a part of the pipeline. When I discovered the hiring hackathon at DBS, I applied, and soon joined the SEED (SG Skill Enhancement Education & Development) programme. 

Thanks to my 1 ½ years of work experience, I was assigned to the database team that built and tailored databases for DBS applications. 

Essentially, we’re like the building management and contractors of an apartment, and DBS applications are like each unique unit. We help to build their home according to their needs, handle all upgrades, run tests, and be available 24/7 to respond to any issues if they arise.

Being able to build something comes with its own set of responsibilities – I have to train others to use my team’s product and am usually the one called if any issues arise (yes, my phone is always with me!). Testing usually happens after midnight to ensure our customers are not impacted, which means I work inverted hours sometimes.

I took a bold leap of faith when I decided to pursue a career outside of my field of study – and thankfully, it paid off. With the bank’s trust and guidance, I’m now building something I can finally call my own.”

- Gabriel Lewis, Database as a Service