Never studied programming or data science in your life? According to founder and entrepreneur ZP Lee, two to three months may be all that separates you from the job you have now and the job you want.
A problem with Singapore's startup ecosystem isn't just quantity of talent but quality. According to startup rankings released by reporting and software enterprise Compass, Singapore's talent shortage in 2017 just two years earlier. However, the ecosystem slumped in rankings, bested by markets like Silicon Valley, Beijing, Tel Aviv, and Shanghai.
ZP's Upcode Academy is designed to take students from zero to hiring interview-ready in eight to twelve weeks, depending on the course. It also offers daylong coding bootcamps and individual modules to allow people to explore their interests in coding or just wet their feet in the subject.
Launched last year in September - when ZP was only 27 years old - the venture emphasizes skills useful in the workplace, bringing in industry experts from companies like Oracle and Zumata as instructors. According to its website, Upcode Academy currently has 720 students taught by six instructors who impart tech skills including Python coding, NodeJS, and data science.
ZP's journey to founding the school weaves together eight years of experience that include teaching himself how to code, and founding and exiting his own company.
The coding revelation
Born and raised in Singapore, ZP grew up with parents who, like many Singaporean parents, dreamed of having a doctor or lawyer in the family. He focused on theater studies in junior college, but when he came back from doing his national service, tech beckoned.
He checked out a company at the request of a friend who was interning there. “It was also a unique marriage of a lot of circumstances," he recalls. “I found something I was good at, I knew I had potential doing that, that there was a future doing that." He found support from his parents, something that he says marks his family as “unique."
He hadn't been sure he'd be able to make a career out of his side technical projects. “I didn't realize how big the tech scene was in Singapore, and I didn't really think that I could make a career out of it," he explains. The year was 2009. He ended up working in testing for MatchMove, a cloud wallet startup. It piqued his curiosity, and he began to pursue coding to see where it would lead him. A year after he started, he brought home a pretty nice paycheck, which pleased him (and his parents).
He moved on to become product manager at MatchMove, then senior engineer at Zumata before he quit and started his own location-based startup 40Tasks (now Sproutify) in 2014. He exited two years later, which opened the door for Upcode Academy.
The road back to education
“My wife is a teacher too, so everything is pushing me towards education," ZP shares with a chuckle.
Singapore's government had caught onto his coding success in 2014 and asked if they could use him to inspire others in Singapore to pick up the disciple. He was already teaching some coding, so he agreed.
From there, it wasn't that far of a leap to turn teaching - empowerment through code - into a venture of his own.
“On top of just giving back, it would just be good foundation building for the world if more people start building up solutions for tech," he says. One successful startup is surrounded by several failed startups - so, the more people who try, the more success follows.
Because the goal is always industry preparedness, instructors go through a vetting process before they're allowed to hold their own classes. “One of the things people say is those who can't do, teach, but we're looking for people who can do and teach tech skills," says ZP. “That is more difficult."
Instructors come into contact with the program first as guest speakers at events. Then, they can get larger responsibilities - running events or running a half-day or daylong workshop. Then, after they're comfortable with the individual, and he or she has gathered a following of students, they will allow the person to run a class. Classes are open to feedback from students, so if something isn't working out, an instructor can be pulled from running a class.
New year, new school
Though it's only been a handful of months since Upcode Academy got its start, ZP has big plans for 2018. Previously, the school taught solely part-time to allow its coders to study and work. However, this year will introduce a full-time option so that course-takers can graduate with knowledge of a skillset and a coder lifestyle. “The main aim [of the part-time course] is to get you to at least a level where you can be hired, whereas our full-time course is 'how can we squeeze three years of work experience into three months and impart that into the students in a controlled environment?'" ZP explains.
Students taking the three-month full time course - UpCode Kickstart - will have to work in teams and on projects, much like they would in a professional environment. Split into three modules that are each six weeks long, UpCode Kickstart will help students decide if they are comfortable with coding for eight or nine hours a day.
Upcode will also be having a showcase of its students work in April. In general, it's looking for more students and to build on the foundation that it has built, as well as involve more tech companies as resources for its students.
“I don't want to disrupt traditional education - that is not what we are here for," ZP says. “But definitely we are a more fast tracked way to jumpstart your career."
In the market for a career change or curious to learn more? Check out Upcode Academy's upcoming course offerings. And, of course, if you're looking for a job in the tech industry, 100offer is happy to help.