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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.

TechLadies Brunch – Bootcamp Edition

TechLadies Brunch – Bootcamp Edition

TechLadies is bringing to you a series of monthly livestream interviews with women in tech to discuss some of the popular technical roles we hear about and see nowadays. Join our Facebook group to be the first to receive event updates!

It’s August already, which means TechLadies Bootcamp #6 applications are open for just two more weeks! We know a bootcamp can be a big commitment – it’s important to consider the benefits and risks before applying. To help you make an informed decision, we decided to invite a panel of experts and have an honest chat about upsides and downsides of coding bootcamps.

Coding bootcamps – why the hype?

First coding bootcamps – accelerated education programs that aim to turn newbies into professional developers – started popping up around 2011 in the USA. The concept took the world by storm – everyone from fresh graduates and mid-career switchers to aspiring techpreneurs and stay-at-home moms wanted to become a coder. The prospect was definitely tempting: a new career in tech is within your reach once you’ve completed an intense (but short) instructor-led program.

Education providers and tech schools quickly met the demand, opening a number of programs, which covered everything from front-end development to data science. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in VC funding were invested into those companies and the press predicted they would be instrumental in battling the growing tech talent shortage.

However, bootcamps soon started attracting criticism. Some schools came under fire for unclear reporting on graduate employment rates, others were accused of running low-quality programs and taking advantage of hopeful students. Bootcamp-trained junior devs started flooding the market, which made it difficult for new cohorts to stand out and find employment. Some even started to fear “the bootcamp stigma” – being perceived as a sloppy developer with poor knowledge of the fundamentals.

What is the truth about coding bootcamps then? Are they worth the investment? Will they help you land your first job in technology? Giselle from TechLadies Events team asked a panel of experts: Melanie Wu, Instructor Mananager at General Assembly, Royston Seah, Talent Acquisition Lead at Accenture, and Hui Min Toh, developer at Cognizant and TechLadies Bootcamp #3 graduate.

Giselle discussing the pros and cons of bootcamps with our panelists.

Is a bootcamp the right choice for me?

There certainly is no right answer to this question – it all depends on what your goals are. However, for some people, a coding bootcamp might be the push they need to pursue tech as a career full time. “Coding had always been a side thing for me,” says Min. “TechLadies bootcamp was a good testing ground, it allowed me to understand if this is something I really want to commit to. By the end of the program, I knew I liked it enough to pursue it further. About a year later I quit my job and signed up for another course to become a professional developer.”

Our panelists agree that bootcamp grads are as likely to land job in tech as traditional diploma holders – as long as they have the skills the employer is looking for. “The mindset of employers is changing, a diploma is not necessary anymore,” says Royston. “Recruiters will evaluate a candidate based on their skillset and their real-life experience.” And that is where bootcamp graduates can shine – immersive programs are usually tailored for the current needs of the market and reflect the latest trends. “We make sure our curriculum, standards, and benchmarks are established in collaboration with largest employers and leading industry experts,” says Melanie. As a result, bootcamp grads may have more relevant skills and fresh knowledge than someone who graduated with a degree but stopped following current trends.

Results of our LinkedIn poll show high trust in the value of bootcamps.

That being said, you should not expect the bootcamp to equip you with all the knowledge you need to land a career in tech. “Treat the bootcamp as a stepping stone,” says Min. “It will give you the tools you need to develop your skills further, it will help you learn how to break complex problems down and translate them into code, but there are many more things you will have to learn on your own.”

Where to start?

First of all, starting a bootcamp with realistic expectations is crucial. “An intensive 9-to-5 course will help you pick up the foundations, but things are going to happen really fast – you need to be ready for that and hit the ground running,” warns Melanie. “Take your time to do your research, find out what you want to learn and whether the modality of the bootcamp appeals to you. This will help you avoid disappointment.”

Secondly, when assessing bootcamp organisers, always check if they offer short pre-bootcamp classes or consultations, and whether the courses have any prerequisites for the candidates. “Free intro sessions give candidates a good taste of what the curriculum will look like. Pre-admission meetings and additional tasks for candidates help establish a baseline for all attendees,” shares Melanie.

Finally, make the most of your experience. Once you’ve been accepted into a bootcamp program, apply yourself. Asking questions, connecting with instructors, classmates, and communities, as well as completing a project for your portfolio will all help you get as much value from the program as you possibly can.

