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5 questions you’ve always wanted to ask a software engineer

With more and more tech companies and start-ups making their bases in Singapore, the demand for software engineers and developers has seen – and will continue to see – a surge over the next few years. But for many of us who do not have a computing background, what exactly is it like to be a software engineer in Singapore? Do software engineers really type code furiously in the dark?

We reached out to our software engineers in the TechLadies team – three amazing ladies from very different backgrounds – and asked them some questions about their work and what led them to their current careers!

Please introduce yourself!

Hui Qian (LinkedIn/ Github): My name is Hui Qian. I’m currently a Software Engineer (React) with a consultancy, and I handle front end tasks at my company. I’m also part of the Community team at TechLadies helping to revamp our new website.

Vanessa (LinkedIn): I’m Vanessa and I’m working as a backend software engineer at Zendesk. I’m in the TechLadies Events team in charge for the TechLadies Brunch livestream series together with Giselle. 

Shelvia (LinkedIn): Hello! I am Shelvia. I’m volunteering for the first time with TechLadies and I was part of the organizing committee for the TechLadies Mentorship Program 2020. Currently, I’m involved in the organization and launch of our inaugural TechLadies (virtual) Career Fair that will kick off in November (we’re super excited!). During the day, I mostly code as a Software Engineer at ThoughtWorks. Hit me up for coffee, or just chat about technology or any interesting things under the sun really! 🙂 You can find me on Linkedin.

From left to right: Hui Qian, Shelvia, Vanessa.

What is it like to be a software engineer, and what do you find most satisfying in your work?

Hui Qian: Every day can present a new challenge, or you could be working on tasks that challenge the depth of your knowledge over a span of time. Being able to see your code come to life on the screen is definitely rewarding in itself. 

Vanessa: My job is fun and challenging every day. The actual coding takes up a rather small part of the day – the rest of the time is spent communicating with different people and stakeholders, from clarifying product requirements with designers and product managers, finding solutions and reviewing code with fellow or senior developers, to engaging in discussions and negotiations with the clients… and googling, lots of googling.

The most satisfying parts of my work are being able to see my customers use the API that I have built, as well as firefighting with my colleagues to fix real world problems.

Vanessa, Backend Software Engineer at Zendesk and TechLadies Events Lead

Shelvia: Being a software engineer is definitely super fun for me! I get to work on problems that are different almost all the time. And with the ultra-fast changes and improvements in our technology and tools, there are plenty of things to learn as I dive deeper into different technologies. Being challenged constantly every single day has been the most satisfying aspect of being a software engineer for me.

What was your path to becoming a software engineer/ developer like?

Hui Qian: I initially joined a startup for my second job, doing marketing and then social media analytics for them. Over the course of 1+ years I got to see how the tech team worked on the platform the company was building, and was super intrigued at the whole notion of just typing things onto a screen could enable a business using software! Soon after that I decided to join a coding bootcamp, and thus got my start in the tech industry with technical roles instead of business roles.

Being a non-CS-graduate presented its own challenges as I had to constantly learn in my own time things that others had picked up in school. To improve my skills, I set up a study group of sorts where we can get together and code or just work on fun things, or discuss the latest trends and their impact on our industry.

Hui Qian, Software Engineer (React) and TechLadies Community Lead

Vanessa: I worked as a testing engineer for a few years doing mainly manual testing in the beginning, then gradually automation testing. I then switched to become a developer. I prefer to solve problems with code, and to be frank, there are more jobs for developers than testers in the market.

The job scope and focus has changed quite a bit, but in some ways, there are similarities too. So while it was challenging, it wasn’t extremely difficult to transition to my new role. I get to learn new things from my job every day and my colleagues are all very encouraging and talented people, which makes me want to become a better ally to them too. 

Shelvia: I started my software engineering career when I realized I enjoyed coding a lot when I learnt programming in university. I was actually an Industrial and Systems Engineering graduate who was “forced” to take programming classes because they were degree requirements. After taking the classes, I realized I enjoyed programming a lot and took a leap of faith to intern as a Software Engineer in the Bank of America for 6 months.

That was no doubt one of the toughest periods of my software engineering career because I was lacking in software engineering knowledge beyond basic programming, data structures and algorithms. I often feel that I’m still missing some fundamental knowledge that you would normally learn in a Computer Science degree. However, with the guidance of amazing mentors along with the willingness and the patience to make mistakes and learn, I have been able to grow my career in the right direction.

What industry trends are you currently excited about and why?

