Are you considering a career switch to tech? Or maybe you’re just curious about the booming software engineering industry? Either way, you’re in luck because we had the pleasure of interviewing Kai Yuan Neo, the founder, and CEO of Rocket Academy, one of the top coding boot camps in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Kai has a wealth of experience in the tech industry, having worked as a software engineer at companies like Alibaba and Meta. He shared some valuable insights into the industry, including why there are so many unfilled software engineering jobs in Hong Kong and what the opportunities are for those interested in the field.
In this hot-seat style interview, we asked Kai about Rocket Academy’s approach to preparing students for software engineering careers, the outlook for tech hiring in Hong Kong, and what companies can do to attract and hire top talent.
But before we dive into the interview, let’s talk about why tech is the place to be. The tech industry is booming, with big players like Apple, Google, and Facebook leading the charge. And as more and more industries digitize, the demand for software engineers is only going to increase. So, if you’re looking for a career with plenty of growth opportunities and job security, tech might just be the perfect fit for you.
Now, without further ado, let’s hear from Kai himself.
Why are there so many unfilled software engineering jobs in Hong Kong, and what are the opportunities for those interested in the field?
“Coding was for nerds. Computer Science was an easy subject to get into because few wanted to do it. Hong Kong was a thriving financial hub and top students wanted to go into fields like finance, law, and medicine. Coding? Not cool.
Through the 2000s and 2010s, this was Hong Kong’s mindset toward coding. And this is why there are so few software engineers in Hong Kong.
But something changed in the 2010s. Facebook IPOed, and a slew of hotshot tech companies from Silicon Valley and China followed them, including Snapchat, Uber, DoorDash, Twitter, Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify, Alibaba, Baidu, Didi, Meituan, JD, Pinduoduo, Bytedance, and more. Big tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Tencent, and Alibaba became some of the world’s most valuable companies. Software engineering became the most in-demand profession globally and continues to be.
Now Hong Kong has caught on and is playing catchup. Local entrepreneurs from great companies in all industries like GoodNotes (productivity), Crypto.com (Web3), Clover Health (healthcare), Bowtie Insurance (insurance), Snapask (education), and GogoX (logistics) are struggling to find coding talent in Hong Kong to grow their businesses, and are resorting to hiring foreign engineers at high prices. Local banks are hiring foreigners at eye-popping salaries to build their software, and they still cannot find enough talent. Hong Kong is transforming, but it needs its talent to transform with it.
For those interested in coding: The opportunities are real. Companies are fighting with each other to hire the best software engineers. You could be the most in-demand talent in the market, enabling you to work at any company in any industry in any country. You just need to get started.”
What is the outlook for tech hiring in Hong Kong? Will companies continue to hire tech talent from the city in the coming years?
“If there were a well of clean water, would you drink from it?
Many entrepreneurs and recruiters in Hong Kong have expressed frustration about the lack of coding talent in Hong Kong, such that they need to hire software engineers from overseas. Many also express doubts that Hong Kong will ever have enough coding talent for their companies to grow engineering offices locally.
This demand from employers will not stop. Every industry in every country is digitizing, and companies need software engineers to develop localized software products for their customers. Ideally, these software engineers would be locals who also understand local market dynamics.
Hong Kong is no exception. Even as a financial hub, finance is digitizing and risks being disrupted by technology. For example, banks recognize this and are aggressively hiring coding talent to stay ahead. Local talent is so scarce that they are importing software engineers on work visas. But if local talent existed…
The Hong Kong Government is investing billions of dollars into local agencies like Cyberport and Science Park and is actively promoting its tech industry. The Science Park CEO recently announced his projection that Hong Kong will need 200,000 more tech workers within 20 years. This is an astronomical number that can only be fulfilled by a whole-of-society effort to train tech talent.”
What is Rocket Academy’s approach to preparing students for software engineering careers?
“Rocket Academy’s Bootcamp is the core curriculum for becoming a software engineer. We boast a 100% placement rate among graduates who have been applying for jobs for 6 months, and our alumni work as software engineers at companies like DBS, Zendesk, Decathlon, and Grab.
Rocket’s approach has 3 components: screening, teaching, and placement.
Rocket’s screening process is more rigorous than any other coding bootcamp, ensuring our Bootcamp students have the raw capability and drive to succeed as software engineers. Our screening process consists of an introductory Coding Fundamentals course where students build simple apps and a live interview where our team assesses communication skills and motivation. Our admissions team not only screens for coding aptitude but also soft skills in areas like collaboration and communication, the traits all employers care most about.
Rocket’s teaching prepares students to work at any company in any industry. Our curriculum is more comprehensive than any other coding bootcamp, teaching full-stack software engineering, including frontend, backend, cloud, data structures, and algorithms. Our instructors are experienced software engineers from companies like Meta, Foodpanda, and Zendesk, rigorously vetted and trained to explain concepts clearly and relate to the pressures facing career switchers.
Rocket’s job placement support includes unlimited resume review, interview prep, and job referrals. After graduating from Rocket’s Bootcamp, graduates revise their resumes with Rocket, prep for interviews together, and apply for jobs with referrals from Rocket’s ever-growing hiring network. In addition to direct referrals from Rocket, Rocket’s generous and ever-strengthening alumni community continuously provides mentorship, guidance, and referrals for new graduates. Rocket regularly hosts in-person career and social events for students and alumni to meet, have fun and learn from each other.
Rocket’s Bootcamp is more like an entry to a lifelong club of high-performing tech talent than a short online course. Once in this club, alumni have lifelong access to Rocket’s company resources and the resources of Rocket’s ever-growing and ever-strengthening alumni network. We can’t wait to welcome more talented learners to Rocket Academy.”
What can companies do to attract and hire top talent?
“Beyond anything else, top talent wants to work with other top talents. This provides fulfillment in one’s work, something not easily substituted by money or brand names.
As founders and hiring managers, we must go out of our way to attract top talent. We must get to know them, and understand their motivations. We must try to align what our company has to offer with what they want in their careers. This process never ends, because as soon as top talent stops joining, our company starts declining.
Attracting talent is more about career growth and less about perks. Most would be willing to exchange some compensation for increased career growth opportunities. If we give talent the opportunity and space to continuously learn and grow, they should stay with us for a longer time.”
What would your advice be for absolute beginners who would like to switch careers into tech?
“Talk to friends in the industry to understand what you’re getting into. If you don’t have friends in the industry, attend meetups or message us at Rocket Academy and we would be happy to advise.
While talking with friends, consider learning through free online resources. There is a minimal downside but a huge potential upside. If you don’t like what you’re learning, you can easily stop. If you like what you’re learning, there are paths for you to go further.
For those interested in coding, Rocket Academy offers a free introductory course Coding Fundamentals Lite that introduces foundational concepts of coding. For students that want a more guided and comprehensive experience, Rocket also offers a paid version of Coding Fundamentals with instructors. For students that love Fundamentals and want to pursue professional coding, Rocket offers our flagship Coding Bootcamp course for learners to become software engineers.
I hope the above sharing has been helpful. If you have questions or would like to keep in touch, please connect with me on LinkedIn.”