From mechanical to software engineer: How reskilling got him hired for a brand new job

Even without past work experience, investing in new skills can kickstart your career in a different field

Mechanical engineering graduate Seow Xian Jin successfully transitioned to software development and is enjoying it. PHOTO: SEOW XIAN JIN
Mechanical engineering graduate Seow Xian Jin successfully transitioned to software development and is enjoying it. PHOTO: SEOW XIAN JIN

The saying “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” rings true for Seow Xian Jin, now a software engineer at Circles.Life.

He studied mechanical engineering at National University of Singapore, a discipline completely unrelated to software development. “Ten years ago, engineering was one of the most sought-after degrees. I chose the course for the security it promised,” says Mr Seow.

A brief stint in sales engineering however, convinced him that this field was not a good fit for him. In his own words, the job scope “did not energise me”.

In his search for an industry and career path that spoke to him, Mr Seow enrolled in a boot camp for data science, which came highly recommended and carried the promise of jobs with a good starting salary. “It was essentially a two-year data, statistics, and programming course condensed into a three-month data science immersive.”

The course put a dent in his finances and took up a great deal of time. Aside from studying, he had to prepare five large-scale presentations that involved intense data collection, programming and storytelling, of which one was a final project to be presented to prospective employers. 

Though he quickly realised that data science was not the path he wanted to take,  preparing the presentations pointed him in the right direction. 

“More than the data science and statistics-related content of the course itself, creating a user interface for the presentations (which required front-end development skills and a knowledge of programming languages like HTML, CSS and Javascript) for people to interact with my trained model in real-time, and selling this model to a mock audience was what I enjoyed the most,” he says, adding that it was the first step towards software engineering.

In 2020, he enrolled in a web development boot camp on Udemy to arm himself with the basics that would get his foot in the door for a software engineer role.

Mr Seow (far left) tried out numerous jobs, including being a chef and a bartender, before finding his calling in software development. PHOTO: SEOW XIAN JIN

Finding the right fit

Mr Seow’s case is not an isolated one. YouGov research reveals that 53 per cent of Singaporeans are in jobs that are not related to their degrees or academic qualifications. A recent LinkedIn report also shows that three out of five companies may hire people from another industry if the skills they possess match the job requirements.  

As Mr Seow discovered, forward-looking software development companies are more concerned with skills needed for development work. He says, “It’s not what you’re qualified for, but what you’re capable of. When it comes to software development, in particular, your degree will not help you at all. Every day, you learn something new at work.”

Nothing beats learning skills on the job, even if it means starting from scratch, says Mr Seow. Having that attitude helped him make the most of situations.

With Covid-19 and the economic downturn it brought with it, Mr Seow found the job hunt to be more challenging than he had expected.

After a series of unsuccessful interviews, he applied for a job in the software industry under the SG Traineeship scheme, but did not meet the eligibility criteria due to his year of graduation. However, he managed to impress his prospective employer over the interview, and was offered an internship by the company and a salary that matched the SG Traineeship scheme and package terms. 

Despite not coming from a computer science background or having any experience in coding, Mr Seow's hard work and thirst for knowledge earned him a full-time position by the end of his tenure. In May this year, he moved on to join digital telco Circles.Life as a software engineer.

●      Find out more about LinkedIn’s Skills Path here.