Hui Qian: I think the state of frontend frameworks is becoming more and more mature with better accessibility for beginners, meaning that more people can learn and do more with what’s available out there! There are also interesting things like WASM and ML in the browser that will enable for very cool applications within the browser itself so it will be very exciting to see what other people can come up with!

Vanessa: I think searching via video content is very interesting. There are a lot of videos available on various platforms and everyone is learning something through videos these days. But it’s very time consuming to watch a full video in order to get to know a piece of information. It’s very exciting that one day we can search video content with text. 

Shelvia: This may not be a new thing, but I feel that Cloud Technology is going to have a huge impact in shaping our technology in the near future. With more cloud providers in the market as well as the push towards digital transformation due to COVID-19, I’m definitely expecting more innovation and adoption of Cloud Technology at large.

Finally, any advice for our budding software engineers and developers in TechLadies?

Hui Qian: Join a community and make friends, and from there gather a support system and maybe some study buddies! Always be willing to learn and keep abreast of tech trends by following well known Twitter accounts. Dev.to is a good starting point for finding articles to read and people to connect to. If you’re not sure how to use a particular tech stack, try making something with it to understand it more. Lastly, working in tech is the same as working a job – it’s good to be excited about it, but don’t overdo it and burn out, remember to take breaks and come back refreshed!

Vanessa: I think that keeping an open mind, especially for learning, and having the confidence that you can learn everything are very important. The latter can be gained from the fundamental courses you completed and from the projects you build. I’m also still building it up too.  And don’t worry, we’ll get there as long as we keep going!

Shelvia: With the fast changes in our technology. from programming languages to frameworks to tools to best practices, one thing a software engineer must do is to build the habit of continuous learning and keep an open mind.

The day we software engineers stop learning, is the day we become obsolete.

Shelvia, Software Engineer at ThoughtWorks and TechLadies Mentorship and Career Fair Lead

Want to learn more about becoming a software engineer? We explored this topic in our TechLadies Brunch with speakers Linlin (Senior Software Engineer at Zendesk) and Wei (Software Engineer at Shopee), watch the recording on our Facebook group.

Meet Alice – Tinkerer, HR Professional, TechLady

The TechLadies Bootcamp is a 12-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with some basic programming background become programmers. Participants are guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. 6 ladies were chosen for the TechLadies Bootcamp #4. In this blog series, we will be sharing more about their backgrounds and learning journeys. Hopefully that’ll inspire you to start learning how to code!

If you could tell a story about yourself in one or a few sentences, what would it be?

In an everlasting search for wonderland…

What are you currently working as?

To finance my search for wonderland that I do twice a year, I work in HR, specifically in the implementation of Reward programmes which covers anything from finance to health-related matters.

As part of my work, I did up an internal site for staff that I was pretty hyped up about, as it was the first time I was doing a site for a large group of people.

What sparked your interest in learning how to code?

I got interested in learning how to code after I did some work on software testing. I wanted to go beyond finding the bugs in web and mobile apps and play a part in the creation process of developing an application.

What was your first thought or reaction when you heard about TechLadies?

I first came upon it when watching a video on one of its pre-bootcamp workshops. That piqued my curiosity to find out more on the TechLadies website. My takeaway impression from the site was that it was a great initiative that brings people together to explore their interest in technology and encourage sharing of their knowledge.

Why did you want to apply to the TechLadies Bootcamp?

I was looking for an avenue to practice and learn web development skills when I chanced upon a video on the TechLadies Bootcamp #4. The 2 projects shared in the video looked interesting, and I liked how the programme provided the opportunity to learn directly from coaches and work with a group of fellow peers on a project.

I was really keen on getting into the programme and had spent quite a bit of time researching and watching YouTube videos to do up an application that was required as part of the bootcamp application.

I find that it takes patience to find out where I went wrong and it helps by including “console.log” in my code. I also find that writing pseudocode helps me to clarify my thoughts when I am facing problems with coding.

What are some of the challenges you faced while learning how to code?

The major challenge that I faced with learning how to code is learning how to write it correctly. When I was just learning how to code (in Javascript), I encountered quite a number of times where the code I wrote didn’t turn out to be what I intended it for.

I still face this issue though it happens less frequently these days. I find that it takes patience to find out where I went wrong and it helps by including “console.log” in my code. I also find that writing pseudocode helps me to clarify my thoughts when I am facing problems with coding.

Another area where I find it difficult when learning to code is to choose what to learn first. There are so many things that a developer should know and yet it is impossible to learn them all, despite so many resources that we have access to.

Describe the TechLadies project you’re working on and why you selected this project.

