Disclaimer: This article is produced in collaboration with IMDA, and offers resources for anyone seeking a career a tech. Scroll right to the bottom to see what kind of support you can get if you want to get into the industry.
2020 was a tough year for most salarymen out there.
The economy was severely strained by the pandemic and many jobs were lost.
Today, tech jobs are increasingly popular in Singapore. But if you want to get in on the action, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Many of us have just a vague notion of what tech work entails, based on stereotypes of a fairly nerdy person glued to a computer screen.
Here are some myths about tech work that we’re going to bust.
You need to code to find a tech job
Yes, programmers make up a large number of tech jobs. But no, not every job in tech requires you to code.
There are many roles such as UX designers and product managers that don’t require coding expertise.
Instead, their functions are to ensure delightful user experience with tech products, identify future business problems into something tech can address, and sometimes to bridge business and tech divisions in an organisation. Such roles are fundamental to tech development and very much in the realm of “tech jobs”.
Having said that, familiarity with the wider tech skills in your field is still important. For example, if you are a data translator at a financial institution who is leading a project to detect fraudulent transactions, you need to understand how machine learning is used to make predictions, even if you don’t have the deep technical ability to build the system.
This will enable you to be an effective conduit between business and tech as you can advise the business unit on realistic outcomes and deadlines, and also understand the challenges that the tech unit surfaces.
You need STEM qualifications to get a tech job
Let’s be real, some employers still use a STEM degree as a proxy of technical ability, even if chemical engineering isn’t exactly the same thing as software development. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
For those without STEM qualifications, all is not lost.
If you’re a fresh grad, now’s a good time to start an internship or traineeship, since you won’t have to get over the mental barrier of a pay cut compared to a mid-careerist (It is easier to change jobs when you are younger due to less social and financial responsibilities.) Practical work experience is one of the best ways to go beyond paper qualifications in appealing to employees.
While hunting for that apprenticeship, build up a portfolio of work in your free time – or better still, through freelancing – that you can showcase. This could be a simple app or a quick redesign of the user journey of an existing service. The idea is to demonstrate your ability and initiative.
If you’re a mid-career switcher, try taking on some additional tasks that the tech team is willing to guide you in doing. Yup, you’re going the extra mile but think of it as the price to pay for getting free training in a real-world scenario; few career switches involve zero sacrifices.
There are also a variety of courses (online, in-person, part-time, full-time) where you can learn the requisite tech skills to get a start in your area of interest. Which brings us to our next myth…
Finishing a tech course/bootcamp guarantees you a tech job
To be clear, we’re NOT discouraging you from taking tech courses and bootcamps.
What we’re saying is that putting in the hours and earning your newly-minted certificate of completion is a significant milestone, but not the end of your career transition.
You can’t just sit back, relax, and wait for the job offers to roll in. While the number of tech jobs is growing, this is by no means a guarantee that you’ll successfully land one.
Take data science.
Due to the field’s recent popularity, numerous bootcamps, masters’ degrees, and various other forms of certification in data have sprouted. Yes, you thought to switch to tech. But so did plenty of others.
To stand out in this mighty sea of competition, you’ll still need to sell yourself as the killer candidate.
That means personalising resumes and cover letters for different job openings, diligently reaching out to contacts and attending networking events, and gritting your teeth through multiple rejections.
Tech skills last a lifetime
This myth actually applies to any skill, but even more so to the world of tech, where the next big, shiny thing is always around the corner.
Python is the fastest growing programming language today, but just five years ago a rookie might be encouraged to start out with Java first.
The market for business intelligence tools is highly competitive and data analysts cannot be overly wedded to one particular platform. Fresh social media platforms with their own distinctive quirks surface periodically and it’s only a matter of time before TikTok becomes passé.
Sure, there are some core attributes that are evergreen (such as thinking programmatically) but those who don’t regularly update their skills are at risk of getting left behind by the latest tech developments.
Oh, by the way, for those who think their industries will never be disrupted by tech, just speak to taxi drivers (ride hailing apps), or financial advisors (fintech). Even something as ‘iron rice bowl’ as accountancy is not spared from the effects of automation and artificial intelligence.
Entering tech means joining a FAANG company or a start-up
People sometimes picture tech workers either leading the high life in one of the FAANGs (that’s Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) or slogging it out in a start-up that’s always on the verge of running out of funding.
They think: “The FAANGs are out of reach for me and I don’t relish the instability at start-ups.” Then, their tech dreams die before they even start.
Put aside these extreme ends of tech employment. There are many other more established start-ups as well as non-FAANG, larger tech companies operating in Singapore.
And like briefly discussed earlier, you might not even have to leave your current organisation to get into tech.
Explore an internal transfer or secondment to the tech team or a hybrid role that rides on your domain knowledge. This route is especially viable in large companies that value employees having a breadth of experience across different departments.
And if you happen to be in a company that is still far from fully embracing digitalisation, then you have a special opportunity of leading the charge in improving the organisation’s digital readiness.
This is particularly possible at SMEs where it’s relatively easier to do things that have a company-wide impact. The main caveat is that this will often be outside your job scope, so you might not be paid more for your effort and initiative.
If you’re determined to give tech a shot through this route, don’t be discouraged even if your current employer is doubtful.
What is more important here is that you pick up the skills to improve yourself and create value for your company – that would get you noticed for sure!
PS: Read this story about a catering executive who learnt tech skills without ever being in a tech company.
Ultimately, your tech journey begins when you overcome your fear
Even with these myths busted, we know it’s tough to know where to start.
After all, tech is an umbrella term that encompasses a myriad of specialisations. So we reached out to our previous contributor, a journalist-turned-data-analyst who regularly shares his career transition experience.
“The first major step for me was overcoming my fear. Fear that it’s too late to do something new. Fear that I’m too old to learn. Fear of taking such a high-stakes decision.
I overcame this fear by deliberately lowering the stakes.
I told myself, ‘Hey, I’m just messing around with some online courses, not putting my career on the line.’
“Half a year later, I had the confidence to say that I do have the ability to learn and do want to make something out of this. It was then that I started exploring more serious options and discovering how to leverage various schemes such as the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme.
“So have an idea of where you would like to end up, but it doesn’t have to be set in stone before you begin.
Just start learning and if you like what you’re dabbling with, chances are your path will become clearer as you go along.”
Stay Woke, Salaryman
Here are some useful programmes to apply for to get help you get started:
The Company-Led Training programme helps fresh to mid-level professionals accelerate professional development in a tech role through structured training at a list of partner companies. Fields include: 5G, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing and Enterprise Software As A Service (SaaS), and core ICT capabilities including Software Engineering, Cybersecurity and Data Analytics.
TeSA Mid-Career Advance is for Singaporeans aged 40 and above. Interested applicants can apply to a list of partner companies, get employed, and receive training while holding a tech-related job in areas such as Data Analytics and Software Engineering.
Tech Immersion and Placement Programme is for non-tech professionals looking to switch to a new career in tech. Eligible trainees go through intensive tech training courses, and then are required to find placements in tech job roles, or join or build a tech startup.
Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme Plus helps tech professionals upgrade and maintain skills relevancy. Eligible candidates will be able to enjoy course and/or certification fee support in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security and Data Analytics.