TechLadies’ Top Bootcamp Tips

1. Do your research. Don’t sign up for a program without doing your research first. Read up on current trends, market needs, graduates’ experiences, and reviews.

2. Set goals for yourself. Do you want to master a specific skill or get a good hang of the fundamentals? Do you want to land an internship or a junior dev job? What can you realistically achieve within the next 3 months?

3. Ask questions. Bootcamps are a safe space that encourage learning – there are no stupid questions. Ask, connect with others, seek help whenever you have trouble understanding a concept.

4. Adjust your mindset. Don’t expect the bootcamp to be the magic bullet – at best, it will be the beginning of your journey.

5. Build a portfolio. A bootcamp can be a great opportunity to add a new project to your portfolio and benchmark your work against industry standards.

6. Join a community. Nothing motivates more than joining a group of like-minded people. They will help you keep going when the going gets tough.

7. Connect the dots. Recruiters will look at the sum of your skills and experiences. Make sure you can show the full value of what you bring to the table. Polish your resume, LinkedIn, GitHub profile, website, portfolio, etc. so that they all tell a consistent story.

8. Never stop learning. We can’t stress that enough! Technology keeps changing, so make the effort to stay relevant.


I graduated… and now what?

Graduating from a coding bootcamp is only the beginning of your journey. Don’t let that discourage you though. “Stay focused and specific. Read job descriptions and be aware of what the market wants,” suggests Royston. “Keep learning, through online courses, internships, projects – build your real-life experience. And nurture your passion for the industry.”

However, don’t neglect your soft skills either. “Communication skills are just as important, try to find that balance,” shares Royston. How? “Find groups and communities you can join, write articles, give talks,” lists Min. “Build your network of contacts, put yourself out there. Reach out to people who hold positions you aspire to have and ask them about the reality of their job. Identify the areas you still need to work on,” concludes Melanie.

To bootcamp or not to bootcamp?

While it’s difficult to say whether or not a bootcamp is the right choice for you, one thing is certain: learning a new skill is always a tough but rewarding process. Whatever method you choose, it is always worth the effort. The good news is that tech talent shortage is predicted to continue for the foreseeable future – and if you are an aspiring programmer, there are countless ways for you to up-skill, many of them outside of the traditional academic path.

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TechLadies Brunch will be back soon – follow us on Facebook to keep an eye on future event announcements. To watch the recording of our full interview, visit our Facebook group (available to members only).

Where are they now – Min

Where are they now – Min

We are extremely proud of all TechLadies Bootcamp participants – in this blog series, we touch base with some of them to see how their lives changed since their graduation 🙂

Two years ago, we introduced you to Min – one of our Bootcamp #3 graduates. How has her life changed since then? What’s her advice to this year’s bootcamp applicants?

Who are you?

Hi – my name is Min and I am currently a software engineer with Cognizant. You can read more about me on my website: https://www.thuimin.com. I love coffee and everything about it, find me if you want to geek out on this!

What is your one main learning from the program?

That programming will always be a journey of constant learning, so it’s ok not to know everything and ask questions. Learning to ask questions and appreciating that everyone has something valuable to bring to the table

To whom would you recommend applying for the next edition?

I recommend anyone who is curious about programming to consider applying. Take 3 months to test the waters. The worst case scenario is you lose 3 months’ worth of weekends. The best case scenario is that you’d enjoy it and open yourself up to many exciting opportunities.

How has your life changed after the Bootcamp?

A lot has changed and I can honestly say that the bootcamp was the catalyst for bringing me to where I am today. I’ve continued to participate in the subsequent bootcamps, albeit in different capacities – as an organizer, as a product assistant. My goal is to lower the psychological barrier for women to say ‘yes, let’s try this’.

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TechLadies Bootcamp #6 is a 14-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with basic programming background become professional programmers. You will be guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. Visit our website to learn more!

TechLadies Brunch – livestream event with GovTech Singapore

TechLadies Brunch – livestream event with GovTech Singapore

TechLadies is bringing to you a series of monthly livestream interviews with women in tech to discuss some of the popular technical roles we hear about and see nowadays. Join our Facebook group to be the first to receive event updates!

