Before his O-Level year, tech CTO Derrick Lee convinced his parents that enrolling in the IT programme at ITE would get him closer to starting his own company. And it did, when Accredify was born a few years later.
By Sabrina Lee
At 15, Mr Derrick Lee pitched to his parents about enrolling at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). They had expected him to take the junior college-university route after his O Levels, but he had other ideas.
“Over dinner, I presented my plans in a clear and concise manner which made it easier for my parents to understand and support my decision.”
It helped that they noticed how involved Mr Lee was with technology, making the pitch to pursue information technology (IT) at ITE an easy one. They were won over by his research and how clear he was with his objectives — to gain practical, foundational
skills first at ITE, before furthering his industry knowledge and experience with a polytechnic diploma and a degree later.
“Considering this happened back in the early 2000s when most parents viewed university as the quickest path to success, it was cool how accepting they were of the unconventional choice I made.”
Today, Mr Lee is living every coder’s dream. Not only can he build games from scratch and talk tech all day, he also co-owns a start-up that solves problems with code. This problem-solving mentality was nurtured by his father who taught him 3D modelling
as a young boy.
Best of all, the company, which helps companies verify documents digitally, joined in Singapore’s COVID-19 fight not too long ago.
His 53-member company started in 2018, called Accredify, played a role in creating Singapore’s HealthCerts system during the COVID-19 pandemic to enable citizens to verify their COVID-19 test results quickly and easily — this expedited travel
in and out of the country during the pandemic.
It was a proud moment for the 30-year-old, who always knew he wanted a career in IT.
Asked which part of his youth contributed most to his growth as a technopreneur, and he credits his years at ITE without hesitation.
From classroom disruptor to IT innovator
When Mr Lee was in secondary school, he often found himself outside the principal’s office writing apology letters for being disruptive in class. Outside of the classroom, he was teaching himself how to code, use Photoshop, and interact with multimedia
tools — all before these were common interests among his friends.
At 13, Mr Lee became interested in game development, which sparked his curiosity and led him to use online forums to teach himself how to design a game from scratch. Through his research, he discovered more ways to harness the power of information to
drive innovation, productivity, and growth.
After completing his N Levels at Greendale Secondary School, Mr Lee chose not to continue with the O Levels but to enrol at ITE to pursue a two-year Higher Nitec in Information Technology.
Mr Lee knew that he could reach his IT goals sooner this way. Through the ITE route, he would gain immediately relevant skills for the IT sector and ample exposure through industry internships; the qualification also meant he needed to spend only
two years at Nanyang Polytechnic for his diploma course in IT.
Poly and degree studies built on ‘a solid foundation’ at ITE
In his spare time, Mr Lee developed a digital card game to apply new concepts and methods he learns from colleagues, webinars, and online videos.
Mr Lee, who graduated from ITE in 2012, says, “ITE really helped me develop my ‘builder mentality’. The hands-on teaching style was perfect for someone like me who loves to get their hands dirty.”
He credits ITE for providing a solid foundation. This made it easier for him to tackle more advanced topics and learn more skills, both at NYP and later, when pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Information Systems at Singapore Management University
(SMU). “At ITE, I got the basics down, and I learnt to roll with the punches, making me adaptable and resourceful,” he says.
Managing his time, staying focused, and being disciplined were critical soft skills that he learnt while juggling schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and personal projects.
While studying, he also worked as a freelance web developer, taking on projects for clients and taking part in business IT competitions. In addition, he actively sought out opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship while completing his tertiary
education, approaching small companies to offer his expertise in website development in exchange for the chance to shadow their founders. “After all, isn’t being a builder all about diving into the process? Innovation under pressure
was a challenge that I enjoyed,” he says.
Through this experience, Derrick has come to the conclusion that while education is crucial it is not the only way to succeed.
“Self-learning and hands-on experience are also incredibly valuable, especially since new technologies are constantly emerging.”
- Mr Derrick Lee, co-founder and chief technology officer of Accredify
Ultimately, he says, “Combining my passion for technology and entrepreneurship was a dream come true.”
This amalgam of experiences paved the way for him to co-found Accredify five years ago with three friends. “I learnt early on the importance of taking charge of my educational journey and not letting the expectations of others dictate my path.”
Next change: platform that helps students with job and internship applications
The technopreneur is constantly seeking ways to use technology to make processes simpler and faster. As Mr Lee explains, “My team and I prefer to automate tasks whenever possible and question the manual processes we encounter in our daily
His young team is all too familiar with the administrative challenges that students face when applying for internships and jobs, such as submitting documents and waiting for verification. So, to ease that burden and to support educational institutions
in their efforts to go digital, they set out to create a solution that securely stores a person’s academic progress all in one place.
“Picture this,” he says, “a platform that allows individuals to easily access and retrieve their instantly verifiable digital certificates from a single location and share it with potential employers or institutes of higher learning.
That’s the idea behind it.”
This digital repository also boasts an Insights feature that leverages the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to perform a personalised skill-gap analysis for each user based on their current qualifications and desired career path.
From there, it recommends courses tailored to their needs for a more efficient and effective learning experience.
“Learning mobility and career mapping are just the tip of the iceberg; the possibilities of education technology are quite truthfully endless,” he says, citing recent discussions about how generative AI tools like ChatGPT in classrooms are
incorporated into teaching strategies and encouraging critical and creative thinking among students.
He has exercised some creative thinking himself in how he shaped his education pathway to get to where he wants to be — pushing the envelope on IT. “Every person has their own special skills, passions, and personality,” says Mr Lee.
“When it comes to education, there’s no single formula that works for everyone. That’s why it’s crucial to help students take ownership of their learning.”
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