Why I Returned to the Public Sector After Being in an MNC
Meet Sarah Salim, our lead product designer and a mother of 3 kids! Sarah has been on the team since 2015 and is one of the most senior designers in OGP. Driven by curiosity, Sarah switched to work in the private sector in 2021 to explore what it would be like working in an MNC. Ten months later, she returned to OGP and is now a lead product designer on the team. We chatted with Sarah to learn more about her experience and why she decided to return to OGP.
Sarah’s beginning in OGP
Prior to joining OGP, Sarah worked as a graphic designer for five years in various creative agencies. When UI/UX first became popular in the industry, she decided to pursue a career switch and joined the team as a product designer in 2015.
“Back then, OGP did not exist and we operated as part of the Data Science & Artificial Intelligence Division (DSAID) of GovTech. When we transitioned to become OGP in 2019, I decided to stay as I enjoyed the working style, autonomy, and ground-up projects we had.”
As the second designer on the team, Sarah was involved in almost every project and witnessed how the team grew over the years.
Parking.sg was Sarah’s first and favourite project. Sarah shared that it was memorable for her as it was her first project after transitioning to the UI/UX track and her first time working with different functions in the tech industry.
“It is satisfying to see how the design is still around after many years and how the app has impacted many people. Even up till now, when I take Grab rides, I still hear drivers mentioning the app. It makes me feel that it was worth all the effort, all the blood, sweat, and tears.”
Exploring Beyond OGP’s Startup Culture
Prior to joining OGP, Sarah had never worked in an MNC. After working on the team for five years, the thought of exploring a career in an MNC crossed her mind. She was curious to find out how it would differ from her experience in OGP and wanted to seek further mentorship in a company with larger design teams.
“After five years working in the same place, I had the itch to move on and try something new. So I had a chat with Hong (Director of OGP) about this. He respected my decision and told me he would welcome me whenever I wanted to come back.”
Sarah moved on to pursue a lead product designer role in the private sector. During her time there, she had the opportunity to work with people from across multiple functions and countries. It was an eye-opening experience for her, as she had the chance to learn how collaboration is done across different tech families and how a bigger design team runs its design operations and practices. However, after a few months, she realised that the experience was not for her.
“When I first joined [MNC], I conducted guerilla testings on my own internally as I was used to doing this back in OGP. However, later I learned that there are processes and procedures that I have to follow in [MNC].”
Sarah shared that getting used to the complex processes and procedures was not easy after working in a high autonomy, startup-like culture in OGP.
“There are many security and legal clearances to be done, not just within Singapore but also regionally before your design solutions can be implemented.”
Additionally, Sarah struggled to juggle her role as a mother with her job as she had to work with people from different time zones.
“As a mother with young children, it was overwhelming when I had to do a brainstorming workshop early in the morning to accommodate the Seattle engineers.”
She shared that her mental health took a toll as she was also battling a tough first trimester of her pregnancy, which led to her decision to leave.
“Working at an MNC has many benefits, but I think it depends on your life situation and the work culture that best suits it. As a mother, I needed more flexible working hours to care for my family.”
Sarah’s Return to OGP
After six months, Sarah decided to leave the company. She took a 4-months sabbatical and spent the time resting, learning new things, and mentoring a design student.
Afterwhich, Sarah returned to OGP as she wanted to finish what she had started. As the design team had grown bigger, Sarah spotted an opportunity for her to develop her leadership and mentorship skills.
Sarah’s current role as a lead product designer mainly revolves around design operations and practices and ensuring high design standards across products. She also started a weekly Design Open Door initiative where OGP designers can talk to her about any design-related topics, bounce off ideas, or seek advice from her.
“As a lead product designer, I get a bird’s eye view of all the design operations and am able to work with Product Managers to improve design strategies. I also get the opportunity to hone my mentorship skills which I really enjoy.”
Sarah’s Advice & Takeaways
Sarah shared with us her takeaways and advice for anyone deciding between the private and public sectors.
“Look into what you want to achieve in your next role. Once you have a better picture of that, you will be able to make a more informed decision. There are many articles online that provide a comparison between the two. Still, it depends on your personal preferences, work objectives, and whether the team can fulfil these. For example, suppose you want to work across global teams or get opportunities to travel. In that case, MNCs might be the better option for you as there may be more such opportunities.”
“It also depends on your lifestyle and risk appetite, which may also differ by age. As I am in my 30s, I have a lot of other things to think about, like my husband and children. Thus, having a work-life balance is my priority now. However, it may be different for someone in their 20s who has the capacity to work 12 hours a day and may want to try as many new things as possible.”