Vulcan Post

This Stanford grad built S’pore’s first coding bootcamp – helps provide tech jobs to students

founder of Rocket

“I started Rocket Academy by hosting a website and asking friends if they knew anyone who wanted to learn coding. Luckily, a few people were interested, and Rocket has [since] grown from there,” said 32-year-old Neo Kai Yuan, as he briefly gave us an insight into what sparked his startup idea.

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

These stints led him to want to address the ongoing demand for software engineering in Singapore.

When he was studying at Stanford University and working in Silicon Valley, Kai Yuan gained the confidence to start up his own business. He was also greatly inspired by online coding bootcamps in the United States and its ability to raise significant venture capital. 

Tapping on his coding expertise and professional network, he set out to help others navigate the tech industry. 

Providing a concise education without a lengthy timeframe

Kai Yuan noticed how Singapore’s training in software engineering could take as long as a university course with a matching price tag.

He therefore came up with a goal to have Rocket Academy fill this gap with a more efficient education to software engineering through the use of a reverse classroom approach.

Learning to code through Rocket’s courses / Image Credit: Rocket Academy

“Rocket’s curriculum is more comprehensive than other short courses, and more practical than university courses. Our courses teach full-stack app development and algorithms; crucial topics for software engineering work and interviews, while most university courses teach computer science theory that is not necessary for entry-level software engineering jobs,” says Kai Yuan.

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

Therefore, Rocket emphasises hands-on learning and the course completion is entirely project-based. Students are required to review videos and readings prior to the class, and teachers spend class time guiding students through hands-on exercises in small groups to solidify learning.

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 employed,” explains Kai Yuan.

Aside from coding skills, Rocket Academy ensures that its students walk away with independence, network, and confidence.

However, Kai Yuan said that at the start, many casted doubt on the comprehensiveness of Rocket’s courses, and whether they would make students more successful than other short courses.

The full truth is, the school that attracts the best students will be most successful. Hence, every decision Rocket makes puts students first. The most glaring obstacle I faced when starting Rocket was ‘How do I get customers?’ My friends were the ones who supported me and referred 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 have to successfully complete the minimum requirements across four projects. 

Its academia is broken down into introductory Coding Basics or a career-prep Coding Bootcamp course.

All are welcome to join its introductory course to learn the fundamentals of coding over the six-week, part-time, instructor-led course. To graduate, students must complete their final project: a game of Blackjack that they can launch online and share with friends.

On the other hand, in the career-prep bootcamp course, students must independently complete and submit the Coding Basics final project, inclusive of a video explaining a coding concept from their Basics course.

Running through algorithms / Image Credit: Rocket Academy

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

These engineers work at tech companies such as Meta, Garena, foodpanda, Xendit, and Thoughtworks, and their teaching experience ranges across schools such as National University of Singapore, General Assembly, and Xccelerate.

According to Kai Yuan, Rocket’s educators undergo a rigorous selection process. To find a suitable candidate, prospective teachers have to provide coding and teaching samples before interviewing with its key teaching staff. The remaining candidates will then be invited to teach trial classes before they make hiring decisions.

Many of Rocket’s initial teachers came from personal networks. Luckily, many software engineers want to help others become software engineers and Rocket has experienced strong demand to teach.

– Neo Kai Yuan, founder of Rocket Academy

Exposing successful graduates to the workforce

At the end of the course, most — if not all — of Rocket’s graduates have secured jobs at top tech companies such as Grab, Ninja Van, 99.co, GovTech, and Circles.Life.

Kai Yuan works alongside various companies to provide said jobs for its graduates through means of personal networks. Taking into consideration fellow software engineers who were hiring, he referred Rocket’s graduates to them.

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

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

– Neo Kai Yuan, founder of Rocket Academy
Rocket’s panels with various tech companies / Image Credit: Rocket Academy

Through these partnerships, it has helped expose Rocket’s students to the industry and attracted top students to Rocket, further accelerating its placement success.

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

Backed by 99.co, Carousell, DoorDash founders

Just a year into operations, Rocket Academy managed to successfully break even.

However, it wasn’t easy getting there. During its fundraising stage, many investors rejected Rocket because it was too small, too early, or they didn’t see how the business could scale.

I spoke with about 150 investors in two weeks. Those were some of the toughest weeks I’ve experienced as a founder. Luckily, many others invested and I’ll 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 pre-seed funding from venture capitalists and over 50 angel investors across the United States, 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, 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 that are dissatisfied with their careers and want to work in tech. Rocket has the potential to lift economics in Singapore, Southeast Asia and globally, and I would regret it if I did not try,” Kai Yuan affirms.

Featured Image Credit: Rocket Academy