Are you worried a robot might soon replace you at work? Do you dream of building an on-demand services start-up, or fancy a career switch into coding and app development? If so, ALPHA Camp’s programmes might be an option for you.

ALPHA Camp is a tech and start-up school with campuses in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It aims to equip people with the skill sets to pursue a career in tech, or to launch their own tech start-up. It offers a full-time programme, or boot camp, that lasts for 12 weeks. Students pick one of four courses: full-stack web development, iOS app development, digital marketing, or product user interface and user experience design. On top of these specialisations, there are core classes that all students are required to attend. At the end of the boot camp, students have to complete and present their final project. Certificates given by ALPHA Camp are endorsed by the Committee for Private Education.

“What we hope [to do] with the programme is to take people from various backgrounds and help them launch a new career in tech, such as in software development or digital marketing,” Bernard Chan, ALPHA Camp founder, tells Enterprise in an interview. The school also works with the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore to do job placements for students.

Given the intensity of the boot camp, ALPHA Camp has stringent conditions on student admission. Interested applicants have to complete a questionnaire that covers topics such as learning goals, work experience and personality. They also have to take a test and undergo an interview. Chan explains that the school only wants to enrol people who are passionate and serious about technology. It also seeks people who are independent and collaborative. “I don’t want you to quit your job and then show up here realising that this is not what you had envisioned. That is bad,” he says.

For those who are not prepared for such an intensive course, ALPHA Camp also offers one-off workshops and seminars. These aim to educate participants on the latest developments in technology.

Simulated start-up environment
As with any other school, ALPHA Camp involves tutorials and homework. It emphasises on learning by doing. During the first week at boot camp, each student is required to pitch an idea for the final project. Ideas must use technology to solve a problem or improve on an existing solution. Students pick the best ideas and form teams to complete the projects. Ideally, each team should have at least one student from each of the four courses. “So if your idea gets picked, you are like a start-up founder. Then you go find your co-founders,” says Chan. Through the process, students learn skills such as how to recruit the best talents, build a team and resolve team conflicts. “We try to create a place that is as real as possible,” Chan adds.

Occasionally, students have the opportunity to work with established start-ups. ALPHA Camp engages these start-ups to commission real-world ideas for students to use in their final project. Start-ups that have participated include on-demand grocery delivery service honestbee and online luxury retailer Reebonz.

Usually, a senior employee of the startup will lead the final project. When honestbee participated in the programme, Chan says, co-founder Isaac Tay himself took time out to work with ALPHA Camp students. A good working collaboration between students and the startups can sometimes lead to offers for freelance work or even a full-time job offer, Chan adds.

However, he says the school is careful to structure its collaboration with the start-ups. “We don’t want them to see us as some kind of outsourcing thing. I also don’t want our students to touch the core business of the start-up,” says Chan.

Value add
Can a 12-week boot camp replace a fouryear bachelor’s degree in computer science? Critics would argue that the latter covers more ground and provides a much more solid foundation. Chan does not deny this, but says that not everyone has time to study for four years.

He adds that not every job requires a lengthy formal education. In fact, many great software developers today never had one. Chan says a chief technology officer he once worked with was a Chinese literature major at a university. The CTO had learnt coding on his own.

What ALPHA Camp offers to prospective students is time efficiency and industry integration, especially in the start-up scene. The school employs instructors who themselves are business owners or have day jobs. This makes them industry practitioners who are sensitive to real-world practicalities.

“That’s why we don’t have full-time instructors. The most successful and qualified [of them] don’t teach full-time. They run their own business. Teaching for them is a personal fulfilment,” says Chan. ALPHA Camp also engages industry practitioners to become mentors to students. They provide advice beyond the curriculum such as career progression and business-related issues.

Despite the proliferation of free learning material on the internet, Chan believes learning is more than just reading or watching content online. At ALPHA Camp, learning on campus allows students to form networks. This is important for building a start-up or career progression in the future, he says. Moreover, the integration of students from different courses allows peer-to-peer learning across multiple disciplines.

Chan founded ALPHA Camp because he saw a gap in the market. Over the last 16 years, he has worn many hats. One of the business ideas he pursued was setting up his own fashion blog. The process made him realise that he lacked the necessary knowledge to build a tech company. Later on, when he was in an advisory role for a venture capital firm, he saw the same gaps in tech start-ups.

These observations led him to enrol himself at a three-month coding boot camp in the US called The Starter League. That inspired him to start ALPHA Camp here. His vision for tomorrow is still the same: to empower people to pursue their dreams in technology. “In the next two to three years, I hope I can build a network of schools that connects talents, opportunities and know-how in the region.”

This article appeared in the Enterprise of Issue 758 (Dec 12) of The Edge Singapore.