gradsingapore’s Employer Soundbites aims to share quick thoughts from employers on current industry trends, hiring insights and useful tips for fresh graduates looking to kickstart their career on a high note.
About the interviewee
Having always wanted to contribute to the social good, Neo Kai Yuan founded Rocket Academy to address the global shortage of good software engineers. Now, students often turn to Rocket Academy’s selective and comprehensive coding courses to help them in their journey to become coders and software engineers in an effective, efficient and affordable manner.
Kai Yuan earned his Master and Bachelor degrees in Computer Science from Stanford University, and was a software engineer at ErudiFi, a Southeast Asian (SEA) student loan startup, and American healthcare analytics startup Nuna. He interned at Facebook and Alibaba Cloud in his university days.
Rocket Academy “aims to make software engineers out of even the most non-computer science people”. Could you tell us more?
When I started Rocket Academy, I didn’t imagine we would be teaching people from backgrounds as diverse as those we have seen.
In our first batch, we had someone who studied the culinary arts, and was working as a chef before joining Rocket Academy. Our second batch, we had someone who had worked as a horse trainer for 20 years before deciding to become a software engineer. And in our third batch, we had someone who had been a food delivery rider and personal trainer before they decided they wanted to learn to code.
These students went on to work as software engineers at Glints, Rocket Academy and Circles.Life, and I am honoured that they chose Rocket Academy to be the place they upskilled themselves and successfully switched careers after completing our bootcamp.
Some of our students have had bigger challenges, such as a lack of computer literacy or inability to articulate the logic behind their code. However, they managed to overcome these challenges by working on foundational skills, such as communication and basic computer literacy, before they excelled.
Were there any insights into coding and software engineering that surprised you?
My biggest realisation is that clear communication is the most important trait of successful software engineers. Most people think the best software engineers are logical geniuses – which many are! – but meaningful software that changes the world we live in requires a team to build, and geniuses who can’t communicate ideas clearly can’t lead their teams to success.
What are some challenges most fresh graduates and young professionals just entering the coding or software engineering sectors will most likely encounter? How can they best overcome them?
Impostor syndrome. Many entry-level software engineers, including those from Computer Science (I speak from personal experience), find themselves lost and overwhelmed, sometimes for months or even years. There will always be a lot to learn at work that was not taught in school, like version control, DevOps and automated testing. This is both normal and surmountable.
My suggestion is to openly recognise and acknowledge what you know and don’t know, and relentlessly learn what you don’t know, and you need to know. Don’t be afraid to get help from others where needed. Nobody knows everything, and those that rise the fastest are those that learn the fastest and can contribute the most.
What are some of the necessary skills and attributes fresh graduates and young professionals just entering the coding or software engineering sectors should possess to succeed?
Other than coding skills, I would emphasise grit and social skills. Grit is crucial because coding is hard and rejections are common. Luckily, every technical problem has a solution, and we only need one offer to get started. Grit will propel new software engineers to keep trying until they find solutions and receive offers.
Social skills are important because professional coding is a team sport, and good companies heavily evaluate social skills when making hiring decisions. The best engineers make their teams stronger by motivating and empowering their team’s efforts.
What is the fastest, most successful way to build expertise in coding and software engineering?
Build projects you care about, and if possible, work with engineers you admire and hope to learn from. Also, prioritise learning and working with great people, especially when you’re first starting out.
What tips and advice would you give graduates and young professionals looking to enter the coding and software engineering sectors?
You don’t need a Computer Science background to become a software engineer. None of Rocket Academy’s successful graduates did. You don’t even need to be good at maths!
Although it’s true that coding isn’t for everyone, it’s also not rocket science. The most important attributes for coding are logic and communication. As long as you can think logically and explain your logic clearly, chances are, you would make a strong programmer.
Moreover, try free online courses! You miss all the shots you don’t take. If you like what you’re learning and would like more structure, guidance and network, you can consider registering for schools or courses to maximise your chances of success.