Once nearly dropping out of secondary school, Aden Koh is now working hard towards his dream of being the best developer in the world.
He sits in front of his computer, fingers gliding across the keyboard in swift movements.
Eyes glued to the screen, Aden Koh is developing games, rather than playing them. He spells out strings of codes and scans through each line, trying to single out misspelled characters. The 21-year-old does this diligently every night in hopes of getting closer to his goal – to become a renowned developer one day.
It all began when Aden was 12, as he got hooked on games such as MapleStory and Tom Clancy’s. While others clicked away at their keyboards mindlessly, Aden found himself drawn to finding out more about how these games were made.
With an inquisitive mind, he started to research more on how to program games through websites like Udemy and YouTube, eventually getting the hang of it after countless tutorials.
“After a few years, I no longer really watch videos for tutorials. The programming skills I have now, I keep refining them with experience… It’s more like an experience-based refinement skill,” says Aden.
“There are common stereotypes like how we programmers always copy from Stackoverflow but as you get more and more experienced, you’ll know that that’s untrue because programming in itself is actually an art which you innovate. It’s a process that allows you to take an idea and make it into reality.”
Evidently far from a typical Singaporean youth, Aden currently works as a freelance developer while juggling a full-time scholarship at Temasek Polytechnic, where he studies game design and development. He has also won the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Technology Award and a gold medal at WorldSkills Singapore (WSS).
Suffice to say, Aden is on the path towards success already. But his journey wasn’t all smooth-sailing.
He admitted that he almost dropped out of secondary school, after facing some family issues. Then, he fell ill while taking his N-Level exam and did not perform as well as expected. Unwilling to undergo another year of secondary school as he had retained before, Aden applied for a place in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) via the Direct Entry Scheme to Polytechnic Programme (DPP) instead.
While in ITE’s Higher Nitec in Electronics Engineering, Aden picked up a lot of technical skills which greatly complemented his programming abilities. Then in 2019, he won an award in the Sigfox University Challenge Top Worldwide Project through his Smart Temperature Monitoring innovation.
Prompted by his past experiences with temperature taking sessions in schools being too time consuming and unhygienic, Aden created a non-contact, automated temperature taking device. His innovation helped to reduce the duration of the exercise from 30 minutes to 10 minutes.
Now excelling in Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma in Game Design and Development with a 3.88 cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA), Aden is maximising his potential by applying what he’s learnt, beyond the classroom.
In 2021, Aden participated in WSS, at the request of his lecturer Dr Sathish Sritharan who was greatly impressed by the work he had done thus far. Surprisingly, he was asked to take part in the Mobile Applications Development trade category, something that was completely new to him.
For the in-house qualifier round, Aden had to develop an application for the Grassroots Committee. As he studied game development and not mobile development, it was difficult for him to transition between this and coursework. He was also up against his fellow peers from the Diploma in Information Technology who specialised in mobile development.
But Aden never gave up and developed a Grassroots Mobile Application for a grassroots organisation in the West to regulate the committees’ and their zones’ data digitally.
With the application, Grassroot members no longer have to deal with the hassle of documenting data on pieces of paper and filing them in physically. The application also has features like a block management system and an events management system. This makes the creating and hosting of events for residents much smoother.
“He (Dr Sathish) was quite impressed with the work I’ve done so he asked me if I wanted to try mobile development,” recalls Aden.
“In mobile development, we use this term called object-oriented programming (OOP) so it’s quite similar with whatever other programming languages I do. That’s why it was easy to swap between the different programming languages, and that’s why I was able to excel.”
Through this, Aden was able to prove his competency and was selected as one of the two to represent the school at the competition, though he said it was “quite challenging” for him to beat the odds considering the other students up for selection did mobile development almost every day.
Eventually, he won the gold medal at WSS with his performance.
Aside from partaking in competitions, Aden also hones his skills by taking on small freelancing projects under his alias, Astero.
One such project is Companions, a plugin he developed for Minecraft server owners so they can create an endless number of cute and custom companions that float beside their built-in avatars.
Depending on the server, the companion can give the user an extra ability like strength or jump.
“I know Minecraft servers might sound a bit childish but I’m actually making money from it. Server owners can purchase my project for around 5.50USD (S$7.50),” shares Aden.
As of now, his program has accumulated 2,524 downloads.
Even though this program was released in 2020, he has been updating it with improved versions. So far, the program has had five updates since the date of its release.
Aden’s positive attitude towards learning doesn’t just stop at his studies and programming work.
He was nominated by his school to be a UiPath Student Champion. It’s a respected title held by outstanding students who have shown the capacity to lead their student body.
As a UiPath Student Champion, Aden’s responsibility is to liaise with the company UiPath and his campus to ideate ways on how to raise awareness on Robotic Process Automation, a software technology that allows robots to emulate human actions, with the rest of his schoolmates.
While he has yet to execute any plans, Aden is slowly but surely progressing to become a more well-rounded individual, with the support of his school.
His next step to success is securing an internship with Nexon and Ubisoft, the video game companies which created the very games he fell in love with when he was 12 – MapleStory and the Tom Clancy’s franchise.
For now, his upcoming projects include a collaboration with Tan Tock Seng Hospital. As the project is still underway, Aden wishes to specific details of the game as a surprise.
Despite his achievements so far, Aden remains humble. He says he doesn’t see himself as successful yet, because he still has lots to learn.
He says: “My definition of success is not where I am yet. My definition of success is where I’m, able to share my success story with people and to motivate them. And, as cliche as it sounds, I want to be the best developer in the world.”
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