General Assembly Singapore Review

Nov 15 2015

Introduction

Thinking about joining GA Singapore’s Web Development Immersive? Here’s my review of General Assembly Singapore: the syllabus, my thoughts on the class, and some statistics on the career prospects of the first batch of graduates.

I had a great experience and am now a full-time, full-stack developer at a startup in Singapore, but 16 batches of students later, some students have told me that things have changed and voiced some criticisms of GA WDI.

Example of a lesson at General Assembly Singapore

Before Your Course

IDA TIP Subsidy

Is General Assembly worth it? It helps if you’re Singaporean. Singaporean citizens applying for WDI will receive a 70% subsidy from IDA for General Assembly courses. There is no application process; GA will handle the paperwork and charge Singaporeans the subsidised fee by default.

There were non-citizens in my batch who paid the full course fees (which are still cheapest amongst GA courses in the world), and they still think General Assembly is worth it. If you’re serious about upgrading your skills and committing to a career in programming, this may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. If you’re into iOS development more than web, make for elsewhere instead.

Do you enjoy coding?

12 weeks and a few thousand Singapore dollars is a lot to commit to for someone without the luxury of time or money.

To figure out if coding is for you (or get some head-start on the course), I personally found Codecademy’s free HTML, CSS, and JavaScript online course invaluable. The courses are code-alongs for people who learn through reading. If you prefer learning through video lectures, Treehouse is quality. For more, I keep a list of web development tutorials for absolute beginners.

What computer should I use?

GA allows you to use any laptop, but your life will be easier if you use what the instructor is using, which is probably one of the Macbooks or a linux machine. I found a second-hand Macbook Air with a battery cycle count of 60 on Carousell for $560; YMMV.

It is possible to use a Windows laptop (even without a virtual machine) but you’ll have to figure out how to install software and Microsoft-specific command line instructions on your own.

Do I need a Computer Science degree to be a web developer?

You don’t need a CS degree, but it helps. Most people who take a coding bootcamp won’t have one.

During Your Course

What will you learn?

TLDR: you will learn skills that employers will need and you will have a portfolio of projects that you can be proud of. Caveat: it will depend on the quality of your instructor, which changes batch to batch. You should try and contact a current GA student for the most current review.

HTML, CSS and Javascript

By Day 3, we were learning to clone existing sites but with flex box instead of old, lumbering floats. Check out my team’s clone of 9GAG:

Sample Project

The morning was usually a practical exercise, like create a landing page with parallax effect, or create a price comparison table, or use Regex to evaluate a user’s input into a form client-side (and display an alert or success message in response).

This would be followed by an intensive lesson from the instructor, often bookended with illustrious guest speakers from the industry, sharing their wisdom on everything from test-driven development to pimping your terminal and development environment to career advice.

Every few weeks, you’ll take a week off class to work full time on a project with your classmates as team members. There are some guidelines but it is up to you to determine what kind of project you want in your portfolio. Build things you care about, because obviously you’re going to work harder on them, even after the week is up, but if you’re looking for ideas, try things out you think you’d want to work on after. Employers loved hearing about my Ruby on Rails and ReactJS projects.

Here is my first project built entirely from scratch, a game called Rainbow Rex (Github repo). It’s even been ported to the Google Play store for Android!

Frameworks

What frameworks you learn will depend on the class and the instructor.

My batch learnt MongoDB, Express and NodeJS, but the following batch spent nearly 6 weeks on Ruby on Rails, with one week each on Angular2, Sails JS and ReactJS. I wouldn’t put much weight on this, you are a web developer, not a ReactJS programmer. The sooner you get used to picking things up, the better your career prospects. The fundamentals of programming matter most, everything else can be picked up and much is syntactic sugar.

Assessment

There are no grades, only 1-on-1s with your instructor and GA staff, to provide mutual feedback and career advice. For example, my instructor told two students in my batch that they could command senior developer salaries given their skill.

Your instructor will generously go through your code and provide relevant feedback. Check out @cbas providing a code review on my Github repo for my (first) Tic Tac Toe game.

