Rule-breakers thrive in strait-laced Singapore

Weather, food, car prices sizzle in Lion City

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The eXpat Files Douglas Baigrie is an ethical hacker, a role he says it's hard to recruit for in Singapore because the local culture encourages following rules – not thinking around them as he's required to do.

The 36-year-old Scot therefore found himself in demand in the Lion City, and after seven years there has even learned to cope with the never-ending heat and humidity.

Enough of our yakking. Tell us the rest of your tale if you would, Douglas!

The Register: What kind of work do you do and with which technologies?

Douglas Baigrie: Presently, I am an information security specialist (ethical hacker). As such, I work with just about every type of technology you can think of. I regularly have to learn new technologies and systems in very short timeframes. I have a lot of experience with Windows and Linux and, to a lesser degree, OS X and various Unix variants. I can program in Java and Python whilst also being proficient in many scripting languages such as Bash and Powershell. I can usually muddle through in most programming languages enough to do what I need and have worked in C, C++, Ruby, C# etc.

The Register: Why did you decide to move to Singapore?

Douglas Baigrie: I liked the feel and ease of moving around Asia whilst being based in a generally English-speaking country. Singapore is a very advanced city state/country and is very safe and easy to live in. You don't have to worry about long commutes and nothing you may want is very far away.

The Register: How did you arrange your new gig?

Douglas Baigrie: I had an offer from the company that I was working for at the time to become a regional IT infrastructure manager for either APAC or Americas, having previously established new regional offices in Raleigh, NC, USA and in Singapore. The company was a smaller UK-based company that was going global and I had had the opportunity to lead the expansion efforts, from a technological standpoint, during the time. I have since moved on from that company and worked for a local company for a short eight-month stint before moving on to my current large international employer.

The Register: Pay – up or down?

Douglas Baigrie: Up. Although initially that was due to a strong increase in benefits (housing, utilities, transport, etc), although that later normalised to a salary increase after becoming a "local hire". In general salaries here are roughly on par with the UK. However, there is really low tax here which definitely helps increase disposable income. The highest tax band here is 20 per cent and you need to be earning $320,000 Singaporean (about £156k) per year to reach that.

The Register: How do workplaces differ between home and Singapore?

Douglas Baigrie: This varies a lot depending on the type and origination of the company. Large multinational corporations tend to have more open culture with good career development. Smaller local organisations tend to be quite restrictive in nature and tend towards "do what the boss says, and don't question". Part of this is related to the Asian concept of "face" whereby you should not actively question or disagree with someone in a group but rather talk to them separately. The other part of the issue would be the more local management style tends towards being instructive rather than constructive. Thankfully, a lot of this is softened in larger multinationals with HQ's outside of Singapore.

The Register: Will your expat gig be good for your career?

Douglas Baigrie: It already has been. I was previously an expat in the Netherlands and that helped lead towards the opportunity to come out to Singapore.

Having on-site cultural experience allows you to work more globally and helps you to not think in restrictive patterns that are reinforced by only having worked in a single country.

The Register: What's cheaper in Singapore? What's more expensive?

Douglas Baigrie: Food in general is cheaper, even eating out at a high end restaurant is very good compared to Europe. Just about everything else is more expensive.

Accommodation is similar to London city centre or New York prices and is generally quite small, although not as small as Hong Kong. Cars are particularly expensive here. A basic family car will cost you about the same as a Porsche would back home. That said, public transport here is very good and regular. Taxis are also cheap. Unless you make at least two round trip journeys a day, it is hard to justify the cost of a car, let alone the running costs, over taking taxis.

The Register: Singapore's got a reputation for being a bit bureaucratic and strait-laced. Is that your experience?

Douglas Baigrie: It is a very organised place. Everything down to the type of building use is planned out by the government. However, that leads to well-integrated areas that are usually self-sufficient with shops, eateries, businesses and housing all located relatively sensibly.

I have been living here now seven years and I can honestly say that, whilst there are a lot of rules and regulations and the laws have high penalties, I never really feel like they are restricting my life. The only law that I have broken regularly is to dismount and push [my] bicycle at pedestrian under/overpasses ($1,000 Singaporean fine), but I usually only cycle when there is no one else using them. So far, I have not had any issues.

In general, Singapore is trying to soften its image in recent years. A lot of signs regarding fines and instructions where you "must" do things have been changed to simply "please do". That said, there is no reason why they might not still fine you for doing it!

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