Daring to chop and change

Taking a leap into the unknown is never say with a little help, Arif Rahman went from the field of hairstyling hair to computer programming.

From a young age of 14, Arif Rahman has been helping out at his family business of cutting the hair of many national servicemen at Pulau Tekong’s Basic Military Training Centre. It was a routine he stuck to for more than a decade before he finally decided to make a career change.

After a few misses, Arif finally found his next career calling in programming. He first heard about the job scope of full-stack developers, people who are familiar with all the layers involved in software development, from his friends in the infocomm sector. As an avid gamer and tech enthusiast, Arif was determined to turn his interests into a career.

“I thought programmers and coders were doing cool stuff. I wanted to be one of them. I did my research and found that the government was encouraging people to learn coding too,” says Arif.

However, he only stumbled upon the pathway to the industry by chance. Arif was working part-time as a private hire car driver when he first learnt about coding and web development courses by General Assembly (GA) Singapore from a passenger. The passenger recounted the story of his friend who manage to enter the GA programme with just an O-Level certificate and landed a job as a developer after graduating. Spurred by this experience Arif enrolled in the school’s 12-weeks web development course last year.

“If I go to a polytechnic, I have to study for three years before I can start work,” says the 29-year-old who felt he could not afford this luxury of time. “I thought if that guy can do it, why can’t I do it too? We have the same education level.”

To fund his education, Arif sold the first ever computer he built himself. He also received subsidy from a programme that supports immersive tech training and boot camps under TeSA, an initiative by the Infocomm Media Development Authority to build and develop a skilled ICT workforce for Singapore. The programme aims to convert non-ICT professionals into industry-ready ICT talents. These professionals will be placed into tech job roles after undergoing a short, intensive and immersive training delivered by industry practitioners.

Going back to school was a struggle for Arif at first and he thought of quitting after two weeks. Not only was the learning curve steep, his confidence was also shaken by how well some of his classmates — many of whom were also switching careers — performed.

Arif decided to solider on for the sake of his family.

“I had not touched a textbook for about seven to eight years. But I’m a parent, I have two kids,” says the sole breadwinner whose wife started working while he went back to school. “One of my biggest motivation was my kids and my wife. I thought I should complete the course to get a certificate.”

The instructors at GA also encouraged him to stay on. They advised him to focus on his own development instead of being affected by how his peers performed.

MAKING THE CUT IN THE TECH INDUSTRY

Four months after completing GA’s Web Development Immersive, Arif landed a job as a front-end developer at Singapore-based start-up, Indorse. The company is working on a professional online social network where users own their data and create skills-based profiles that are validated not through the certificates they have or who they know, but by other users in an anonymous manner.

“What Indorse is trying to create, touched me,” says Arif, who explains that this resonated with his personal belief. “It’s not all about academic qualifications, but the skills that I have. If I can code, it doesn’t matter if I only have an O-Level certificate. People will still employ me.”

“I never liked it when people tell me I can’t do things because I don’t have a degree,” he says. “If you ever have doubts about learning new things in life, don’t be too quick to say no. Try. Never let others tell you can’t,” he adds.

As a front-end developer at the company, Arif spends his day improving the design of the online platform as well as de-bugging any issues that may arise. The need to constantly improve on the product and keep up with the latest technological developments is what excites him most about his work.

Having realised his dream of cutting it in tech industry — Arif has learnt that not all stereotypes about the industry are true. For example, one also does not need to be a math genius to code. Some perceptions such having a casual dress code rings true. Arif says his usual work attire is a trucker cap, a shirt, Bermudas, and slippers.


First announced in the 2016 Budget, the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) is a tripartite initiative by the government, industry and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), to build and develop a skilled Information and Communications Technology (ICT) workforce for the Singapore economy, and to enhance employability outcomes for individuals.

An additional $145 million will be set aside for TeSA over the next three years. TeSA will expand into new sectors like manufacturing and professional services where digital technologies are increasingly important; and will support more people to learn emerging digital skills such as in data analytics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and cybersecurity.

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