Kai Yuan Neo ‘08 and Foong Leung ‘08 – Rocket Academy

Rocket Academy is an online coding bootcamp in Hong Kong and Singapore that trains software engineers and other tech talent. We discuss with Kai (Founder) and Foong (Head of Operations) Rocket Academy’s journey so far, their exciting plans for expansion, and find out a little more about who they are!

Kai (Left) and Foong (Right) – CIS friends who now run the show a Rocket Academy.

Name: Kai Yuan Neo and Foong Leung
Graduating Year: 2008
Current country of residence: Singapore

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

KYN: I used to play on the CIS tennis team with Foong! I wasn’t very good, but luckily Foong was better!

I went to CIS from reception to Year 9, and had some of my best experiences there. My teachers were encouraging and supportive, and several of my closest friends are former CIS classmates. I am grateful for learning to type with Typing Tutor in ICT, and learning Chinese throughout my time at CIS!

After CIS I went to the US for high school because my mum got a job there. I then served a mandatory 2 years of army service in Singapore, before studying Computer Science at Stanford. I moved back to Singapore after working in Silicon Valley to be closer to family. 

FL: Having attended CIS for over 10 years, I still feel like I can’t get away from the school, even as I sit here typing this out I can still physically see the school overlooking Braemar Hill and ultimately Causeway Bay.

Following my high school years, I had gone off to Switzerland to study Hotel Management at Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne, which led me down my first career working in luxury hotels across Hong Kong working in operations. However, after being transferred to corporate office and having the opportunity to meet and talk to friends and co-workers in different departments, I found myself unnaturally drawn to the development work in the IT department, because of that I took a leap of faith and decided to learn how to code and become a software engineer.

After learning, I restarted my career as a software developer, and frankly had a great time. After a while Kai presented me with an opportunity to join Rocket Academy. Understanding what a transformative point of my life learning coding was, I just had to jump on it! Now I get to help others who are excited about learning more about software engineering and tech, and be a part of their journey. I end up keeping in touch with individuals who have left our academy for years and still love seeing them every time I go to Singapore.

Kai, what inspired you to start Rocket Academy?

In my career as a software engineer before Rocket, I had consistently heard about and experienced the challenge of hiring good software engineers. Universities did not seem to produce enough talent, and coding bootcamps had a mixed reputation for quality.

One day I stumbled upon a news article about an online coding bootcamp in the US that promised higher-quality education with a scalable, online business model. I thought: This is a great fit for my background as a software engineer and someone that enjoys teaching, and nobody is doing this in Southeast Asia! That’s how it all began.

Since then my motivations have shifted. It’s less about building a large company and more about the impact we can have on our customers, who are mostly career switchers trying to break into the tech industry. Seeing their transformation and the value they get from Rocket’s education and community inspires me to grow Rocket to make this even more valuable for everyone involved!

Can you share with us any success stories of Rocket Academy alumni who have gone on to achieve great things 

KYN: We have many stories of Rocket alumni that have achieved great things in their careers! Some have made profound career switches from completely different vocations such as climbing instructor, chef and church pastor. Some have started companies or become engineering managers and hired other Rocket alums for their teams! Some have competed in national coding competitions, and work at companies whose products affect millions of users. Almost all Rocket alumni went from 0 professional coding experience to working as professional software engineers!

Rocket alumni bring unique past experiences to their new roles as software engineers. Jeremy worked as an analyst at the Ministry of Defence before becoming a software engineer there after Rocket’s Bootcamp, helping Singapore defend against cyber threats. Samantha was a product designer before joining Rocket, and has been able to apply her coding skills in new roles at Meta and Unity after. Grace was Head of Global Markets at logistics company Janio before joining another logistics company Luwjistik as a software engineer after Rocket. 

But most Rocket alums pivot to new industries after Rocket’s Bootcamp, owing to the flexibility of software engineering. Some have developed new expertise in Web3. Some work in e-commerce, fintech, enterprise software. What they all share is a bright future, because their skills now enable them to contribute to any company in any industry.

FL: We have had many students come in and out of Rocket Academy who have done great things. Many who come in very strong, and graduate even stronger, all of which naturally proceed to move on to great career paths.

But to me the more interesting ones are the ones that come in with a bit of a struggle.

There was one gentleman in one of my earliest classes who was really struggling, and some days he did really feel like giving up (and honestly sometimes so did I), but after class we would sit together and we would revise, practice and go over theory, exercises, sometimes it was laughter, more often than not it was an uphill battle.

But through sheer persistence eventually one day things started to click and the student was able to gain better clarity towards the theory of it all.

It’s now coming towards 2 years since he has graduated from our course, not only was he able to transition into a software engineering role, he has become a rather integral part in his team and has at times even come back as a hiring manager seeking to provide career opportunities for our younger alumni.

Ultimately, what kind of an impact do you hope Rocket Academy can leave in the tech and coding space?

KYN: I hope we can have a transformative impact on every student. It’s not just about learning to code. It’s about learning to solve any technical problem that comes our way, and about building a network of professionals in the tech industry we can rely on in our careers.

Ultimately, I hope Rocket Academy can create a movement of people passionate about technology to create and sustain a new wave of companies that grow our economies. 

FL: Tech is going to be playing a much bigger role in our daily lives, and that doesn’t just mean that we all need to learn how to code, but utilising technologies to boost efficiencies across all fields.

It is in my hope that Rocket Academy can be in a position to help our society learn to better harness tech to make this pivot into the modern work space, and do it in a way that is efficient (for the student) and fun at the same time where you get to meet a new community, and like minded people to learn from.

Technology is beginning to play an increasingly important role in all industries. What can CIS and other schools do to ensure that kids can become more tech-literate?

KYN: Typing Tutor is a good start! I would recommend more project-based learning focused around building tools that can be helpful for our communities, such as games, social networking apps or even e-commerce apps. These projects can not only show students the value in learning tech skills, they can also help students with portfolios for university applications.

FL: Learning more about computational thinking. There are many tools out there today designed to teach kids how to think in a way that would help the step by step process needed to understand how a computer would think through processes. In our daily lives we take many of these “decisions” for granted, and when we need to break them down later in life it actually becomes much harder than we think to do so. But starting this young would help students pick up anything within the realms of tech with greater ease.

Quickfire round – give us the first answer you think of

  • One language you would like to learn and master:
    • KYN: Chinese
    • FL: (computer or regular??) KOREAN or GO
  • Your worst subject at CIS:
    • KYN: English
    • FL: Chinese! (Sorry 張老師)
  • Twitter or Threads:
    • KYN: Neither
    • FL: instagram?
  • Finish the phrase: The way to my heart is ___
    • KYN: Kindness
    • FL: FOOD
  • What’s something you could eat for a week straight?
    • KYN: Boiled cabbage
    • FL: Dumplings

What is your favourite memory from CIS?

KYN: I loved homeroom! It was always exciting to see the same friends every morning and catch up on everything that had happened since going home the previous day. I also loved the endless conversations and games we would have on MSN and online after school!