Job seekers

Never too late: Microsoft and Generation Singapore help mid-career job seekers embrace technology

Stepping out of her comfort zone was a big decision for Nelly Lee. The Singapore native and single mother built a successful 20-year career in the travel industry, where she was considered an expert in her field. Still, Lee felt the need to reinvent himself, an urge that was accelerated by the global disruption to the travel industry in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“I thought I should give myself a chance to see that I could do something different to take care of my daughter and my parents,” Lee said. “Yes, in my previous job, the knowledge and stability were there. But I wanted to show myself that even if I don’t have a degree in technology, it didn’t matter.

Changing careers along the way can be difficult for anyone. There is an even higher degree of difficulty when moving into the technology field, where other candidates and colleagues have years of knowledge and practical experience. Generation Singapore wants to help level the playing field so everyone has a chance at a better career.

In 2020, Microsoft and Generation Singapore co-created #GetReadySG, a national skills initiative in partnership with several Singaporean government technology organisations. The initiative is designed to upskill and/or reskill up to 1,000 job seekers over a two-year period and then match them with meaningful employment opportunities in technology. The program is designed for young professionals and mid-career individuals who want to learn in-demand digital skills at a subsidized cost.

As Lee considered changing careers, she heard about Generation Singapore. She consulted her brother, a software engineer, before her second interview to learn more about the program. Soon after, Lee was admitted to #GetReadySG, where she began to learn skills that would benefit her time in the tech industry.

“When I walked into the course, it was so foreign to me,” Lee recalled. “I didn’t know what a virtual machine was. I was sharing the screen with my brother to help me understand better. I asked him: ‘What is it?’ ‘What is that?’ But I started slowly digesting things.

In addition to class work, Lee learned valuable skills during his internship, which all program participants must complete.

“This program is very different from others where you take a course and at the end of the day you go get your own job,” Lee said. “Through the apprenticeship, you have a six-month chance to learn and adapt to the world of work.”

Nelly Lee decided to change careers in order to earn enough money to eventually buy a new house for herself and her young daughter. Photo by Ore Huiying for Microsoft.

The #GetReadySG program also offers participants the opportunity to be mentored by tech industry professionals as they approach the start of their internship and plan for full-time work. Lee was paired with Sindhu Chengad, an Azure and open source business leader at Microsoft’s Singapore office, and they developed a relationship that proved valuable for both parties, especially because it can be difficult for women to have female role models.

“We have been working together for six months,” Chengad said. “I know how hard it can be to keep a career on track, and I’ve always found it helpful to have people give me a chance and help guide me. Nelly’s story is such an inspiring story. For a mother, thinking about disrupting her own career to step into a completely new space and perfect herself is a challenge. I’m super proud of where Nelly started and where she is today.

While Lee was doing her internship, she set her sights on a full-time job, one where she could earn a better salary with the goal of moving into her own house. She quickly landed a DevOps position with a large international technology company that allows her to work from home and tackle various technical challenges.

“I wanted to do something more technical because I find it more interesting,” Lee said. “I do a lot of work on the servers, deployment, bug fixing. There is still a lot to learn. But my team is very patient and they explain a lot of things. It’s very comforting and it makes me feel that I can contribute more.

The #GetReadySG program has placed hundreds of graduates in several tech companies across Singapore, giving well-trained individuals a chance to fill the human resource gaps that many companies in the country have faced in recent years.

There is tremendous commitment and resilience that each graduate brings to this program. It is indeed a difficult journey to break down barriers by moving on to a new career, which is why I am really proud of them,” said Prateek Hegde, CEO of Generation Singapore. “We may have had a well-designed program and supported them all the way, but the majority of the credit goes to each individual who persevered through each process and gave their best. I hope to see more women follow in Nelly’s footsteps.

For Lee, the decision to change careers has been life-changing, and she urges others in her position to consider betting on themselves and learning the skills needed to enter the tech industry.

“It’s totally out of what people think of me,” Lee said. “A lot of people didn’t think I would take that step. But I am very happy. This is a feat for myself.

Top picture: Nelly Lee took advantage of GetReadySGa national competence initiative co-created by Microsoft and Generation Singapore, to transition into a tech career after 20 years in the travel industry. She now works in DevOps supporting a large international technology company. Photo by Ore Huying for Microsoft.