A prospective student recently posed this question to us:

“What’s the point in learning coding if so many jobs in this field are being outsourced to lower-wage markets in Asia?”

It’s a fair question; the idea of outsourcing tech jobs to places where the labor is cheaper makes economic sense. However, while some IT outsourcing is inevitable, the tide is definitely shifting in Singapore. Here’s why.

Outsourcing IT makes software development less agile

The traditional approach to software development largely followed the waterfall workflow, with clients stating detailed requirements at the start of the project, and the IT team building the product according to the requirements.

This is the kind of software development work that tends to be outsourced, because the responsibility of the IT team is easier to be scoped and segregated.

However, today’s software development lifecycle is more agile, for good reason: business requirements change as the business finds out more about the real needs of customers. To be agile, the IT team now needs to be an integral part of product crafting process, and needs to stay in constant communication with the business.

As such, it’s increasingly hard to manage an offshore IT team whose key interest is to finish the contract and move on. Being agile is so important to the survival of tech startups, which is why tech startups today prefer getting a technical co-founder to build a prototype, rather than outsourcing it to an IT company.

Tech has gone from “nice to have” to “mission critical”

Think back around 10 years ago, where most company websites were effectively extended “About Us” pages. They didn’t fill much more of a role for the organisation other than to inform the public about their products and services. Even IT software was more proprietary-based, and built with the intention of supporting operations rather than providing competitive advantages for the business.

Nowadays, technology is shifting from playing a supporting role to becoming a core competency of many businesses.

Technology has also started to play an intrinsic part in customer experience, whether it’s augmenting service capacities (such as mobile banking services), or serving as the primary platform for the service itself (such as Uber, honestbee, and most recently ofo).

Because of how intrinsic digital infrastructure is to businesses now, it’s vastly more important to have people working on these assets who have a strong understanding of the business’s vision.

Whether we’re talking about startup operations or major companies, having internal technologists allows for decisions to be made more quickly, and for greater collaboration in terms of planning and execution of ideas.

“Nowadays, technology is shifting from playing a supporting role to becoming a core competency of many businesses.”

Singapore is seeing more high-profile tech investment

Last year, Singapore Power took everyone in the local tech community by surprise when they announced that they were putting together a crack team of software engineers, under the guidance of Chang Sau Sheong (formerly of PayPal).

Then, earlier this year, DBS announced that they would hire 100 engineers via a “Hackathon”, where competitors would battle it out live over two days, and the best competitors would be offered jobs with the company.

On the government side of things, Smart City and GovTech have both been brought directly under the office of the Prime Minister, plus you have the IMDA’s Tech Skills Accelerator (TeSA), which seeks to retrain people from fields outside of tech with a range of ICT skills. To date, TeSA has trained roughly 8,000 people.

This drive from the government is understandable: as the economy becomes increasingly tech focused, it’s been reported that Singapore will be short 30,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020. This demonstrates clearly that there is a need for trained people in this sector which is currently not being met – so much so that the government feels the need to intervene.

More complex IT work is in hot demand now in Singapore. Last year, Minister for Communications and Information Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, spoke about the fact that Singapore is in need of ICT workers, and in particular, he highlighted cyber security as being a key area of focus. “Cyber security is one big area that I need more Singaporeans. I need Singaporeans because of the security concern. I think there will be a lot of growth potential,” he said.

Singapore is only going to become more “tech focused”

Tech is increasingly becoming a part of day-to-day life; in fact, we have a government which is relying on tech to actually improve the delivery of services and the general management of the city state.  

While IT outsourcing will continue to happen, there is an abundance of career opportunities right here in Singapore as well. Instead of feeling like we’re in competition with overseas tech workers, Singaporeans should reflect critically on our own competitive advantages, and upskill ourselves strategically to ride this wave of digital growth.