ALPHA Camp, one of Asia’s leading tech and startup schools, officially launched its Singapore campus on October 28th 2016. The event took place in the GovTech Hive office at the Sandcrawler building, and brought together a panel of some of the biggest names in the local tech industry to discuss how to bridge the tech talent gap – both in Singapore, and across the region. Here are some of the highlights…

The Singapore Government Sets Its Sights on Becoming the “Silicon Valley of South East Asia”

Gabriel Lim, the CEO of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore, reiterated the importance of being nimble and agile in developing Singapore’s digital economy – similarly to the philosophy behind many tech startups. In fact, Singapore itself is similar to a startup: it had a small team led by a founder with great visions, had to run on scarce resources, and speed-hacked their way to developed nation status after only three decades of independence.

Singapore understands the importance of technology to innovate and transform everything from the economy to socio-political affairs, and is therefore committed to investing in tech-based companies, initiatives, and education programs such as ALPHA Camp. In his opening remarks, Mr Lim lamented that there is an insufficient supply of tech talent to meet the rising demands of the industry. With major companies such as Google, Facebook, Uber, and Lucasfilm setting up their headquarters in Singapore, as well as numerous local startups, it is unfortunate that more people aren’t taking up tech skills.

Tech schools like ALPHA Camp assist in raising the level of local quality tech talent, in turn helping to realize Singapore’s vision of becoming “The Silicon Valley of South East Asia”.

The Talent Needed for the New Generation of Tech Companies

After the opening remarks by Mr. Lim, Mark Englehart Evans, SVP, Head of Innovation Management, Digital Innovations Group at DBS Bank, spoke about the importance of developing empathy, resourcefulness, and agility into the economy’s culture. In order to build a successful product, a company needs to understand customers’ problems and therefore develop useful solutions to those problems. In order to cope with a rapidly-changing economy, a company has to be resourceful, quick-thinking, and agile, and able to innovate and change their ways quickly.

Even though “digitizing the economy” sounds very technical, Mr Evans shared that the most important thing needed to succeed in this new economy is a sense of empathy that underlies human-centered design thinking. “Calm down about your latest cutting-edge tech idea. Go out, have breakfast with someone and understand what he or she actually needs and build a product that is actually useful.”

As such, there is a place for everybody in the new digital economy, including those whose talents aren’t specifically tech-related. Everybody matters, and what is most critical is for tech companies to hire empathetic people who are thoughtful, and can problem-solve because they care about their customers’ and partners’ concerns and needs. The new generation of tech companies, Mr Evans proposed, is a generation that combines intellect with empathy; that harnesses high-tech solutions to resolve the issues of ordinary people.

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Our founder Bernard Chan with guest speakers Gabriel Lim and Mark Englehart Evans

Hiring and Developing Talent in The New Digital Economy

The last session of the event was an all-star panel, which included the technical leaders in Singapore’s tech and startup communities, including:

  • Sau Sheong Chang, Managing Director, Digital Technology, Singapore Power; previous Director of Global Consumer of Paypal, and CTO of Garena
  • Jordan Dea-Mattson, VP of Software Engineering, TradeGecko, with over two decades of experience in Apple, Adobe, and Yahoo!
  • Jonathan Low, Cofounder and VP of Engineering, HonestBee
  • Victor Neo, Senior Engineering Manager, Carousell

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Panel of superstars in the tech industry. From left to right : Bernard Chan, Sau Sheong Chang, Victor Neo, Jordan Dea-Mattson, Victor Neo. 

The panel began by asking the question: what are the shortcomings and advantages of the tech ecosystem in Singapore? Jordan Dea-Mattson from TradeGecko started by highlighting that Singapore has two of the best technology schools in the world, and that some of the world’s top tech companies are building regional headquarters here. However, Mr. Dea-Mattson expressed that he feels Singapore lacks internship programs to ease their transition into the digital economy. Besides raw technical expertise, developers in tech companies, especially growing startups, need to multitask and understand a variety of other business aspects, such as research for product-market-fit, culture building, and general operational roles. The current traditional model of education doesn’t really prepare tech talent to solve challenges and think on their feet quickly in a fast-paced tech environment. He encourages companies to partner with educational institutions such as ALPHA Camp and develop more internship programs to grow talent organically. As an example, he discussed how TradeGecko trains new employees (dubbed “baby gecklings”) by assigning them experimental projects before initiating them as permanent staff members.  

Jonathan Low from HonestBee seconded this sentiment, highlighting the fact that training programs would also be useful to prepare tech talent to tackle demographic challenges of a new market. In order to grow the customer base, tech talents need to focus on the customer experience. There is no point in having the skills to build great products, if these products do not help solve real customer problems.

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Sau Sheong Chang, the renowned leader in Singapore’s tech community, emphasized that tech talents need to be versatile and willing to continuously learn and improve their skills. It is not a question of hiring somebody with specific technical or programming language expertise, rather, it’s a question of hiring somebody who is curious, adaptable, innovative, and persevering in finding solutions. Hence, it is more important for tech schools like ALPHA Camp to drill these values into their students, instead of going into highly-detailed programming concepts that will probably be obsolete in a few years’ time.

Lastly, Victor Neo from Carousell spoke positively of the fact that working in technology is now considered a “cool thing” to millenials, and that more of them are applying for tech jobs. In order to get good hires, tech companies need to focus on developing an attractive working culture with a solid mission and vision that excite employees. He said: “There needs to be a sense of ownership with what the company is doing, that we are all together in this, working towards a greater good”. In fact, Carousell’s close-knit, family-style culture is one of the main draws for many of its talents. From this, he concluded that it’s not enough to simply learn technical skills; it is more important to develop a passion for a problem you really care about.

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If you are interested to help bridge the Singapore tech talent gap and join tech workforce, consider applying for our full-time bootcamp under IMDA’s Tech Immersion and Placement Program. Qualified candidates would get the opportunity to hone a variety of tech and startup skills under government scholarship, covering web development, ios mobile app development, digital marketing, and product design. No previous experience in tech necessary