September 23, 2023

From data entry clerk to newsman, he found new calling at 70 as data analyst

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SINGAPORE – Mr Francis Chin spent most of his working life chasing education and learning new skills.

After completing the Senior Cambridge examinations – the equivalent of today’s O levels – at Beatty Secondary School in 1967, the then 16-year-old Francis started work as a data entry clerk while attending night classes for two years to attain his A-level certification from the Adult Education Board.

“My lifelong learning started then. I realised that once I got my HSC (A-level certificate), employers looked at me differently,” said Mr Chin, who will be 72 this year.

When he completed his national service in 1972, he worked in a string of administrative jobs before applying to work at the New Nation newspaper in 1977. He was among the first batch of journalists to undergo a basic reporting and sub-editing course.

From then, he built his writing, editing and managerial skills as he worked in several organisations such as The New Paper, Internet service provider Lycos Asia and National Computer Systems (NCS), to name a few.

During his illustrious 38-year career spent mostly in content development, Mr Chin recognised the need to further his education and continue learning.

Despite the high costs, he undertook part-time night classes while he continued working.

In 1992, the then 41-year-old started a four-year course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic to attain his Bachelor of Arts in English and Literature, offered by the Open University in Britain.

“It was tough – those four years doing the night classes. Attendance was compulsory, and I was working full-time as a writer for The New Paper,” said Mr Chin, who credits the course for teaching him critical reading skills and developing his writing style.

In 2002, as a senior news editor and web content manager for Lycos Asia, he embarked on a two-year Master of Mass Communication course at Nanyang Technological University at the age of 51.

But when he was three years into his job as a web content and publications manager in a local tertiary institution in 2015, Mr Chin was let go at the age of 65.

“I feel really bad about that, until today,” Mr Chin told ST, as he had no intention of stopping work, and the only reason given for not renewing his contract was his age.

He undertook freelance work as a media consultant, alongside writing projects for websites. But after Covid-19 hit, Mr Chin found himself out of work once again in 2020.

That was when he decided to carve a new path for himself by picking up new technical skills that are in demand in today’s data-driven world.

In March 2021, the then 70-year-old signed up for the SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme (SCTP) Associate Data Analyst Course with NTUC LearningHub. Mr Chin was the oldest trainee in his batch.

The course required him to work in Python and SQL – programming languages that enable data to be crunched, organised and queried for analysis.

“During those nine months (of the course), the main challenge was that I had zero knowledge about what was being taught. But in the end, I realised that it’s actually not difficult,” said Mr Chin, who is married with an adult son.

His mentor during his capstone project, Mr A.M. Aditya, said Mr Chin’s ability to communicate with clarity and his boldness in wanting to grow and learn were remarkable.

Mr Aditya, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Xaltius, a company that provides enterprises with AI product development and training services, invited Mr Chin to work with Xaltius as a data science content developer.

Mr Chin thus found a new calling at the end of 2021, gathering complicated content about data science before synthesising it into palatable information for Xaltius’ trainers to use in their courses.

After two years with Xaltius, Mr Chin is circling back to his editorial roots. He is completing a sequel to a fictional book he published in 2015, Chinese New Year In Amoy Street.

Reflecting on his life’s journey and educational experiences, Mr Chin said: “It’s about the persistent effort. You have to keep going even when you don’t feel like doing it.

“But after a while, you will realise that it’s actually easy, then you will enjoy it.”

Reference: The Straits Times