How I Made It Work: Going From Finance To Tech

ALPHA Camp’s coding bootcamp veterans come from a wide array of professional backgrounds, and many of them have harboured doubts about their previous job for a while before biting the bullet and jumping ship. This article is for those of you who are currently working in the finance industry, secretly wondering if you should switch tracks and become a software engineer or application developer.

We sat down with ALPHA Camp graduate Ashleigh Rhazaly, 27, to talk about his own journey from a trader to his current job: a technology executive on The Development Bank of Singapore’s (DBS) digital and innovation team.

 

Tell us about your previous job in finance.
Ash: I graduated with a bachelor’s in economics, so I used that degree to land my first job in finance. I specifically wanted to be a trader, because I was really good at statistics, and I wanted to apply my statistics skills to trading.

 

I hear a “but” coming up. What is the “but?”
Ash: I got the job, and I realised that it wasn’t the promised land that I thought it was, so I thought that I didn’t really like it; frankly, I found it really boring.

There wasn’t really a sense of fulfillment as a trader, and I don’t mean disrespect to the traders out there, but I felt like I was a sophisticated gambler, and that’s not who I wanted to be. When I worked as a trader, I could never envision myself doing the same job in five or 10 years, and that’s pretty much why my interest disappeared pretty quickly.

 

How did you get acquainted with coding?
Ash: How I got into software development? That was also at my last job as a trader. When my boss asked me to come up with some analysis and I had no idea how to do it, I thought that maybe I could pick up [some] programming language on the side to help me. And it really did.

I really enjoyed the process because I learned the programming language Python to do some analysis and it was really fun to do. The solace I found in my old job was actually every time I [was learning about] programming and did programming [projects], rather than the actual trading. So I left that job, and I decided to pursue software development to the next level.

 

What kind of coding did you first get into?
I did Python, I used it for data analysis and data visualisation. So I learned that on my own [on udemy] but it was really easy. And when I tried to take it to the next level, that was when things got hairy.

 

I imagine it took a while to figure out your next step. What did you do?
Ash: When I tried to do that, I went around asking questions because I didn’t know how to [get started]. You know what they say: I don’t know what I don’t know. [After asking around], I thought I might join a coding bootcamp, and at the time I had no idea what a coding bootcamp was. I just wanted to be around people who had the same dilemma as me, and that’s when I found out about coding bootcamps.

 

With all the coding bootcamps out there, what made you decide to go with ALPHA Camp?
Ash: I found out about ALPHA Camp was when I was on General Assembly’s Facebook page, where I saw a banner ad [for ALPHA Camp], and I thought I should check out the competition. I really liked what I saw.

A few days later, I spoke to ALPHA Camp’s program manager at the time, and I really loved their hands-on approach. What I liked about AC that made them different from the rest was that you have a demo day, that’s what I really liked, and what really stood out from the other bootcamps. It was the tipping point for me to choose them. And also because of the instructor. Our instructor was a very accomplished web developer, and very knowledgeable.

 

Anything else about Alpha Camp that stood out to you immediately?
Ash: The first time I set foot in ALPHA Camp, I saw Bernard, and he immediately knew who I was even though I had never contacted him before. I thought it was very interesting that the founder knew who I was, it was very nice that he knew of me.

Ash at demo day

Tell us about Demo Days. How did yours go?
Ash: Demo Day was where I got to showcase what I learned over 12 weeks, and I remember what my team did was to recreate something like Dropbox. It was very daunting because none of us had the skills to do it, much less to do it in three weeks, but we got down and dirty [with the code] and we managed to pull it off, and showcased it to people.

 

How do you think technology is affecting the finance industry?
I think it’s becoming more imminent. Right now, I know with my old job, instead of hiring finance individuals, more so [the management] is looking for computer science majors entering the finance sector right now. I would definitely say technology is taking over finance in a big way; you don’t need to know finance, but some level of programming knowledge will certainly help.

 

How is your new job treating you?
Ash: I have a huge sense of fulfillment [from what I do], and I look forward to work every day—as hard as it is to believe that I’m the one person who actually likes going to work! Because I get to work with individuals who are extremely smart, and extremely helpful.

