Saving the day, one code at a time
Posted on January 29, 2017
David Tan, SINGAPORE
Developer, GENERAL ASSEMBLY
David Tan has had a whirlwind of a time. In less than six months, he had left his civil service job, picked up full stack web development, churned out several web applications, became a teaching assistant at General Assembly and landed a job with Thoughtworks – a global software consultancy firm. Oh and along the way, he married the love of his life and went on a honeymoon.
How did you get into web development?
It started with the buzz going around the internet about workplace automation. During my time in the civil service, I found myself doing repetitive tasks all the time, but I never knew how I could automate them. So I started coming to work an hour earlier than usual to experiment with VBA (the programming language of Microsoft Office) to automate some of my work. I didn’t get very far, but one of the cool things I managed to create was a nifty little script in my email. If I had used the word “attach” in my email without including any attachments, an alert would pop up. I realised then that even though programming felt difficult and scary, it could be satisfying too (no more embarrassing missing attachments!)
What do you enjoy most about web development?
There are three things that I enjoy about being a web developer.
Firstly, there is so much to learn. There are lots of resources, documentation and tutorials available freely to anyone and everyone. When I first started coding I had only the vaguest sense of what was going on, but over time, the pattern becomes quite intuitive – you read the documentation or tutorials, play with the code, work through the errors, build a prototype, and then keep iterating.
Second, the tech community is highly collaborative. Everyone is so open about sharing and helping people in this tech space. When I go to meetups, there is no sense of hierarchy or of I-know-so-much-more-than-you. Most of the developers that I have met are really friendly folks who happily share their knowledge and advice.
Third, being a developer gives you the tools to solve everyday problems; not just to create fancy websites and user interfaces. It allows you to build solutions for business problems, social problems and even everyday problems. For example, a friend of mine was manually formatting data and generating summary statistics in Microsoft Excel. She had over 300 Excel documents with hundreds of rows each to format, and she would be getting more of such data on an annual basis. So I put on my Python thinking hat, and wrote a short programme that would loop through all 300 files to produce the output that she needed in less than a minute. It would have taken at least a few days otherwise.
How did General Assembly help you to secure your new job?
I think GA provides its students with a good foundation in application development. Our instructor, Jeremiah, put in a lot of effort to tailor the GA curriculum to make sure that we were up to date with the latest industry practices such as agile development, test-driven development, ES6, among others. GA also has really good links with the industry. They hold a career fair for each batch of students, and I was blessed to have secured a job with one of the companies that came within a month of graduating from my web development course. They also regularly organise talks by web developers and startups, and these talks helped us become more familiar with what is expected in this field.
What qualities should one have to pursue web development?
I don’t think there are any prerequisites per se – You don’t have to be smart or really good at math or anything like that. I think you just need to be curious, be willing to ask questions, and be willing to learn. I think being able to read and understand instructions helps because the documentation can be quite verbose. I think pattern recognition helps too (If I remove X, Y stops happening – hence X should be the cause of Y) because I think programming is essentially a scientific process of figuring out why things didn’t work and what you need to change to make it work or to make it work better.
As part of the Smart Nation initiative, the Infocomm Media Development Authority has partnered General Assembly to launch programmes for mid-career professionals hoping to make a switch to the tech industry. Fees for the web development full-time immersive course conducted at General Assembly cost $3,000 to $3,450 after subsidies compared to about $12,500 before.