While we are all patiently waiting for Phase 2 of post-circuit breaker reopening, it’s a good moment to look at how government-designed technology has been supporting Singaporeans over the past few months. Apps like SafeEntry and TraceTogether, as well as platforms such as FluGoWhere.gov.sg helped us all feel safer and kept us informed, making a true impact on lives of millions. They were all created by an organization which applies best agile practices and prides itself in its open and collaborative culture. Why is it then that many graduates still don’t see work in the public sector as an attractive alternative to jobs at tech giants such as Google or Facebook?

TechLadies decided to answer this question and demystify work at a governmental agency. To help us with that, we invited Fala Sharil (Senior UX Designer) and Janice Tan (Software Engineer) from GovTech, who discussed work culture and public service design with our founder Elisha Tan.

Elisha, Fala, and Janice during our session about work at GovTech

Digital “new normal”

While most of us have already gotten used to working from home, attending Skype meetings, and Zoom happy hours, businesses and institutions around the world are still grappling with the sudden global shift into the virtual space. From infrastructure and office culture changes ushered in by the private sector to governments rethinking digital economy strategies and public services – everyone seems to agree that this will become the “new normal” and that many of the workplace and lifestyle changes introduced because of the pandemic are here to stay.

For some nations, however, digital transformation was well underway long before Covid-19. Singapore is unquestionably one of the leaders in Smart City technologies, having made incredible progress in the areas of transport, healthcare, public safety, and productivity since its Smart Nation initiative was announced in 2014. This transformation would have been impossible without GovTech, organization spearheading country’s e-efforts and delivering government’s digital services to the public.

GovTech – agile, bold, collaborative

“A lot of people think everything is very top-down at GovTech, very traditional. That’s not true,” says Janice. Contrary to a popular belief, developing governmental services requires agility, creativity, and skill. GovTech engineers can’t take 3-4 years to develop a product, because the needs of users can change drastically in such a long time. This is why the agency adopted a flexible, agile approach, and focused on delivering a Minimum Viable Product to the users as soon as possible. “What can happen in the next 6 months to a year? Is this the right problem to solve?” are the questions Digital Services teams are asking themselves. “It’s important,” says Fala, “to understand the current situation, define the pain points, frame the problem well.”

“We work in small, self-organising and cross-functional teams known as tribes and squads, making small changes, delivering quick releases, getting frequent feedback,” says Janice. “We all share a common mission, everyone is committed to building a good product and delivering value.” Being a team-player, great communication skills, and agile mindset are sought-after traits at GovTech. Having a broad general skill-set in addition to your core expertise – also known as T-shaped expertise – is also preferred. “Team members are expected to understand all aspects of product development to better support the team, make recommendations, and ensure the products are working end-to-end,” says Janice.

Culture of sharing

Does that mean it’s difficult for a less experienced, younger person to land a job at GovTech? Not necessarily. “There are many things you can learn along the way, senior colleagues are generous with their knowledge. Our sharing sessions are open to all who have the willingness to learn and ask questions,” says Fala. “Coding fundamentals and understanding systems design are definitely important. However, during interviews we test thought process and communication skills,” says Janice, who joined GovTech as a fresh graduate. “If a candidate is able to guide a pair programming session and work with the team to find a solution to a problem, that usually indicates a good fit.”

The culture of sharing, learning, and continuous improvement is present in all aspects of life at GovTech. “We have weekly studio sessions for designers to discuss problems solved over the week, mock programming and code kata sessions that help engineers hone their problem-solving skills, UX and Agile workshops, ” lists Janice. “And then there’s Hack Week,” adds Fala, “when everyone can take time off to focus on meaningful projects and social causes, work together with like-minded colleagues from other teams, prototype and solve problems.” Learning opportunities extend to people outside of GovTech through STACK-X meetup group, a community exploring innovative ways to improve lives of everyday Singaporeans. Fala and Janice both agree that GovTech culture and values is something that influenced their decision to join the agency. “After interacting with the team during the interviews I realised it might be a good fit, a new challenge,” admits Fala.

Empathy is key

For Fala, transitioning from a private sector after years in front-end development and project management was definitely a big change. “This work requires a lot of empathy,” admits Fala, “to really learn how users navigate the product.” Unlike in the private sector, where product development is profit-driven, GovTech team follows a user-first approach. “In public sector, earning money is not the driving force – our main goal is improving governmental services and bringing value to the users,” says Janice.