The TechLadies project that I’m doing is the most complicated application that I’ve done so far. It is a front-end project where we created a quiz for users to assess their level of sustainable living, and view a list of next-step actions they can take to better themselves.

It was really satisfying to be a part of a team where we translated the ideas of our client and designers into an actual application. We not only got to level up our HTML, CSS and Javascript skills, we also got to learn a new front-end framework, VueJS. VueJS was something that I wanted to try; I just haven’t had the bandwidth to learn it alongside with my other to-learn items list.

I didn’t actually select the project as both the projects the bootcamp offered looked good to me. Hence, I decided to leave the choice to the TechLadies team if I did get selected for the programme.

I hope to work on applications that improve people’s lives. It can be something as simple as an informative website, as long as people find it useful.

How do you see yourself using your coding skills for in the future?

I hope to work on applications that improve people’s lives. It can be something as simple as an informative website, as long as people find it useful.

As a start, I’ve worked on side projects such as Tallify, which is an application where users can keep track of their vouchers’ expiry date as well as where they had kept them. The idea for the project came about as I often forget where I kept my vouchers and lose track of their expiry dates.

Another project that I worked with 2 other teammates was a networking application where users can organize themselves into groups at an event, and connect easily with one another on LinkedIn. The project came about as we felt that there wasn’t an application that allowed people to connect in groups during and after networking nor could choose to group together with a common interest.

I also noticed at a networking session that some people had problems remembering their email address used for their LinkedIn account when they wanted to connect with one another. In fact, LinkedIn introduced the QR scanner a few months after our project!

Meet Vanessa – Curious Introvert, Engineer, TechLady

The TechLadies Bootcamp is a 12-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with some basic programming background become programmers. Participants are guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. 6 ladies were chosen for the TechLadies Bootcamp #4. In this blog series, we will be sharing more about their backgrounds and learning journeys. Hopefully that’ll inspire you to start learning how to code!

Vanessa Cassandra (CRF) - Curious Introvert, Engineer, TechLady

1. If you could tell a story about yourself in one or a few sentences, what would it be?

Born in Indonesia, I moved to Singapore 10 years ago for my studies. I spent most of my free time reading comic books, daydreaming, and trying out new activities.

2. What are you currently working as?

After graduation, I joined an industrial automation company as an application engineer. In my everyday work, I help people implementing control system in their industrial application, e.g. the control system in a semiconductor packaging machine.

3. What sparked your interest in learning how to code?

I started learning how to code in university. It was a compulsory module at that time, and they taught us programming in C. After that, I continued coding because I joined a robotics club and we had to program a microcontroller (again, in C). After that, I continued coding because my workplace requires us to do some coding for the automation system. So, I started learning how to code simply because it was needed in school and at the workplace.

The part about coding that I enjoyed the most is the “eureka” moment when you managed to solve a problem after spending hours of debugging. It feels like I could run around screaming “It works!! It works!!” and it can give you a morale boost.

The part about coding that I enjoyed the most is the “eureka” moment when you managed to solve a problem after spending hours of debugging.

4. What was your first thought or reaction when you heard about TechLadies?

I think it’s great that we have a community to help more ladies to learn about or get into the tech industries.

5. Why did you want to apply to the TechLadies Bootcamp?

So far, my programming experience has been hardware-related. I have been learning about website technology by myself, but am lacking the experience of working in a group.

I applied because I think it will be a very good experience to work with the coaches to find out about the best practices in the industry and consult them about things. These are the things that would be difficult if you’re learning on your own.

6. What are some of the challenges you faced while learning how to code?

Website technologies change too fast, and tutorials you find online might be outdated in no time. When you’re debugging, the answers you find might not work because the engine behind has changed. There are hundreds of ways of using to achieve and at times it can be quite confusing.

Coming from C background, it was quite frustrating when I started learning Javascript because it does not behave as expected. My strategy is to google and use answers that are not outdated by more than a year :’) I’m actually still struggling with this, so if any of you out there have some tips, please let me know!

7. Describe the TechLadies project you’re working on and why you selected this project.

We’re building a quiz app for EarthFest Singapore to find out your current habits in relation to the environment, and to encourage you to pick up more green habits. We’re using Vue.js for the UI framework. We also use the interact.js library to make the action cards draggable. There is no back end involved (for now) as Data is populated from Google Sheets.

I selected this project because it’s heavy on the front-end, and I find front-end as a mysterious magic world where you need to know the magic tricks and the magic words (e.g. when to put “overflow: hidden”) to make things work. I believe I can learn a lot of things from this project.

