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
Kong Yu Ning is the co-founder of Heicoders Academy, a leading tech education provider in Singapore. There, he oversees curriculum development and maintenance, and also establishes career support for students. Concurrently, he’s a Senior Product Manager at OKX.
As a person who dove into a tech undergraduate degree without prior experience in programming, Yu Ning has always been able to relate to those who feel that coding is inaccessible to them. In fact, it was one of the motivating factors behind why he set up Heicoders Academy – to democratise tech and programming for the layperson.
Yu Ning earned a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from Singapore Management University (SMU) – where he was awarded the best Final Year Project and graduated as valedictorian – and Master of Science in Management Science and Engineering from Columbia University, New York.
You've formulated an approach that makes "complex programming concepts more accessible". How does this approach help keep students up-to-date on technological advancements and assist in future-proofing their careers in IT and technology?
Personally, I think the way programming is currently taught in schools is too academic and mechanical – students are made to remember programming syntax that means nothing to them. This makes programming very daunting, especially for those with no prior experience. Also, as most of the instructors aren’t in the industry, they’re unable to impart the practical aspect of programming to students.
At Heicoders Academy, we approach programming education differently. The curriculum of our Artificial Intelligence (AI) Nanodegree is designed by industry experts based in Silicon Valley, and delivered by highly qualified instructors who are also practitioners in the industry. However, we’re very deliberate in ensuring that our curriculum and delivery caters to the layperson.
From the onset, we teach students the intuition behind the syntax, and use stories and analogies to help them relate to each of the core concepts. This helps them to understand the foundation concepts at a much deeper level, and kindle their interest to learn more about programming outside the class.
Tech progresses very rapidly, and thus it’s important that students have the foundation, interest and resources to continue staying relevant in the industry. As such, our approach to education not only ensures that students undergo career transition, but goes further in ensuring that students enjoy career excellence.
Do you have any interesting stories about when you successfully equipped students to work hand-in-hand with AI and/or ChatGPT? Could you tell us?
Recently, we started to teach students how to weave ChatGPT into their work stream for building machine learning models. Not long after, one student shared with us that he was able to improve an existing machine learning model in the company he was working for by getting ChatGPT to offer model improvement suggestions. As such, he was able to help the company improve their business outcomes.
Were there any insights into AI and ChatGPT that surprised you when you first founded Heicoders Academy? Could you tell us?
Our school was started way before the popularisation of ChatGPT and AI. However, even then, it was very clear in our minds that AI was going to be the next big thing. So, we weren’t really surprised by the trending conversation about AI today.
However, we’re quite surprised by the performance of AI products like ChatGPT, and how little time it took to get to this level of sophistication.
In your opinion, how are AI and ChatGPT changing jobs today?
Initially, most people thought that AI would replace jobs that were in the Dull, Dirty and Dangerous (DDD) category. But now, it has become clear that AI is on the precipice of replacing white-collar jobs that only require mechanical skills and cookie-cutter ways of thinking.
Most people should already be aware of what ChatGPT is capable of. But that is just one small facet of the larger advancement in AI. Currently, there are already AI products that are capable of generating websites, or even pitch decks based on a few lines of text instructions provided by a human.
With the availability of these AI products, companies can maintain the same level of productivity with fewer employees. Additionally, we also think that jobs of the future will require all employees to have the know-how to operate AI products or incorporate AI into the company’s work streams.
What are some challenges most fresh graduates and young professionals will most likely encounter when working with AI and ChatGPT? How can they best overcome them to future-proof themselves?
Young and fresh graduates are likely to enter a working world that’s still coming to terms with the disruption caused by AI. Some jobs will be destroyed, and the roles that remain will likely require employees to be able to interface with AI. Additionally, formulaic cookie-cutter work will rapidly decline in earning potential.
AI will force us to redefine the very idea of Human Intelligence. I offer two pieces of advice for young professionals who wish to future-proof themselves:
- At Heicoders Academy, we have a saying, “Master AI before AI masters you”. The most valuable talents would be those that can quickly get familiar with AI, and learn how to harness the capabilities of AI, to generate exponential Return on Investments (ROIs) for companies. Talents that fail to jump on the AI bandwagon will quickly find themselves outstripped by their peers who do so.
- Young professionals should also focus less on rote learning and cookie-cutter ways of thinking, because that is exactly what ChatGPT seeks to replace. Instead, they should channel their time towards creative and out-of-box thinking, which AI currently is still not capable of.
What are some necessary skills and attributes fresh graduates and young professionals looking to work with AI and ChatGPT should possess to succeed?
Young professionals need to hone their ability to ask thoughtful questions. ChatGPT, for instance, generates the most value to those who provide the most relevant and thoughtful prompts and questions. This will be no different for all other AI products.
In your opinion, what's the fastest, most successful way to build expertise in AI, and by extension, ChatGPT?
I think the best way to build expertise in AI is to try using as many AI products as possible to generate value for the objective you are trying to accomplish.
Additionally, I think it would be useful to learn a bit of programming – because AIs are ultimately computers, and there’s a need to understand the language computers speak in order to understand how they work.
What tips and advice would you give graduates and young professionals without a background in IT and technology, but who are looking to enter the AI industry?
Learning programming is no different from picking up a new language. All you need is a good empathetic instructor, some faith in yourself and you’re set to go!