Skill up to step up: Ex-teacher went back to school - to learn IT skills

In this second of a four-part series on reskilling and upskilling, The Straits Times speaks to Kenneth Chua, who left his job of 10 years to embark on a career in the tech industry.

Former teacher Kenneth Chua is now five months into a new job as a systems quality assurance engineer for e-commerce platform Shopee, in a role that entails checking that the platform's application is working, troubleshooting and fixing bugs. ST PHOT
Former teacher Kenneth Chua is now five months into a new job as a systems quality assurance engineer for e-commerce platform Shopee, in a role that entails checking that the platform's application is working, troubleshooting and fixing bugs. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

During his years as a secondary school teacher, Mr Kenneth Chua frequently spoke to his students about the joys of learning, the importance of upskilling, and the value of resilience.

In 2019, after 10 years of teaching, he realised that "he had not been walking the talk", that he was not fulfilling his potential, and that he could learn and grow further.

The 38-year-old decided to leave his job at the end of that year and pick up new skills. Last March, he enrolled for an immersive software engineering course at General Assembly, a coding school.

This was under the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme (TIPP), an Infocomm and Media Development Authority of Singapore initiative to develop tech talent.

The 12-week course taught Mr Chua skills such as website development and equipped him with fundamental programming and computer science knowledge. It cost him $5,550, after a $9,100 TIPP subsidy.

He is now five months into a new job as a systems quality assurance engineer for e-commerce platform Shopee.

In his teaching career, Mr Chua taught computer applications to Normal (Technical) students and mathematics. He was at Bartley Secondary School from 2009 to 2014 and subsequently moved to Sengkang Secondary School.

He had graduated from Singapore Polytechnic in 2002 with a diploma in electronics, computer and communication engineering.

Then, he studied electrical and electronic engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), picking up basic coding skills.

He decided on teaching as a career after joining a church tutoring programme for underprivileged children when he was at university.

After graduating from NTU in 2009, he applied for a place in a year-long teaching programme at the National Institute of Education at NTU. His teaching career took off after that.

  • Programmes for career switch

  • SOFTWARE ENGINEERING IMMERSIVE AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY

    This is a full-time, 12-week programme that has been designed to transform students from novices to full-stack software engineers.

    Those graduating from the course are equipped with fundamental programming and computer science knowledge.

    They will also have picked up the necessary skills to build full-stack Web applications. Such skills include computer science frameworks, collaboration tools and programming languages. For example, during the course, participants learn to code webpages using Hypertext Markup Language, Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript. They also learn to develop full-stack applications with technologies such as Python with Django.

    INFOCOMM MEDIA DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY'S TECH IMMERSION AND PLACEMENT PROGRAMME (TIPP)

    This programme is meant for fresh graduates and professionals who have no expertise in information and communications technology (ICT) but are interested in switching to ICT job roles.

    ICT professionals interested in upskilling to prepare for new tech positions, or individuals with a passion to join or build a tech start-up, may also be suitable.

    Participants will be required to find placements in tech job roles after undergoing a short but intensive and immersive training programme delivered by industry practitioners.

    These training courses will allow participants to build up their portfolio, interact with experts in relevant fields and prepare for roles in the ICT industry, such as Web developers and data analysts.

    Individuals who qualify for the courses supported under TIPP will have their course fees subsidised.

    Related programmes:

    SGUNITED MID-CAREER PATHWAYS PROGRAMME

    This programme allows mid-career job seekers to upskill through company training or a company attachment, where they can gain industry-relevant work experience while waiting for permanent jobs.

    Participants will receive monthly allowances ranging from about $1,400 to $3,000.

    SGUNITED SKILLS PROGRAMME

    This is a full-time training programme conducted over six to 12 months. It comprises certifiable courses delivered by the Continuing Education and Training centres, including institutes of higher learning.

    Trainees will get opportunities such as workplace immersions and industry projects.

    They will receive a training allowance of $1,200 a month for the duration of the programme in which they are enrolled.

    More information can be found on: https://www.skillsfuture.gov.sg/

    Jolene Ang

Said Mr Chua: "Many say that teaching is an iron rice bowl. I wondered if I should take the risk to give it up and try something new."

His father, who died in 2019, had encouraged him to go for the career switch. Mr Chua said: "His death inspired me to move on. I didn't want to be stagnant (in terms of personal growth)."

He also had the support of his wife, 34, who works as a demand planner at American shoe company Crocs. The couple have a 21/2-year-old son and are expecting a second son in March.

Said Mr Chua: "A mid-career change is complicated, but we have been quite thrifty... We felt our savings were enough for us to live on a single income for a number of months."

He reached out to Workforce Singapore for help and career counselling. He also contacted General Assembly before leaving his job in December 2019.

But shortly after he had quit, the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

"I wondered if I had made the right choice and considered going back to teaching. In a pandemic, who is going to hire someone at my age with no related experience?" said Mr Chua.

"But I decided that since I had already put all my cards on the table, I would just move forward with my decision to take the course."

The 12-week course at General Assembly was challenging, said Mr Chua. During the few weeks where there were physical classes, he would study on the bus journey to and from home. He also stayed up late to revise.

"After 10 years in teaching, it was hard to go into something new as a student. My mind was all rusty."

There were full-day classes from Monday to Friday and assignments almost every day, he said.

Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, most classes were conducted online. This was "a new ball game altogether", said Mr Chua, as it took a lot more time and effort to communicate with his peers and teachers.

But he is now thankful for the experience, as he has had to work remotely in his new role at Shopee, which entails checking that the Shopee application is working, troubleshooting and fixing bugs.

He landed the job in August, after completing the General Assembly course in June.

Said Mr Chua: "There is a new experience, something new to learn every day. My aim in this mid-career switch was to be able to learn new things. I am doing that and being a better version of myself."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2021, with the headline 'Ex-teacher went back to school - to learn IT skills'. Subscribe