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Chang Sau Sheong: Debunking a coder’s world

Hear how Chang Sau Sheong went from knowing nothing about coding to becoming the “Codefather”, and he tells us why the most important tech career skills are not necessarily technical

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Photos: J.Judisun Photography

Thanks to decades of pop culture and preconception, the stereotypes of programmers are usually unflattering and mostly unappealing – as Chang Sau Sheong candidly (and rightly so) articulated and reminded this writer over tea.

“The depiction of a programmer on TV,” he said, “has always been that of a loner [playing] with a Rubik’s cube, socially awkward, mathematically [gifted] and sometimes even bordering on an autistic kind of personality.”

“Programmers are no different from anybody else except that they are more methodical when it comes to solving problems,” he added.

Sau Sheong went on to share the extent of such misconceptions perpetuated by movies and television shows of the typical programmer: male in a hoodie, sitting in a dark room and not talking to a soul for two weeks while trying to build a software.

“That’s all a myth!” (Laughs)

And if you ever think that the career path of a software developer would be a boring one for creative folks – you are probably wrong.

To be a good programmer requires a little more than merely knowing how to code, says Sau Sheong, who’s widely known as the “Codefather” for being the oldest active coder in the industry.

The best ones, according to the master himself, are those who can solve problems creatively, possess good interpersonal and empathy skills.

“Anyone can learn to code [because] understanding programming is not difficult but to be able to do it well, that’s very different,” said the 44-year-old.

“Programming isn’t just about creating software. It requires problem-solving skills and most importantly, you have to be able to think creatively, understand the client’s needs and work well with others.”

And it is precisely the creative aspect from software development that got Sau Sheong hooked and led him to an illustrious tech career that has spanned over two decades, and counting.

In truth, Sau Sheong never planned on becoming a programmer.

The self-described creative had wanted to become a journalist and “influence people with [his] writing” but a turn of events as a result of parental objection eventually landed him with a computer engineering degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 1995.

“It was quite a terrifying experience for me when I first started [in NTU],” he recalled the time when he didn't know much about software, “But it turned out alright because there are actually a lot of outlets for people to show their creativity.” 

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