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Nathan-Khoo
Insights

Finance to Software Engineering: One Employee’s Determined Leap into the World of Computer Programming

Nathan Khoo

How one employee got their break in software engineering at Zuhlke

The field of software engineering is a scientific and technically demanding area that typically requires a formal degree qualification. While Nathan Khoo’s entry into software engineering may have been unusual, it's an exceptional tale of how agility, determination and grit can help you succeed. Here he tells his story in his words.

Insight in brief

  • Learn how Nathan Khoo went from finance graduate to Full-Stack Software Developer at Zuhlke Singapore.
  • We explore how embracing a culture of continuous learning got him featured in one of Singapore’s major newspapers.
  • The secret to his success here at Zuhlke? Scroll down to read Nathan's full story.

The first time I looked at a bunch of code and understood what was going on felt like magic. It happened in my final year of University – I was studying finance, but in the last semester I chose an ‘Introduction to Computer Science’ class on a whim. It was the start of many sleepless nights hunched over my computer screen immersed in an exciting new world.

The final assignment for the module was to design a Tetris-style video game. I dove in with all the energy, hubris and naivety of a total beginner. I spent hours scouring Stack Overflow, piecing together why fixing one bug would create another. Line by line, problem by problem, I crept towards the final build, until finally I stepped back and marvelled at my janky masterpiece.

In hindsight, that project was far from perfect. But it lit a fire inside me that finance never sparked. So, I took the Graduate Diploma in Systems Analysis programme at National University of Singapore’s Institute of Systems Science. The programme was rigorous and demanding, but it exposed me to a universe of exciting, modern technologies that made my curiosity burn even brighter.

After University, things started falling into place. After an internship I landed a position as a Junior Software Engineer at Zuhlke Singapore. And suddenly everything got very real. I couldn’t wait to start my career. But self-doubt and imposter syndrome started to kick-in.

Fortunately, thanks to the Zuhlke community, they didn’t stick around for long.

A feedback culture

The Zuhlke community was unlike any other I had encountered. ‘Zuhlke’s Employee Day’ was one of my first experiences that captured the culture at Zuhlke. It was a company-wide day organised by employees for employees, that centred on things like self-improvement, time management and so much more.

That afternoon, I joined a Web Focus Group session, where my colleagues showcased a survey web app with extensive UI testing. I was stunned by its precision; the app looked great and ran flawlessly. I tried not to think about Tetris.

By the end of the session, we were all asked to give one another feedback. As a junior at the start of my career, I was surprised anyone cared about my opinion at all. But they did. I nervously stumbled over an answer, but it was clear the whole room was eager to listen and appreciative of the feedback.

It was the first of many times I learned how highly Zuhlke values honest feedback. Transparency is a big part of the culture here – everyone is encouraged to be as open as possible, from new starters to senior executives. Although it was intimidating to begin with, looking back, I owe a lot of my success to this unique environment.

Tailored training to accelerate your career

The Singapore office was a relatively new addition to Zuhlke’s expanding portfolio. The whole place oozed start-up enthusiasm and a strong entrepreneurial spirit. I was given free rein to get stuck into as many projects as I wanted.

But before getting placed on client projects, I spent a lot of time on internal software engineering projects. The idea was to upskill by learning new technologies we’d never used before. I started getting used to working in a scrum-like development team. And alongside my training, I received regular mentorship from senior software engineers. I was getting all the necessary training I needed to equip myself for the world of client-side.

My line manager, Sean, would often approach me with suggestions for additional training. Then he’d approach me with conferences I should attend. At times, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by all the learning available to me, but it meant that I was always upskilling, staying relevant and evolving with Zuhlke. 

Levelling up your career

These days, the conversations I have with my line manager revolve around client-facing challenges and opportunities – the projects, technologies and processes we’re driving to deliver value for them. These conversations are invaluable and help me remain up to date with technological advances. Thanks to Sean, I feel like I’m growing along with the company.

And although I’ve only been at Zuhlke just over a year and a half, I can feel my career taking off. I’m even mentoring other software engineers. What’s more, I’m heading up a client project for a global international bank – an ideal project for me, considering my background in finance. 

So what advice would I give to someone wanting to pursue a career in software engineering?

Well, all the developers here are lifelong learners. New technologies don’t faze them, they get stuck right in. And they never dismiss the new as a fad either. They ask questions, clarify doubts and take it all in their stride.

The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know. But I take comfort in the knowledge that I’m still uncovering things I have yet to understand. And as I get better and progress as a developer, my confidence improves too.

Like the sound of following Nathan’s career path and becoming a team member here at Zuhlke? Then we’d love to hear from you. You can take a look at our current vacancies here.