The global shortage of software engineers threatens to become a business crisis of our age. The US Labor Department says that by December 2020, the world was 40 million short of the skilled coders and engineers it required. By 2030, it thinks that figure might have doubled, to around 85 million. In the absence of the talent they so desperately need, companies worldwide risk losing $8.4 trillion of revenues, the US Labor Department warns.
Enter Rocket Academy, a start-up business that offers online coding courses, which is today announcing that it has raised $1.1 million in pre-seed funding. The company’s founders say its flexible online learning model will prove crucial in training up more software engineers at pace.
Rocket Academy founder and CEO Kai Yuan Neo launched the business in 2019 following stints working with start-ups in California and Indonesia, where he found it difficult to recruit the software engineers he needed.
Investigating the training options available to potential recruits, Neo found that courses tended to be either too short and lacking in depth, or too long, expensive and theoretical. Rocket Academy therefore operates in the middle ground, with courses that are longer and more comprehensive than those available in traditional coding bootcamps, but shorter, more practical and cheaper than university courses.
The key is to give developers the skills they need to resolve the recruiting problems so many companies now face, Neo says. “There is a mounting global talent shortage of developers around the world,” he points out. “Rocket Academy exists to solve this equation and we are on a mission to scale further and faster.”
So far, Rocket Academy has launched two different propositions. Its Coding Basics course provides introductory training for beginners keen to learn the basics of coding; its Software Engineering Bootcamp (SEB) is a more comprehensive programme, designed to prepare students for a career in software engineering.
Critically, all course material is pre-recorded so that students can complete the training at their own pace, fitting the work in around their other commitments. In addition, Rocket Academy holds regular live classes over Zoom for students to clarify concepts with instructors, apply learning in pair exercises and network with classmates.
The company also works with graduates of its training programmes to help them secure jobs. It has built links to a network of businesses recruiting coders, to whom it makes referrals and sets up interviews.
“Getting our students good jobs is our top priority – the better the jobs our students get, the stronger our alumni network becomes, which enables us to find better jobs for future students,” Neo adds. “So far, we have successfully placed all SEB graduates; we are so confident that our SEB graduates will find coding jobs that we will refund their fees if they cannot find a job within six months of graduation.”
The company’s track record to date has seen demand for its courses increase at an exponential rate. Neo says demand for its more basic course has risen 10-fold over the past three months, while the SEB option has seen a four-fold increase.
Such growth rates – and the size of the potential global opportunity – are what have attracted investors to the business. Rocket Academy’s $1.1m pre-seed round has attracted support from a consortium of 50 tech investors and venture capitalists. Investors include entrepreneurs Darius Cheung from 99.co, Marcus Tan from Carousell and Stanley Tang from DoorDash. Other supporters include Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singapore Ambassador to the United Nations, SEA tech leaders’ investment network XA Network, and VC firms Taurus Ventures and Hustle Fund.
Neo is keen to use the funding to accelerate Rocket Academy’s scale-up process, both through expansion of its curriculum and a larger geographical footprint. Based in Singapore, the company has ambitions to expand into Hong Kong and Australia in the short term, and across other Southeast Asian markets over time. Eventually, Neo believes the company can serve a global customer base.
Recruitment is continuing. Last year saw Akira Wong join the company as CTO and Head of Education following three years as Software Engineering Lead Instructor at General Assembly in New York and Singapore. Wong’s contribution will be to help ensure Rocket Academy’s training remains as relevant as possible.
“We are regularly in touch with businesses to understand technical skills that software engineers need,” says Neo. “This allows us to refine our curriculum to make it relevant and appropriate for students looking for rewarding software engineering careers.”