Sample Game Project

No one will force you to work or tell you to catch up. There’s a lot of self-learning involved and coding continues even after class.

University without grades or bureaucracy- this is either a magical paradise, or hell if you like structure and enforced discipline. Don’t expect worksheets/tutorials/exams, a syllabus before-hand, or for anyone to monitor if you’ve understood the concepts or have attained certain competencies.

After Your Course

GA’s Industry Connections

It’s true that GA is an established brand. GA organises many talks and panels, often snagging panelists like the Head of Engineering at SEA or top players at Carousell and Shopback. However, this has not translated into many hires from these companies.

Will you get a job?

Employers will grant you interviews on the basis of your portfolio even without an engineering degree or past programming work experience.

Other employers will write you off immediately without even an interview, and consider bootcamp graduates “third-rate” hires. YMMV.

I found work immediately freelancing for a digital agency (Wunderman/ Comwerks) and eventually working as a (junior) front-end developer with a startup that I’ve followed and admired for a long time, working with some of the best people in the industry, ReferralCandy. In my first week, everyone in the company introduced me to what they do and gave me access to the code base to add myself to the team About page. In my second week, I started building a website redesign. I couldn’t be happier. My classmate, Min Ong (@ongmin), made the news for her General Assembly career transition. From a later batch, Gabrielle Ong made the news again in the Straits Time for her GA experience, not once, but twice (worked as Junior Engineer at TradeGecko).

People with absolutely no prior experience have found work in the $2-3k range (within the first 3 months), while the more experienced ones are earning $4k+ right away. Some have negotiated 4 day work weeks, others work remote and freelance. You may have to settle for a probationary period. Younger students found work more easily in places like Palo IT, ThoughtWorks, 99.co, Paula’s Choice.

2 weeks in and it has already been an incredible experience. I felt confident enough to join my first hackathon (UP Singapore’s Social Innovators Hackathon) and won best design at the hackathon 💰💰💰. In short: if you can keep up with the lessons, you will have real marketable skills.

Build a Supportive Network

Don’t discount the network you’ll build through working with others! My colleagues have gone on to work at GovTech, Healthtech firms, and even becoming hackathon organisers and community managers.

Good times with General Assembly Singapore, Batch Zero

Good times with General Assembly Singapore, Batch Zero

Example of a lesson at General Assembly Singapore

Footnotes

UPDATE 2017 - 2018: A lot has changed since Batch 1: my instructor Sebastiaan Deckers, moved on to even more exciting things, like getting married. Later batches were taught by Jeremiah Alexander, who was highly regarded, but he has since left too. I believe they are now changing up their instructional team. Classes are now held at Spacemob (Claymore Hill, Orchard) instead of The Working Capitol (Keong Saik Road). While I still return occasionally to talk to current students about transitioning from GA to a full-time dev, recent TA of Batch 7 Nick Ang would have a much better idea of current class conditions. You should read his review of WDI too and contact him there.

Recently, GA Singapore brought their current batch of students down to ReferralCandy to visit our office, where our engineering team shared about how we work. I had the chance to ask a few students what they thought about the course, and some raised concerns that the syllabus wasn’t as polished as they would have liked even after so many years.

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Happy Friday! We had the folks from General Assembly's Web Development Immersive (WDI) pay us a visit today at our ReferralCandy office! ⋅ Our product team led the session with Clark share about how we built to the product it is today, and Maythee breaking down our system's infrastructure. The team had a lot of fun fielding questions from the students and we're looking forward to their graduation event in December! 💪 ⋅ #ReferralCandyTeam #StartupLife #GeneralAssembly #gasingapore @ga_singapore

A post shared by ReferralCandy (@referralcandy) on

If you’d like to get in touch with me or a current General Assembly Singapore WDI student, please contact me via LinkedIn, my Github AMA repo, or Telegram.


Jared Tong is a software engineer based in 🇸🇬 Singapore. You should follow him on Github

Questions?

Have a question about this post, web development, or anything else? Ask away on Telegram or in my AMA github.