 

What would you like to say to people who are debating if they should make a similar jump in careers?
Ash: For people who are still sitting on the fence, you really have to know why you are doing [the transition]. For me, initially when I joined ALPHA Camp, I wanted to work on my own startup, but I had no idea at all what a developer does. I do have the knowledge from my trading job but it wasn’t enough for me to launch my own startup, and I decided if I’m going to be a CEO then I will need some tech experience.

I remember our instructor [at ALPHA Camp] told us, “If you want to do a startup, go and get some experience in a tech firm or in a company like DBS, because if you just dive in, you are going to fail very fast and very hard. And you’re going to lose a lot of money!” So why not just learn while you’re at your job? Later, you can launch your own startup.

 

Ash’s experience with Alpha Camp has been featured in the Strait Times, in which he discusses his plans to launch a health and fitness start-up and how intense but meaningful the bootcamp classes were. Inspired by Ash? Check out ALPHA Camp’s current programme offerings. Interested in programming but not convinced you have what it takes to succeed? Find out here if it’s possible to learn coding with no experience. (hint: we say yes, it is!)

How Zalora is using AI to make online shopping easier

We have digital technology to thank for 24/7 access to retail therapy, particularly on stressful work days and sleepless nights. What makes online shopping so great is that it’s simple and convenient. It gives you so much variety, all from the palm of your hand.

When endless choice makes it difficult to find what you want

The downside is e-commerce websites can disorientate customers. Like walking into a departmental store with no signage, shoppers are overwhelmed by the large number of products available on an online catalogue. With all that clutter, it’s hard to navigate to products they’re looking for, or discover products they might like.

Companies know shopping shouldn’t be hard (or it wouldn’t be a national pastime in Singapore), which is why they are tapping on artificial intelligence (AI) to make your shopping experience seamless.

Reimagining the online shopping experience

If you’ve visited online fashion stores before, you’ve probably noticed some beautiful editorial images. Maybe you saw a cute top that you really loved on one of the models, but you couldn’t find it anywhere in their huge catalogue. A keyword search could not reliably turn up the exact product you were eyeing either, because the item description may not match the specific words you looked up.

This scenario plays out over and over with frustrated online shoppers on many fashion e-commerce platforms. To solve the problem and deliver a better shopping experience, ZALORA has launched a ‘Shop the Look’ feature where you can click on any editorial images to see products identical or similar to those that appear in the picture. The feature uses AI image recognition technology to match the clothing featured in curated photographs with exact and related products within ZALORA’s platform.

“A lot of customers and partners want to know how to buy the stylings they can see in our editorials and commercial designs. So, we were thinking about how to make this step easier for them,” says Doro Garth, Associate Director of Product Management.

So what exactly is happening under the hood?

How AI image recognition technology works

A computer programme that recognises clothing details in images may sound like magic, but it actually mimics how we humans learn to recognise objects. What it really comes down to is trial and error, and a ton of data. Programme developers feed a machine learning algorithm with an enormous library of images and train it to sort them out into categories. Given enough experience, it’ll learn without you having to spell out the rules.

ZALORA’s ‘Shop the Look’ feature does just that. The machine learning algorithm is first trained with product images from ZALORA’s product catalogue. Given enough training, the algorithm will come up with a reliable set of categories and rules that guide it to identify and match an exact or similar items based on what it has learned in the past.

AI technology is more accessible than ever

You don’t have to be a computer scientist with a PhD to incorporate AI image recognition technology into your company’s online platforms.

In fact, Kenneth Teh and Gloria Soh, part of the team behind ZALORA’s “Shop the Look” feature, designed and built the prototype with ZALORA engineers as part of a web development programme at ALPHA Camp. Neither had any coding knowledge prior joining ALPHA Camp. They spent just four weeks with ZALORA’s senior developer and product manager to come up with the first version of the app.

First-time coders like Kenneth and Gloria are able to build smart web apps because bona fide AI developers such as ViSenze create sophisticated machine-learning programmes available to the masses. All you need are the programming skills necessary to write these algorithms into your API.

