Working to expose students to tech, two years on

How it started

I am a teacher in a junior college in Singapore. Day-in-day-out I work with youths who struggle to reconcile with their future pathways with the system of dated standardized exams. The lockdown was the trigger to action. In their graduating year, my first batch of students who did not have the luxury of career fairs asked, “What should I do when I do not know what I want to do in future?”

I do not have all the answers to which career pathways will be good for these students. I do not think I ever will. But “bridging industry and education” was something I felt strongly about. If I knew about all the different options out there back as I student, maybe I would have chosen differently.

I knew this was not something I could do alone. I pooled connections, some newer, some older. Some were from a full stack coding bootcamp that I enrolled in in that same year. Others were from way back, students I coached; ex-classmates, ex-schoolmates, friends from the National Institute of Education (teaching school) and more.

The tapestry of friends working on a common vision always kept me energized. It felt amazing working with people who resonated with a common mission, inspired by what we have wanted for ourselves if we were younger. Being able to bring some of these to my own school, teaching students not from my own school also convinced me that there was immense learning value worth pursuing. Seeing fellow teachers — some of whom were new parents — still taking time out to affirm the value of something I was building helped to motivate me to endure the pain. I was building something worthwhile.

Building CareerContact

I started on a journey that I found exciting and kept me energized through the COVID-19 pandemic even when hours insanely long. The core of CareerContact then was just career exposure events. Some of the principles are derivative of Design Your Life.

But events aside, CareerContact became a one-stop career exploration suite with events, articles, challenges (gigs or microinternships), internships and a portfolio tool. We took a lot of inspiration from Hubspot, both as a product but also replicating how content marketing was done. I learnt a great deal from the articles written by their team.

My own life journey inspired how CareerContact was built. I grew up in a humble bicycle shop. I lived in that shophouse for most of my life. Helping to digitize aspects of a small and medium enterprise provided invaluable learning about business operations that I would never otherwise be privy to. This has made me a better Economics teacher. It has helped me to better appreciate tech applied to business from a cost and revenue perspective. I sincerely believed that scaling it would enable others to learn in the same way I did — learning about tech on the job, gaining expertise while delivering real value to small businesses along the way.

Milestones

I shared this internally during our “townhall” with CareerContact past and present, celebrating the things we built together:

Reconciling what happened to the lost brand

I lost CareerContact in one of the worst ways possible.

I was keying in test scores one day when the messages from my then co-founder came in, saying she fired everyone and terminated all the business contracts. She jeopardized the progress of the team and arbitrarily ceased at least 30 potential projects that could have been invaluable learning opportunities for students and businesses in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

These bertrayed what the organisation was built on and can never be justified. Beyond wider organisational goals, she also deliberately left me in debt, knowing that I spent over $15k that should have been reimbursed via a grant that we both applied for. She left without never properly addressing the team and never had the courage to do so.

She tried to lock me out of the accounts I built with the rest of the team, including Github, TikTok, Instagram, Notion, Facebook, Twitter, Badgr, and more even when she had little part to play. She broke connectors of the web app to TikTok, Badgr and Zoom on the way out. Vindictive and destructive — some of these accounts remain unmanned.

I lost the brand quietly. As a civil servant I never held a stake or formally held equity in the company. I never drew salary and believed that I abided by the code of conduct of the civil service, ideating to solve a problem that I strongly believed in. She was appointed director out of purely functional reasons.

People, people, people

In retrospect, I have come to value the people who stuck around a lot more. There were many friends who trusted me and invested more than time to help me build CareerContact. Some of them still stick around even today and I will forever be thankful:

  • Charmaine — apologies things turned out this way. You were amazing and you did a much better job with school BD that she ever could have. Your kindness and encouragement through the entire episode really helped me through a difficult phase and I hope someday I can do the same.
  • William — I did not really know what to expect attending a bootcamp but am always thankful for your enthusiasm towards learning. This helps me to grow and keep thinking about how to stretch the product
  • Jonathan — thanks for your support and advice about team building and product improvements. A lot of it rings much deeper now and am thankful to have your continued support
  • Shaun — ex room mate and would have been co-founder. You were right about how I did not have a strong co-founder and I wish I realized earlier. Your guidance and support on my first entrepreneurial journey is always appreciated
  • Deb — I never would have known anything about product management in your absence. A lot of the processes you guided me on continues to influence how I think about other startups and student run projects.
  • Nicole and Angel — thank you for watching out for me and working incredibly hard on CareerContact. May NOC/ your upcoming internships be incredibly fruitful. I am sure you will make a profound impact in the entrepreneurship space.
  • All the teachers — Huixuan, Syam, Joseph, Joel, Christine, Rachel, Yongxin — OG CareerContact. For believing in this, I wish I can tell you, in a couple of months’ time that this has not been in vain.
Thank you friends from Le Wagon

What is next

We will relaunch a new product. We have been operating in stealth but watch this space in June.

The mission is unchanged. Our team is different but expertise wise this is the best lineup yet.

I cannot wait to see what we will come up with this 2022.

Thank you all who support the mission/ vision up to this point. The dream is alive and we will work with schools to do great things in the months to come.

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Kahhow

Kahhow

Educator interested in data science, dance and full stack development