Vancouver-based startup and Yukon government partner up to teach coding to Whitehorse students

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      William Jakesta sits with 25 students in a swanky classroom on the third floor of a refurbished Gastown building, enjoying his first day at coder school.

      The Whitehorse native is an IT technician and—starting this week—one of five students from the Yukon attending Lighthouse Labs, a Vancouver-based developer boot camp that teaches professional coding skills.

      The students are part of the first pilot program born out of a partnership between the government of the Yukon and Lighthouse Labs. 

      “I recently registered my business—Night Owl Technologies—and I’m hoping to go full time into web development,” said Jakesta, a member of the Tahltan and Kaska First Nations.

      He hopes that his time at Lighthouse Labs will teach him the skills necessary to establish his new company in Whitehorse.

      Tech startups like Jakesta’s are what fueled the partnership between the Yukon government and Lighthouse Labs in the first place.

      Jeremy Shaki, co-founder of the Vancouver-based company, says that the Yukon government approached Lighthouse Labs after January’s HTML 500 event that helped teach HTML coding to 500 people in a single day.

      Their hope was to introduce more developer talent into the burgeoning tech scene in Whitehorse, Shaki said.

      “They’re really trying to encourage an economy within an isolated space like the Yukon,” he said.

      Jeremy Shaki is one of the co-founders of Lighthouse Labs, a Vancouver-based startup that teaches professional coding skills in eight weeks.
      Peter Mothe

      Shaki hopes that the new pilot program will be a continuation of the success that Lighthouse Labs has enjoyed since its establishment in 2013.

      To date, 190 students have graduated from its programs, and according to Shaki, 100 percent of those students are now working in the business, most of them as junior developers and coders. 

      Shaki prides himself in the number, but explains that this has to do with the growing demand for coders.

      “All industries are adding technology into their space,” Shaki said. “All of them are in need of coders.”

      By infusing new talent into Whitehorse, the program hopes to help its students continue developing the Yukon’s tech sector. 

      “I’m looking forward to seeing what the tech scene is like in the Yukon and how it’s going to blossom from this knowledge injection,” Jakesta said.

      He and the other Whitehorse students will be in Vancouver for three days, getting to know the instructors and rest of the cohort before flying back to Whitehorse to complete the rest of the program remotely. 

      There they will be studying at one of Whitehorse’s largest tech firms, communicating online with the teachers and students at Lighthouse Labs. 

      Over eight weeks, students will learn how to use current coding languages to create websites and develop software while also learning how to problem solve and adapt to an industry that’s under constant evolution.

      For Don Burks, the head instructor at Lighthouse Labs, there is no doubt that students’ new coding skills will be in demand in the Yukon and elsewhere around the world.

      “Ask yourself what you do today that does not include technology,” said Burks, who called coding “the new literacy”.

      “As more and more of our lives are touched by technology, that literacy and that ability to communicate how to solve a problem to a computer is going to become even more important,” he said.

      Jakesta agrees with his new teacher. Even in a remote place like the Yukon, he sees a “potential need of new coders”. 

      And learning how to code in just eight weeks is an opportunity he couldn’t let pass.

      “In the Yukon, there’s nothing like it,” he explained.

      Peter Mothe is a practicum student at the Georgia Straight and a graduate student at UBC's school of journalism. You can follow him on Twitter.