Harnessing AI to improve customer experience

AI programmes do more than enhance search functions on a website. They can tailor product recommendations to individuals, or deliver better customer service with greater efficiency. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. E-commerce platforms like ZALORA are constantly finding new ways to use cutting-edge AI technology to make shopping more enjoyable for you.

Interested in reading more? Check out ‘Are coding jobs leaving Singapore?’.

learn to code

How To Stay Confident While Learning How To Code As A Beginner

Knowing how to code is a desirable skill to add to your resume, but learning how to code for the first time can be intimidating. Whether you’re starting on a new career path in software development or wanting to learn how to code to advance your career, these confidence-building approaches will help you learn more effectively.

Join a Community (Or Two)

Many Singapore education schools have started to embrace and adopt coding as part of their mandatory curriculum. Whether you are learning it as part of a class or on your own, you may find it difficult to come out of your shell in an environment that has embedded a competitive in nature and focused on top performers (the kiasu phenomenon). This is where building a support network can help build confidence as a beginner in this field.

One such support network is Junior Dev SG, a community dedicated to supporting junior developers and newbies of Singapore’s tech industry. This group holds bi-monthly socials as a way for new developers to meet other developers in Singapore and learn to code from one another. Since the membership focuses on junior developers, everyone has a similar level of experience. You benefit from each other’s successes and learn from each other’s mistakes, allowing you to accelerate your professional growth and feel more comfortable and confident in a new industry.

Present Something

Given the opportunity to teach an audience of almost 100 when you have less than 6 months of experience in their profession, would you take it? That’s exactly what Shirlaine Phang and Gloria Soh, two recent graduates of ALPHA Camp’s web development program, did on a talk about styling web pages using CSS Grid.

Gloria recommends that beginners like her to give this a try. She stresses, “It was also beneficial to us, as we got to push our own learning limits while thinking of what topic to present. We also had to trust each other to improve our skills with peer reviews.” ALPHA Camp’s instructor Daniel and teaching assistant Raeger reaffirm how this attitude characterizes a strong learner.

Many people think they have to have years of experience or professional recognition before teaching others. If you take this approach, you deny yourself an excellent method to build confidence in your new professional path.

Practice, Practice and More Practice

“The expert in anything was once a beginner”

No amount of reading, listening or watching can replace practicing and doing when learning something new.

However, according to Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, not all practice is the same. In order to truly improve and build your confidence, you have to engage in deliberate practice, which involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities that address your weaknesses.

As you engage in deliberate practice, you may be tempted to give up when you’ve been trying to code a feature or fix a bug for the better part of a weekend. Remember that there are no shortcuts in acquiring programming skills, or any kind of skills for that matter. Every struggle and the subsequent triumph, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem at the time, helps you build your confidence on your path towards becoming an expert.

Your peer network will help you build lifelong learning habits that are useful for picking up a programming language and other in-demand skills in the digital world.

Interested in reading more? Check out How Not to Learn Coding.

5 Things I Wished I Knew Going Into A Coding Bootcamp

This post has been adapted from Jonathan Tang’s own blog, where he writes about travel, languages and tech. He graduated from our full-time web full stack development bootcamp in late 2017.

Not so long ago, I was sitting in the office of my previous company, wrestling with the HTML tables on the Intranet site, when the boss called me over to discuss a learning app he wanted to create. “Do you want to oversee this?”, he asked and uncomfortably, I responded, “I don’t have the technical expertise to run this project.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I became painfully aware of how familiar they sounded, and how in recent months, I had to pass up several programming-related projects, all because I didn’t know the slightest bit about coding.

Technology has been increasingly disruptive to the education industry and I came to the realisation that if I wanted to move forward in my career, especially as a project coordinator in the education industry, a good level of coding knowledge was a must, and so, I began my research in the most efficient way to plug this skills gap. It was then that I came across the concept of coding boot camps, institutions where programming fundamentals are pounded into your head for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks with the promise that at the end of it all, you will be ready for an entry-level coding position. “That sounds like it could be fun,” I thought. How ‘wrong’ I was!

