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Rocket Academy founder on building S’pore’s first crypto bootcamp

“I started Rocket Academy by organizing a website and asking friends if they knew anyone who wanted to learn to code. Fortunately, a few people are interested and Rocket has [since] grew from there,” said Neo Kai Yuan, 32, as he briefly told us what sparked his startup idea.

According to Kai Yuan, he always wanted his work to contribute to the social good. After joining the National Service, he worked as a software engineer in the healthcare, education, and financial sectors.

These jobs made him want to address the ongoing software engineering need in Singapore.

While studying at Stanford University and working in Silicon Valley, Kai Yuan gained the confidence to start his own business. He is also very much inspired by the online coding training campaigns in the US and its ability to raise significant venture capital.

Harnessing his coding expertise and professional networking, he set out to help others navigate the tech industry.

Provide a concise education without a long time frame

Kai Yuan finds Singapore’s software engineering training can last as long as a university course at the right price.

He therefore made it his goal for Rocket Academy to fill this gap with a more effective education in software engineering through the use of a flipped classroom approach.

Encrypted Missile Academy
Learn to code through Rocket courses / Image Credit: Rocket Academy

“Rocket’s curriculum is more comprehensive than other short courses, and more practical than college courses. Our courses teach algorithms and full application development; Kai Yuan said topics are important for software engineering jobs and interviews, while most college courses that teach computer science theory are not necessary for software engineering jobs. at the input level.

Based on their experience, engineers learn most of what they need on the job, and they can simultaneously learn computer science theory to solve high-level software engineering problems.

As such, Rocket emphasizes hands-on learning and course completion is entirely project-based. Students are asked to review videos and readings before class, and teachers spend time in class guiding students through practice exercises in small groups to reinforce learning.

Missile classes in the zoom academy
Screenshots of ongoing lessons via Zoom / Image Credit: Rocket Academy

“We teach in Javascript, but the concepts are relevant to all languages. We prepare students for coding interviews from day one, and we provide unlimited interview support until graduates are hired,” explains Kai Yuan.

In addition to coding skills, Rocket Academy ensures that its students walk with independence, network and confidence.

However, Kai Yuan says that from the start, many questioned the comprehensiveness of Rocket’s courses and whether they would help students succeed more than other short-term courses.

The full truth is, schools that attract the best students will be the most successful. Therefore, every decision that Rocket makes puts the students first. The most obvious obstacle I faced when starting Rocket was ‘How do I get customers?’ My friends are the ones who support me and recommend good students.

– Neo Kai Yuan, co-founder of Rocket Academy

Selecting the right educators for the role

Rocket Academy’s admissions team carefully reviews each application before making a decision. For students to graduate, they must successfully complete the minimum requirements in four projects.

Its academics are divided into Initial Programming Basics or a career-preparing Coding Bootcamp course.

All are welcome to take its introductory course to learn the fundamentals of coding in six weeks, part-time, with an instructor. To graduate, students must complete their final project: a game of Blackjack, which they can launch online and share with friends.

On the other hand, in a career prep bootcamp, students must independently complete and submit a Final Basics project, which includes a video explaining coding concepts from their Basics course. .

rocket academy algorithm
Run Through Algorithms / Image Credits: Rocket Academy

To teach these courses, Rocket’s team currently includes about 10 software engineers, mostly part-time.

These engineers work at technology companies like Meta, Garena, foodpanda, Xendit and Thoughtworks, and their teaching experience spans across institutions like the National University of Singapore, General Assembly and Xccelerate.

According to Kai Yuan, Rocket’s educators go through a rigorous selection process. In order to find a suitable candidate, prospective teachers must provide samples and lectures prior to interviews with key faculty. The remaining candidates will then be invited to try the classes before they make a hiring decision.

Many of Rocket’s original teachers came from personal networks. Fortunately, many software engineers wanted to help others become software engineers, and Rocket had a strong teaching need.

– Neo Kai Yuan, founder of Rocket Academy

Exposure to successful graduates in the workforce

By the end of the course, most – if not all – Rocket graduates have secured jobs at leading tech companies like Grab, Ninja Van, 99.co, GovTech and Circles.Life.

Kai Yuan works together with various companies to provide the aforementioned jobs to graduates through a personal network. Considering fellow software engineers he was hiring, he referred Rocket graduates to them.

With his graduates doing well at the companies they joined, the companies would then ask for more graduates from Rocket.

Rocket has also proactively contacted companies that our students may be interested in to develop partnerships. More often than not, companies are eager to support Rocket because they need software engineers and we have a ready supply.

– Neo Kai Yuan, founder of Rocket Academy

Rocket Academy Dashboard
Rocket’s Dashboard with Various Tech Companies / Image Credit: Rocket Academy

Through these partnerships, it has helped introduce Rocket students to industry and attract top students to Rocket, further accelerating placement success.

Today, it has trained more than 1,000 students in the Coding Basics course and over 100 students in the Coding Bootcamp course. Its bootcamp graduates now work at companies like Meta, Zendesk, Xfers and Gotrade, among others.

Backed by 99.co Founders, Carousell, DoorDash

Only one year into operation, Rocket Academy succeeded in breaking even.

However, it is not easy to achieve that. During the fundraising stage, many investors turned down Rocket because it was too small, too early, or they didn’t know how the business could scale.

I talked to about 150 investors in two weeks. Those were some of the toughest weeks I’ve had as a founder. Fortunately, many others invested and I will always be grateful to our early investors for believing in us before others.

– Neo Kai Yuan, founder of Rocket Academy

Last year, the company raised US$1 million in capital from venture capitalists and more than 50 angel investors across the US, China, Singapore and Indonesia. Investors include 99.co founder Darius Cheung, Carousell co-founder Marcus Tan and Stanley Tang from DoorDash.

In the coming years, the Rocket Academy plans to expand internationally to Hong Kong, Australia and the United States.

“Rocket is special to me because of the impact we’ve had and the impact we can have on millions of people globally who are unhappy with their careers and want to work in the tech sector. Rocket has the potential to boost the economy in Singapore, Southeast Asia and globally, and I would regret not giving it a try,” affirmed Kai Yuan.

Featured image credit: Rocket Academy

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