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A Singaporean behind Google's Worldwide  Success
PEOPLE Singapore

A Singaporean behind Google's Worldwide Success

Mr Lim Jing Yee is behind most of Google's success. He has engineered one of the biggest tech inventions, Gmail, now synonymous with the company he has worked in for almost 15 years.

The webmail service, in which the Singaporean owns 16 patents, has captured more than one billion active users around the world.

He is now on a new mission: to allow people to speak to a computer like they are having a natural conversation with a real person. 

Together with a handful of engineers here and in Mountain View, California, his goal is to develop better algorithms for Google Assistant, a virtual personal assistant.

Mr Lim Jing Yee's track record includes working on Gmail and rolling out Google Maps for the region. Image: Straits Times
Mr Lim Jing Yee's track record includes working on Gmail and rolling out Google Maps for the region. Image: Straits Times

Mr Lim pioneered the concept of clustering e-mails of the same thread into a conversation - a breakthrough design that makes it easier for users to find their e-mails.

Known as "conversation view" - a patent registered under his name in the United States - the feature was rolled out with the launch of Gmail in April 2004, when he was based in Mountain View.

Then, Gmail also offered generous storage space of 1GB for free to users when its rival Hotmail was giving only 2MB without a fee.

"The webmail offerings were not very exciting at that time," he said.

But, today, Google Assistant is up against prominent rivals like Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa, and emerging ones like Chinese search giant Baidu's Little Fish.

Even so, Mr Lim is not new to challenges having navigated the regional differences in addressing and road naming when he helped to roll out Google Maps in South-east Asia in 2008.

In India and Japan, for instance, some roads do not have names and numbers in addresses may not be set up in a sequence.

To help users get from point A to point B, Google Maps has to use landmarks for navigation.

He returned to Singapore that year with his wife, who was expecting their third child, and two young children - after spending close to two decades in Silicon Valley.

"When the opportunity arose to launch Google Maps for the region in Singapore, I quickly volunteered," he said, noting he needed "better childcare support" from his parents and parents-in-law here.

He had worked in consumer electronics firm Thomson Electronics and search engine firm Excite in Silicon Valley before becoming a "Googler" in 2002.

He is heartened by the changing mindset towards engineering as a career, with giants like Google and Amazon hiring here.

Still, his advice to young people is not to take up a job just because it pays well.

"No matter what career path you take, you should follow your passion."

Source : Straits Times


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