Here’s what I wish I knew before going in:

1. You Will Never Be Ready

I spent two weeks before the boot camp studying HTML, CSS and Ruby on Code Academy before the course. I went in on the first day thinking, “I got this!”. Nope, it doesn’t work that way! You see, knowing the theory of how a programming language works is very different from knowing how and when to apply it in solving a problem! Since the only way to get better at application is through the practice of increasingly challenging problems, and since people signing up for a bootcamp are new to programming, there’s no way you can avoid feeling unprepared in the first week! So learn to roll with it!

2. Estimated Study Time vs Actual Study Time

All time estimations stated on the marketing materials or given by the instructor are just estimates. You will find that almost all technology introduced was built on a dependency and you will need to invest the time to study the technology it depends on, or it will come back to bite you in the ass when you least expect it! Case in point: While I was rushing my capstone project, I wasted more than 5 hours going back to cover the basics when I tried to use Rail’s Devise gem without having a clue how authentication worked!

If you’re scheduled to start learning Bootstrap or SASS, make sure your CSS fundamentals are sound. If jQuery is on your syllabus, put aside some time to learn the basics of JavaScript! And please get a handle on your HTML and Rails tags before Slim is covered in class!

3. Programming Languages ≠ Natural Languages

These are fundamentally different and if you have experience learning natural languages like Spanish and Japanese, you will need a different learning strategy! Unlike human languages where you can employ circumlocution to get your point across and achieve communication success, programming languages are very precise, and you can’t rely on the computer to help you along when you use the wrong word. In short, either you succeed or you fail each time you “say” something to the computer, and this “all-or-nothing” concept to communication can be incredible frustrating until you get used to it.

When learning a natural language, you don’t need to know every word in the language, and the highest frequency words will come up time and again, where your brain can eventually internalize them. This learning strategy doesn’t work with programming languages, and you will constantly have to struggle to learn every new word/method that you come across, or you will soon find yourself stuck on a problem without the necessary framework to come up with a solution.

4. Fail Fast and Fail Often

I like my work to be as perfect as possible before I show it to the world and the thought of trying something new only to end up falling flat on my face terrifies me. However, the very concept behind coding is to constantly try and fail in small increments, so that you can fix the bugs before they get out of control! A good programmer tries to fail often, so get used to failing!

Also, since you have the luxury of an instructor to help you along during class, make use of the safety net and try as many new things as you can, secure in the knowledge that you will have someone more experienced who can easily help you fix your code if you screw it up beyond repair!

5. Your First Programming Language Doesn’t Matter

I was attached to the idea of learning Python as my first programming language, but local coding schools were only offering Ruby. An online search of companies requiring Rails developers didn’t bring up optimistic results, and I started questioning whether learning Ruby as my first language was a good idea. It turns out, it doesn’t matter!

The industry expects developers to be polyglots and work with multiple languages, since each language has its own unique strengths! A company we visited even told us they develop applications in different languages and integrate them all into their product!

Programming languages are also remarkably similar, as I recently discovered, and with my knowledge of Ruby and JavaScript, I was able to look through my WordPress’s PHP code to make a few changes! Moral of the story: Ruby is easy to pick up, so use it to learn the fundamentals of programming concepts!

Closing Thoughts

Looking back at the sweat and tears shed over the course of these 3 months, I realized that the biggest benefit that I got out of this course was really the network of amazingly talented and wonderful people I had met! Coding and debugging can be a lonely and boring affair, so having a group of fun-loving people to motivate you when you feel like giving up, to tell you how wonderful your app is when you think it’s crap, and to constantly bounce silly ideas off of, is vital in helping to maintain the sanity of an aspiring programmer!

A big thank you to the people of Alpha Camp, both students and staff, for pushing me through these 3 months!

[Graduate Spotlight] Happy Haris at Demo Day

All our blood, sweat and tears have boiled down to this one day: Demo Day! The web app that my team had made Halal Go Where was ready enough to be presented. We had rehearsed and was the final one to be presented. And I gave it my all. I could not believe it. 3 months just passed in a blink of an eye.