8. How do you see yourself using your coding skills for in the future?

I hope to be able to build educational and thought-provoking interactive apps that can educate people or trigger a social change. I’m a fan of Nicky Case’s works, especially this one titled “We Become What We Behold“.
He started Explorable Explanations, which is a wonderful initiative.

I’m particularly interested in data visualization e.g. data journalism because it’s in line with what I hope to achieve. At this moment, I’m still exploring the various industries and opportunities.

Everybody has their own way of learning, but I personally find it more helpful if I have a specific goal to work towards to…. All in all, everybody has their own preferred learning method, and you should find your own, too.

9. What is one advice you will give to a lady who is thinking about learning how to code?

Everybody has their own way of learning, but I personally find it more helpful if I have a specific goal to work towards to.

When I learn how to code just for the sake of learning code, I easily get bored and most of the time I couldn’t finish the tutorials I found online (I spent more time filtering the tutorials than actually reading them). I had to set my mind on a goal, like a specific project, e.g. to make a personal website.

The process: Start doing -> Face a problem -> Google how to solve the problem -> End up in a tutorial article / website -> Apply the learned tricks -> Doesn’t work -> Google other solutions -> End up in another tutorial -> Repeat until it works -> I learn something new and I will actually remember it

This method may not work for some people. They may need the foundational knowledge before they can actually do anything. In that case, following basic tutorials is actually better than diving into a project.

Some people may prefer reading a reference book instead because not all tutorials on the internet are fantastic (at least online tutorials do not need an editor). I personally think that a lot of tutorials will teach you “how to make it work”, but books may teach you the underlying principle behind that may enhance your understanding of the topic.

All in all, everybody has their own preferred learning method, and you should find your own, too.

Meet Brianna – Advocate, Fashionista, TechLady

The TechLadies Bootcamp is a 12-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with some basic programming background become programmers. Participants are guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. 6 ladies were chosen for the TechLadies Bootcamp #4. In this blog series, we will be sharing more about their backgrounds and learning journeys. Hopefully that’ll inspire you to start learning how to code!

If you could tell a story about yourself in one or a few sentences, what would it be?

I first studied Computer Science at University in the US for 2 years and worked as a front-end developer before I decided to quit both to start my own business making Youtube videos and move to Singapore. After a year I decided that I wanted the chance to learn again before I commit to a university again. I was ideally looking for a Bootcamp that I could enjoy learning in and collaborate with others.

I started a Tech Youtube channel less than 1 year ago and I make videos about my journey with coding. My mission is to break stereotypes. You can be feminine and be in the tech industry at the same time. You can check out my videos here!

 

What do you currently do for a living? 

I’m currently working part-time on my YouTube Channel but in the future, I will look for a full-time job with a tech-related field in a company. I worked as a front-end web developer but because there wasn’t much of process in place, I didn’t feel like I was learning anything. I am definitely keen to be doing freelancing, collaborating, learning new skills and languages, internships, and project-based work. I prefer front-end work more since I enjoy the visual aspect to it and I have more talent in that area.

My mission is to break stereotypes. You can be feminine and be in the tech industry at the same time.

What sparked your interest in learning how to code?

What originally sparked my interest was being curious about web design when I was a teenager. I remember looking at web pages and wondering how to make them look a certain way and their functionalities. I took an intro to web developing class and that’s when I realized how much I enjoy learning about it. I wanted to be a part of the growing technology world and contribute to it.

 

What was your first thought or reaction when you heard about TechLadies?

It was exactly what I was looking for. A part-time and inexpensive coding bootcamp with other women? Sign me up! I sometimes feel intimidated when I’m the only woman but I definitely don’t have that problem in TechLadies. It is so great that this program exists to empower and inspire other women to code.

 

Why did you apply for the TechLadies Bootcamp?

I applied to the boot camp because I wanted to take the first step towards my future goal and give coding another shot. I found out about this Bootcamp through my boyfriend’s colleague. I immediately started googling everything I could about TechLadies because I was just so intrigued with the concept.

I feel like as a woman being surrounded by men in both university and school I had this constant pressure of proving to the boys that “yes, I am a girl and yes, I know how to code.”

What are some of the challenges you faced while learning how to code?

Feeling lost and admitting when I am is hard for me. I feel like as a woman being surrounded by men in both university and school I had this constant pressure of proving to the boys that “yes, I am a girl and yes, I know how to code.” For the first time, I am not feeling that way.

 

Describe the TechLadies project you’re working on and why you selected this project.

My team and I are creating a sublet quiz app for the Singapore non-profit organization, Earthlife, that rates how much of a sustainable life you are living by answering questions within your choices of 6 categories. I am passionate about the cause we are working on because I am definitely eco-friendly myself and I have been living a vegan lifestyle for quite some time now.

