Home is where the heart and business is for this Anak Malaysia who despite studying, living and working abroad, has returned to do his bit for the nation by starting a programming academy.
FIVE years ago, Josh Teng was excited to complete his degree, just like any college student.
But, in the midst of his final exams, his plans came to a halt when he was rushed to the hospital’s emergency room at 2am due to a severe stomach ache which lasted for six hours.
Tests revealed that his intestines were twisted and wrapped around blood vessels, which cut off the blood and oxygen supply to the bowels.
The cause of this? He had a medical condition where his abdominal organs were reversed.
“I did not recover, and could not eat or drink, even after two surgeries,” shared Teng, who was studying industrial engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States (US).
He ended up spending 40 days in the hospital.
And, even after being released, Teng suffered from severe dehydration, fainting and muscle failure as he would vomit up over four litres daily.
“By the end of the year, I got really tired. In 2011, I decided to drop out of college and return to Malaysia,” he said.
Because of what he went through, Teng refused to “waste his life doing something lame”.
“I returned to the US to work and complete my degree, but I just couldn’t put myself through all of that again.
“I just knew that I wanted to do something more meaningful than what I was doing at that time,” he said.
Returning to Malaysia turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the now 26-year-old, who was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur.
Having always been passionate about coding and empowering people with the right skill sets to go after their dreams, it made sense for Teng, now 26, towork on something related to the field.
“I had a hard time learning how to code on my own, and it took me some time before I was comfortable enough to call myself a software engineer.
“Going to school for four years isn’t enough as most Computer Science graduates will tell you that there is so much more to be learnt to be an ‘up-to-date’ web or mobile developer,” he said.
While in San Francisco, Teng attended a nine-week “bootcamp”, which he called “an amazing experience”.
“I found myself wishing there were more immersive coding programmes in Malaysia and even Southeast Asia, like the ‘bootcamp’ I attended.”
Initially, he was asked to start a similar programme in Singapore but unfortunately, the plans fell through.
Though he wanted to give up on his plans, Teng stuck to his guns, with the backing of the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) chief executive officer Cheryl Yeoh.
“The region is really growing, and this was my chance to be a pioneer in the industry and help grow our local tech scene,” he said.
So, in 2014, Code Division, now known as NEXT Academy, was born. To date, they have had over a hundred students.
In partnership with MaGIC, the nine-week programme aims to build an ecosystem to equip passionate individuals to be great tech entrepreneurs, marketers and developers.
Although 75% of students had no prior coding experience before the bootcamp, almost all of them went on to build their own startups or join existing companies such as GrabTaxi, Manulife, MindValley, RevAsia and more.
Asked if he had any regrets about not continuing to work in the US, Teng said he has not thought about it, as his experience here “has been very, very satisfying”.
“It has definitely been a really good choice to come back. Over there, I’d just be another developer.
“But here, I’ve gotten the chance to brush up on skills, beyond being a software engineer,” he said.
An added advantage for Malaysians working in Malaysia is the insider’s knowledge that they already possess.
“We know the problems and we have our network here. In another country, we might be able to acquaint ourselves but we’re often just a stranger in a strange land there.”
So, having worked in the US and Singapore before, one might wonder if working in Malaysia really matters to him.
“Although it’s good to go overseas to gain some experience, my advice is to always come back home.
“Challenge yourselves and try something different. We can change things if we come back home and do meaningful work,” said Teng.
He said that he “missed the Malaysian way of life” when he was living abroad.
“One of the things that really drew me back here was the people. I just love how we are – a lot less formal and relaxed with each other.”
“So, there is definitely an attachment (to Malaysia) for me. Home will always be home, regardless.”