What I learned so far in this bootcamp:

  • Programming is a group sport
  • There is always room for improvement and learning
  • More than one way to look and solve a problem

I always have this misconception that programmers are solo workers
I always have… not sure why… Maybe because when I was trying to learn coding by myself before joining ALPHA Camp’s coding bootcamp, all the tutorials and videos I saw were focused on one’s own self. However, once I got to know git, github and merge conflicts, I was proven so wrong. Programming is a ‘teamwork’ thing!
In ALPHA Camp, after completing our first note-taking app, we kickstarted our group projects. That’s when I learn we have to divide our tasks, either through features, user stories or models. Then, when we merge our code, conflicts come about and we learn from this. We learn through the code each of us have written and from each other on how to do it.

There is no stop in improving and learning
Especially in programming, where there would be a new programming language coming up every now and then, there is always room for learning. The question how good are you a programmer is a difficult one because there are different views on good code/programmer.

More than one correct answer?
Yes, programming is awesome that way. You can solve a problem more than one way. And also, you learn more from other people’s solution. You might have a I didn’t know you could do that moment. Don’t worry. I always have such moments!

Overall, it was a fruitful experience and I met many people during my stint at ALPHA Camp, especially my capstone-mates(web & marketing), classmates, instructors, teacher assistants and ALPHA Camp staff. Fortunate to meet this lovely bunch of people who have really created an impact in my life. Plus, thank you to the people who came to the demo day!

For now, the plan is to find web developer internship opportunities. Here we go!

Interested to attend our next Demo Day? RSVP here

Interested to join our next bootcamp intake? Hurry, our application deadline is 24th Dec. Apply here

[Graduate Spotlight] End of a Beginning

On 20th November, our bootcamp graduate Kelvin Chow wrote on his Medium blog about his final bootcamp experience. 

When I first came in to ALPHA Camp, it was 14th August 2017.

So many questions ran through my mind…

“How skilled would I be when I complete this bootcamp?”
“Will what we learn be relevant to what I wish to do?”
“How are my instructors and classmates like? Will the lesson be informative, and will I work effectively with them on group projects?”

Fast-forward to 15th November, also known as Demo Day. It is the day we showcase our capstone projects and it also acts as our official ‘graduation’.

I will definitely miss this bunch so much. Although I went through a diploma, this is the first class I really bonded with!

The first time we stayed late and coded together — ’til 10.30pm!


Last day of class — but we still have our capstone project!

Our presentation, or rather all our presentations I would say, actually went incredibly well. Watching each other present and talk about our capstone and challenges make a sharp contrast when I compare to our first day of school. Back then, we were still struggling with understanding what to install and prepare… haha!

By the way… for those who are interested to join the bootcamp and will experience their own Demo Day, this is actually what happens:

  • You’ll have HR personnel among the crowd circling and crossing out potential employees
  • Your slides and presentation matters more than you thought
  • Applause from the audience serve as your first, superficial-level validation
  • This congregation of potential ‘bootcampers’, hirers and Alphacamp students allow you meet some pretty cool and interesting people

The hiring part isn’t a joke. I received my first name-card 2 minutes after presenting!

Conversations around ideas and job scopes mattered to me more than job openings, as I already knew what I was gonna do. I would like to freelance first, then join a Web Agency as a stretch goal. Though if possible, I would really like the idea of having at least 1–2 years working experience in other agencies before doing it independently.

It was a very enjoyable experience as a whole. I managed to confidently present (I was still stuttering during practices), our app works fine (awesome time working with Vincent & Nicole!) and the audience seemed impressed. The playing, eating and talking with everyone else was the cherry on top. YAY!

And we’re done!

Definitely learned a lot these 3 months. I can’t imagine NOT going through this journey… More important than the coding skills, this experience gave me confidence. Gave me ambition. And gave me a direction in a field that I have always wanted to go into.

And definitely, what’s making me already start to miss everyone is the enjoyable time spent together as classmates and friends. This was the ‘poly education’, and they were like the ‘poly classmates’ I wish I had. All of them are like my older brothers and sisters, and it is  rare finding a class that can build this level of rapport and friendship.

I hope we’ll cross roads again, and have a chance to work with each other, or maybe just reminisce and catch up on old times. Until then, good luck everyone with your endeavours! Lastly, thank you ALPHA Camp for letting me meet these people and for the priceless learning experience.