The minimalist design and the functionality of the quiz got me very excited. Earthlife has asked us to build them this quiz that is aesthetically pleasing, inspiring to the users to live more sustainable, and some to-do ideas on what people can do to take action in their lives. It’s important to me that I am passionate about the actual project that I am working on. I can’t wait to see it live and completed.

 

How do you see yourself using your coding skills for in the future?

I see myself applying to another coding bootcamp after this (or an internship in Singapore) before I re-enroll in University next year and continue my computer science degree. For something more short-term I will practice my learning through online courses and some freelance work.

One day in the future I hope to help break the gender stereotypes in the workplace by using myself as an example and my YouTube channel to create a community of like-minded people. I am someone who likes constant change and to never stop learning new things! This industry will never be boring with so much happening.

Meet Eunice – Nature Enthusiast, Bee-Lover, TechLady

The TechLadies Bootcamp is a 12-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with some basic programming background become programmers. Participants are guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. 6 ladies were chosen for the TechLadies Bootcamp #4. In this blog series, we will be sharing more about their backgrounds and learning journeys. Hopefully that’ll inspire you to start learning how to code!

Meet Eunice (SSN) - Nature Enthusiast, Bee-Lover, TechLady

Editor’s Note: TechLadies Bootcamp is back for it’s 4th season! Eunice is a graduate of the TechLadies Bootcamp #4. This is her story.

 

If you could tell a story about yourself in one or a few sentences, what would it be?

Hi, my name is Eunice. I do like nature and went as far as to study the diversity of resin and leaf-cutter bees in Singapore for my Final Year Project at NUS. My collaborators and I published it in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology if you’re keen to look at it.

I like to travel too if I have the time and money! While I was a student, I made use of exchange and enrichment programmes to travel quite a bit. In the last few years, I have been interested to use technology to improve efficiency (e.g., processing data for routine reports, data collection through web apps, predictive models). Combining traveling and coding, I actually quite intrigued by the idea of a ‘digital nomad’.

 

What do you currently do for a living? 

I am doing a nine-month internship with an IT-associated company. At my workplace, we try to use open source tools to make predictive models with artificial intelligence. As my internship is ending in Jan 2019, I’m thinking about the next steps to take in life!

Also as everything goes digital, I find that coding is a skill that one cannot do without in the job market.

What sparked your interest in learning how to code?

I have always liked to use the computer and find that automating routine, mundane tasks by programming is very helpful. Also as everything goes digital, I find that coding is a skill that one cannot do without in the job market. Using web apps always made me wonder how they worked. In addition, I am keen on using data for insights using open source tools available in Python and R to clean, visualize and sometimes even to create predictive models.

 

What was your first thought or reaction when you heard about TechLadies?

I thought it was pretty cool that there exists a tech group geared towards for ladies. The tech sector is male-dominated, so hopefully, this will change in the 10 years down the road! I do think that women can be really good at coding and they bring a different set of strengths (such as being detailed-oriented) and different perspectives.

 

Why did you apply for the TechLadies Bootcamp?

Web development is something on my “to learn” list. I find myself losing the drive and motivation needed to learn on my own so this bootcamp really attracted me as I could learn together with fellow bootcamp-ers with excellent guidance from our mentors. Thank you mentors, you guys are awesome.

Without having a “real-world” project to work on and a community of people to egg you on, one may get lost in the multitude of resources, or the drive and motivation may wane over time…

What are some of the challenges you faced while learning how to code?

The challenge is having to find the focus and sit down to code! With so many resources online, there is actually no lack of learning materials. However, without having a “real-world” project to work on and a community of people to egg you on, one may get lost in the multitude of resources, or the drive and motivation may wane over time especially with a full-time job in the day.

 

Describe the TechLadies project you’re working on and why you selected this project.

I’m working on the full stack project, which uses the MongoDB, Express.js, and Reactjs (MER) tech stack. We are creating a website for Sustainability Solutions Network (SSN), a non-profit that helps aggregate organizations and events that champion environmental issues in Singapore. I chose this project as I find that being able to store data and display data on the website is very cool and always wondered how it is done.   

 

How do you see yourself using your coding skills for in the future?

I am open to any opportunities that come my way… I hope to use the new found web development skills to contribute to open source projects on GitHub. I am particularly keen on iNaturalist but the code is in Ruby on Rails, not Javascript. I also hope to make a simple web app to incorporate and serve machine learning models/ predictions on a web app!