When I was in high school, the name of the game was to get good grades, score a job with a big firm or with the government. People worked hard to conform, to understand the requirements of the system and serve it well. The ones who were coding away their free time, starting their own lemonade stands, and doing ‘enterprising’ work had no place in the system.
But by the time I left university, the friends who were doing all sorts of quirky stuff during my high school days: starting blogs, running web design services, coding computer games – they all suddenly became well-sought after by tech firms. And yes they did well.
Today, these graduates don’t even bother joining firms, they go ahead and start their own, seeing that starting up, raising venture capital investment as a viable way to earn a living. In less than a decade, here in Singapore, a vibrant startup ecosystem have facilitated the ability for younger people to realise this dream.
Towards the end of 2010s, startups became a really glamorous thing. And while people might think of it as fueled by crazy valuation (for a large part it is), venture capital ecosystem, and just hype, there are other dimensions of this revamped entrepreneurship drive being galvanised in the current generation of graduates. But more than that, I think the sense of owning something, creating something from nothing is no longer out of reach as we have increasingly secured our basic survival.
It is vital for Singapore as a society to move towards this stage; but it would mean the bigger companies will have to work harder to acquire and develop their talents, especially the younger ones. The big incumbents, for the first time, may risk falling towards mediocrity as the quality of their workforce decrease gradually while the demands of the market increases. Automation, greater capital requirements will delay this process of decline, but without dealing with the human capital challenges, they would not stop the decline.