 

Interested to attend our next Demo Day? RSVP here

Interested to join our next bootcamp intake? Hurry, our application deadline is 24th Dec. Apply here

ALPHA Camp x INSEAD: Bringing Bright Technical and Business Minds Together

On 28th November 2017, a group of INSEAD and ALPHA Camp students jointly pitched the startup ideas they had worked on over a 4-week period. The pitch is part of Professor Virginia Cha’s bi-annual Technology Venturing Practicum (TVP) class for for INSEAD’s MBA program in Singapore. Professor Virginia, who is also a faculty at Lean Launchpad, recognised that a key part of a new venture team that can attract top-quality venture capital is to form an entrepreneurial team with both business and technical team members. Thus ALPHA Camp students got to participate in MBA classes as well as build MVPs with go-to market strategies then pitch to a panel of investors! All very hackathon-like…

Winners from Pitch Day (May 2017) 

Pitch Day (November 2017) participants 

The ideas and prototypes that came out of this intensive 4-week period include solutions that aim to help SMEs more easily hire top notch consulting services, an e-commerce platform for second-hand luxury goods, an ‘uber for nannies’ and a female entrepreneurship portal.

Nathan (a recent ALPHA Camp graduate who is currently a full-stack web developer) wrote a mobile app and an administrative backend for his team’s project YoRipe. An e-commerce teammate of his had experience with proto.io, but further deepened her technical understanding when Nathan incorporated his learnings from ALPHA Camp’s Full-Stack Web Development class by complementing the mobile app with a web-based back-end using Ruby on Rails. His other teammates added that picking up technical concepts together allowed them to smoothly communicate as well as agree on project direction and scope.

On the other hand, Sarah picked up good habits from her team’s management style where they were effective and to-the-point in their meetings. Whilst she picked up a range of coding skills on our Full-Stack Web Development course, she enjoyed how this project allowed her to structure her MVP based on time constraints and to choose what really matters to the business.

Overall, this project indeed helped MBA students recognized the importance of knowing how to work effectively with technical talents, and in turn, honed our full-stack web development students’ business acumen. When asked by Professor Virginia what were some of the biggest takeaway from the class, one of the MBA students suggested to have ALPHA Camp also participate in other INSEAD digital and entrepreneurial classes. This shows not only how valuable the talents of our students are, but also how environments like these are conducive. We are looking forward to partnering again with INSEAD for its next TVP class in May, 2018!

Interested in an opportunity like this? Come find us at our next infosession or schedule your interview with us through applying here.

LinkedIn Project Sponsor: It’s Been a Fantastic Experience Working with ALPHA Camp Students

 

ALPHA Camp focuses on hands on learning.

 

That’s why we work with industry partners like LinkedIn to provide an additional learning opportunity to help our students gain practical working experience during our immersive programme.

 

Last month, a team of ALPHA Camp students worked with LinkedIn to build an internal business intelligence dashboard prototype and the project was a great success.

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[Graduate Spotlight] Lightning Round with Sabrina Sulong: From Lighting Technician to Full-Stack Web Developer

As demand for tech talent in the Singapore continues to rise, becoming a web developer has become an increasingly attractive career option in Singapore.

 

However, making a career change is never an easy option, especially when the new career requires a specific set of technical skills like programming.

 

At ALPHA Camp, we are fortunate to admit students from a broad range of background who have successfully done so. Sabrina Sulong, one of the latest graduates of the ALPHA Camp coding school, is a great example of such successful transition.

 

In today’s Graduate Spotlight, we have a lightning round with Sabrina with 10 Questions & Answers that will help you be more prepared for a career transition into a web developer.

 

Ready? Go!

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We did it! Over S$1 million crowdfunded in 1 month

Yay, you heard it right!

ALPHA Camp has recently concluded our first online coding bootcamp crowdfunding campaign in Taiwan with an astonishing success!

The campaign was launched on 5 July and ended on 4 Aug. Within 1 month, ALPHA Camp managed to raised S$1.04 million (NT$22,782,639).

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