TL;DR – It’s not as easy as it seems.
Singapore’s economy is looking gloomy this year. Many sectors remain lacklustre. A lot of Singaporeans are worried about their jobs. But there is one sector that is a bright spot in the economy.
The information and communications technology (ICT) sector is set to grow in Singapore.
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) anticipated that there will be an additional 30,000 jobs in the ICT sector to be filled by 2020.
It’s no wonder then that many Singaporeans are looking for opportunities to develop the skills to take on jobs in the ICT sector. And MCI has a plethora of programmes to support Singaporeans. This includes the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme (TIPP), where Singaporeans get substantial subsidies for immersive courses and bootcamps conducted by coding schools such as General Assembly and Byte Academy.
But will attending these immersive courses and bootcamps really transform you into a hotshot software engineer? Will you definitely be able to get a great paying, super-fulfilling job in the ICT sector by spending three months in these courses and bootcamps?
We spoke to a number of our friends who have attended these bootcamps and crystallised the good, the bad, and the ugly of these bootcamps.
One great thing about these bootcamps is that they usually have a good ratio of teaching staff to students. This allows the teaching staff to provide close guidance. This can be particularly useful when you are stuck on some problem or have some difficult questions that you need answered.
Another good reason for going to these bootcamps is that you get to develop your skills with a community of learners. Having a group of people around you who are also learning helps to keep you motivated and on task. They can help you see issues from a different perspective. They can also help to point out things that you might have missed. You can also bounce ideas off them as you working on your projects.
Speaking of projects, that’s probably the best thing about these bootcamps – you get to work on projects to add to your portfolio. You usually get quite a lot of freedom in designing your project. So if you are willing to work hard, you can actually get quite an impressive looking portfolio from the bootcamp.
Let’s face it. No matter how intelligent you are, there’s no way you will be able to go from a total coding noob to being a highly sought-after hotshot software engineer in just three months. For most of these bootcamps, you won’t learn enough of the computer science fundamentals to allow you to build apps that is optimised to handle a heavy load of users and data, for instance.
This puts graduates of coding bootcamps at a disadvantage when they try to enter the industry. It’s very unlikely that you will be good enough to get a software engineering job in established tech companies like Google. You are more likely to land a junior role in a tech startup or a small-scale agency. And there is a good chance that you won’t be able to get past the technical interviews without any additional practice and preparation after the bootcamps.
Even if you are able to get a job in the ICT sector, you are likely to find it challenging to handle the scale and complexity of the work that you are tasked with. That’s what our friends tell us. It’s a steep learning curve. The bootcamps merely give you a foundation that you need to build upon. You need to be prepared to work really hard to level up your skills.
If you are fortunate, you may meet people at work who are able and willing to guide and mentor you. But that really depends on your luck. We have friends who end up working in companies that don’t have the capacity to guide them. They have to figure out things pretty much on their own. Here’s where a positive attitude and some tenacity come in handy.
And that is one of the issues that the industry is facing. We are rushing to churn out junior software engineers. But do we have enough mid- and senior-level engineers to guide the junior engineers? That’s one reason that some companies are reluctant to hire the graduates of coding bootcamps – the lack of capacity to train them. Most companies are looking for people who can ‘plug and play’, rather than having to invest time and resources to ready them to start contributing.
So. Bootcamps alone aren’t enough
If you want to get into the ICT industry, don’t just go for bootcamps. You need to do a lot more on your own. Read more, learn more on your own, find more problems to solve, keep building things, take part in hackathons, reach out to people who are more experienced and learn from them.
Yes, no magic instant formula. You just have to work really hard and network to death.
NTUC’s Labour MP Desmond Choo, who is also fronting the Infocomm and Media cluster for the Labour Movement, had earlier advised workers to be mentally prepared and manage their expectations.
“Our workers who want to come into the industry must know that they need deep-skilling. Workers can’t expect to take a three-month course and expect to become an ICT professional.
Certainly Government support is needed to help workers transit, but they must be prepared to take courses that are as long as from six months to a year. They also need to expect to take on a lower pay when coming in fresh into the industry.”
Choo added that workers who succeed in doing so will be able to progress further and command a steeper pay increase in the long-run.
Basically, the end of the bootcamp is just the start of a long and arduous journey to mastering the craft of software engineering. You need to keep at it. But, from what we’ve been told, it can be quite a satisfying and enriching (in more ways than one) endeavour.