To ensure they meet the users’ needs, GovTech team follows a 5-step process, strongly resembling Design Thinking methodology standards. The UX team is present at all 5 stages of development, ensuring each iteration goes through a round of feedback, conducting usability testing sessions, and speaking to all stakeholders:

5-Step UX process at GovTech

1. Discovery. User research is at the core of all GovTech activities. In this phase, experts participate in field observations, often inviting other stakeholders to join them. This phase may involve looking into the entire service process to understand the needs of the users. The result is a blueprint used in later phases.

2. Envisioning. Co-creation session with stakeholders, based on the research done in the Discovery phase. Will usually include paper prototyping.

3. Alpha. Exploratory phase involving interactive prototyping, the features of the product are not yet locked down.

4. Beta. Early version of the complete product, available for testing and feedback. If the team finds new insights, the feedback is incorporated before the final release.

5. Live. Launch, release to the users. However, the UX work never really ends, iterating and improving is key.

GovTech employees are also often the first users of their own products and services. This helps them ensure quality and later successfully share the projects and some of the best practices with other governmental bodies and agencies. The latter, however, can be difficult. “Teaching that Agile is the way to go, advocating for UX and user research are the biggest challenges we face,” says Fala. GovTech’s response, however, is always guided by Agile principles and the team approaches culture change with the same mindset they approach any other project – by listening to feedback, empathising, sharing, and learning.

Does that mean GovTech is fully self-sufficient and can identify and solve all problems by themselves? Absolutely not, especially in times of crisis like the one we’re facing now. “We are looking for volunteers will all kinds of skills, software engineers, designers, business analysts, who will help us identify opportunities for improvement and develop new products. We also welcome feedback and suggestions,” says Janice. “Accept invitations to usability testing sessions, if you receive them,” adds Fala, “and use the smiley icon at the bottom of GovTech websites to share your feedback.”

Support GovTech team by leaving your feedback – just click the smiley icon on their website.

Lessons learned

What is one piece of advice our guests want to share with TechLadies? “Step out of your comfort zone,” says Janice. “It might sound like a cliché, but many software engineers want to focus on just one language and that’s good, but sometimes they just stick to that one identity forever. You should experiment – maybe you’ll learn a new tool that will be more useful when solving a particular problem.” “Challenge yourself,” adds Fala. “Look for design challenges, critique your favourite app, find ways to improve an existing product.”

And what’s Elisha’s biggest takeaway? “The values of openness, communicating, asking for help, challenging yourself, empathy – these are not tied to a certain company, they help us all grow, regardless of industry and company we’re in.”

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TechLadies Brunch will be back soon – follow us on Facebook to keep an eye on future event announcements. To watch the recording of our full interview, visit our Facebook group. And last but not least, big shoutout to our Event Team, Giselle and Vanessa – thanks for organising!

TechLadies Brunch – livestream event with Jana Marlé-Zizková

TechLadies Brunch – livestream event with Jana Marlé-Zizková

TechLadies is bringing to you a series of monthly livestream interviews with women in tech to discuss some of the popular technical roles we hear about and see nowadays. Join our Facebook group to be the first to receive event updates!

Social distancing may be keeping us in our homes, but communities like TechLadies will always find ways to thrive. This May, amid the extended Circuit Breaker, Giselle, Vanessa, and Ning from our Events Team delivered our first completely virtual event – a livestream brunch discussion with Jana Marlé-Zizková, co-founder of Meiro and SheLovesData.

Why Data?

Thanks to organizations increasingly embracing the role of data in their decision-making process, working as a data scientist has quickly become The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century. In Singapore, where demand for tech jobs grew by 20% since 2018, data science is one of the 10 most sought after skill sets. However, is it the only data role worth pursuing? Together with Jana and Giselle we dove deep into the topic, looking at industry trends, structure of data teams, and different job roles in the area of data to answer this question.

Data Project Roles

Data consultancies and internal data teams can deliver immense value to organizations. With the global shift from offline to online (amplified by the crisis in the past few months), companies got access to incredible amounts of information about their customers’ behaviour, preferences, and needs. According to Jana, by treating data as an asset and creating data availability for business users – by implementing technologies that help translate raw data into readable information – data teams help businesses make strategic decisions that will have a positive effect on the bottom line. 

Using her expertise as a data consultant, Jana explained how different roles work together to implement data-oriented solutions in organizations. There are many roles on a data project, taking care of all aspects of the implementation process:

CTO (Chief Technology Officer) – verifies the architecture behind the solution

CDO (Chief Data Officer) – responsible for data strategy as a part of an overall business strategy

Business experts – define business needs of the organization

Business consultant – bridge between the business and the IT team

IT, security, and data compliance – decide how to securely access the data

Data Security officers – defining rules and data governance procedures which may be country- and company-specific

Data engineers – technical team taking care of the architecture, finding secure and efficient ways to get and clean the data

Data analysts – working on the final form of the data that the client will see

UX and UI teams – last mile delivery and the look and feel of the product

Client services director – project manager, managing all communication with the client and the team

Data Scientist, Data Analyst, Data Engineer – what is the difference?

Project team breakdown made the distinction between different roles much clearer, but the three roles – data scientist, data analyst, and data engineer – are so frequently confused we discussed them in a bit more detail.

  • Data engineer – often forgotten title. Critical role, basically equivalent to a database administrator. Understands the principles of ETL: how to extract, transform, and load the data. Data engineers build and maintain the logic of the pipeline so the data is ready for future analysis. They also control how we store and move the data. Skills: SQL, Python, R, Apache Hadoop, databases, pipelines, and structuring data for further use in the organization.
  • Data Analyst – needs to understand ETL, know where the data is coming from, if it’s clean, structured or unstructured. Performs simple transformations. Skills: SQL, Python, R or any other language used for simple data transformation, data visualisation tools such as Google Data Studio, Tableau, Power BI, DOMO.
  • Data Scientist – works on mining and defining data, creates algorithms and models, “teaches” machines how to find valuable information, allowing humans to find hidden patterns in data. Skills: Statistics, mathematics, programming; understanding business problems; machine learning, deep learning, text analysis.
Giselle (left) and Jana (right) during our live Q&A

How to get started?

As it’s always the case with starting in a new industry, you need to begin with some research. “There are many free resources out there,” Giselle advised data newbies. “Get into fundamentals, try a Statistics 101 refresher, try different languages, find one you are most comfortable with – this way you will quickly know if this is your cup of tea and which areas you’d like to study in more depth.” If you’re not sure which languages to choose, SQL and Python are always a great starting point. While SQL is the key tool when going into the field of data, Python is a versatile programming language with a great community, many free resources, and groups like PyLadies to reach out to for support. 

Practical experience, says Jana, means more than certificates and diplomas. Being comfortable with SQL is a must and a good starting point for going into a data job. “It doesn’t matter if you’re self-taught,” assures Jana. “If you have the passion and curiosity – join study groups, get an internship, work somewhere for 3-6 months to gain experience. This will be your stepping stone to a junior analyst job.” According to Jana, certain skills and attitude are more important than formal education. Critical thinking, following correct logic, as well as understanding the circumstances of the client and the context of their industry can get you a long way. Building a GitHub portfolio can also help you land your first job.

Jana gave a few examples from her own team at Meiro. Her colleagues come from all walks of life and educational backgrounds: mathematics and statistics, software testing, project management. What they all have in common is passion for data and life-long learning. They relied on many different resources to build their skill sets: Udemy and Udacity online classes, data science courses provided by the Singaporean Government, learning through work experience and small projects.

What matters most is that you never stop learning. Data is an industry that never stops and always keeps you searching for new information – you will need to have patience and perseverance if you are considering this field. To stay relevant, you will have to be open to new, emerging fields such as data science applications in retail, education, human capital analytics, safety and security, marketing, and business administration. For those considering a career switch, your understanding of a specific domain area and the characteristics and challenges of an industry might be your greatest advantage and give you a leg up when searching for a data job. Build your domain expertise from your past experience and add your data skillset on top of that.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a techie but a business user, building basic data literacy can be a valuable addition to your skillset. If current trends are any indication, organizations will shift from lengthy written reports to data visualisation tools. Learning the basics of SQL or software such as Google Data Studio or Tableau will allow you to communicate better with analysts and data specialists in your organization, understand your KPIs better, and make more informed business decisions. It will also open the door to some of the emerging roles such as marketing technologist that bridge the gap between tech and business. 

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TechLadies Brunch will be back soon – follow us on Facebook to keep an eye on future event announcements. To watch the recording of our full interview with Jana, visit our Facebook group (available to members only). If you want to share your feedback about the event with us, complete this short survey: https://tinyurl.com/TLlivestreamJana

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.