Web developer Billiam Liu finds his place in Vancouver's software industry without a degree in computing science

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      Vancouver resident Billiam Liu doesn't fit the public's stereotype of a web developer. That's because he doesn’t have a degree in computer science and he never did any computer programming while growing up on Vancouver Island. 

      In fact, Liu studied commerce at the University of Victoria—not exactly a ticket into working with JavaScript or Ruby.

      “I have some experience fixing computers, mostly taking things apart and putting them back together, just as a hobby,” Liu tells the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Yet in three months and with a great deal of perseverance, Liu learned how to become a web developer and has found employment with a software developer.

      Liu credits the Lighthouse Labs Web Development Bootcamp in downtown Vancouver. It's a fully immersive, eight-week, data-driven curriculum with plenty of industry mentors onsite.

      Taught face-to-face over 550 hours, including weekends, it simulates the experiences of a software developer in the real world. 

      “One of the reasons I went into software was I realized I needed to be challenged all the time on the job,” Liu explains. “Otherwise, I get bored.”

      There’s a 7-1 student-mentor ratio and each class has around 20 students. This enables people with no coding knowledge to become job-ready junior developers in a remarkably short period of time.

      Lighthouse Labs’ Rebecca Haliburton tells the Straight that the objective is to help graduates become “polyglot developers comfortable with multiple different [computer] languages”.

      Lighthouse Labs allows students to bring their bikes indoors.

      Only about 30 percent of applicants are accepted into the bootcamp, and this only comes after going through four weeks of remote prep work. But if they succeed, there’s an excellent chance of finding employment.

      “Within 90 days of our program, we actually have an over 95 percent career placement rate with over 500 grads now,” Haliburton says. “Our goal is really to empower people to take ownership of their own digital literacy. Our other mandate is to find the best ways to train the next generation of developers.”

      In essence, the program was built by developers for developers.

      Below, you can read the Straight’s edited interview with Liu.

      When did you enroll in the Lighthouse Labs Web Development Bootcamp?

      I went to a bootcamp in February, the beginning of February, until the beginning of April. It was full-time. It was roughly 12 hours a day even on weekends.

      What did you learn?

      Basically everything related to making web applications. So rather than just making a website, it's actually making a program that handles a lot of different logic in the web. For example, we did an Instagram clone while there: the very basic functions of how Instagram works. How to handle user registration, how to handle security, how to handle all the different aspects of making an application work in the web.

      What experience did you have before you went to the Lighthouse Labs?

      I've always been interested in programming because I thought it's super cool to be able to make your own stuff—make your own project—and see it work and come alive. But before going to Lighthouse, I never really had the motivation to do it myself because I had to learn programming.

      Why did you choose Lighthouse Labs?

      I decided to go to Lighthouse because of the curriculum from beginning to end. There were different levels and the progression was very good.

      Were you in school for 12 hours a day? Can you explain that?

      We started classes at 9 a.m.—usually from 9 to 12 most days. Three hours of class in the morning. The rest of the day, we were mostly working on our own assignments. They would give us a list of assignments to work on. We either did them together with another student or we would do then ourselves. There were always mentors floating around after the lectures to help us with everything that we need.

      What can you tell us about the mentors at Lighthouse Labs?

      They have tons of mentors. I think that was very valuable talking to mentors and having the mentors teach me stuff that is industry-related and having them talk to me about experience in the real world.

      What was the most challenging aspect of going to bootcamp?

      Just the progression. You’ll see people start off knowing almost nothing and progressing into making a functioning web application. The amount of knowledge they cover and the different areas of they cover is astonishing, really.

      Can you speak more about the progression at Lighthouse Labs?

      We started off with some Ruby. It's an introductory language to programming. That led into the progression to Ruby on Rails, which is a quite popular server framework that people use. It's still very, very popular. After that, we made our first midterm project and then switched gears into doing JavaScript. JavaScript runs mostly in a browser so it's the language for web because every browser supports JavaScript and almost nothing else. We switched gear to JavaScript and learned to use Node Server on the back end. After Node, we started getting to more advanced topics, like server architecture and the different ways to store a database.

      What else did you discover?

      We also learned things like web security. We learned a little bit about how to scale your server and what kind of architecture would be more useful for quickly scaling—and some algorithms as well. One of the mentors was super into algorithms. We would have a separate breakout lecture on his own time because he was interested and some students were interested. On his own time he would sit there and talk about algorithms, such as the Big-O efficiency—how efficient your algorithm is, and things like that. When we started it was Ruby and JavaScript. This September they're switching to JavaScript first and then into Ruby, somewhat because of the industry demand. That’s because JavaScript is everywhere whereas Ruby is not. They're using React as part of the curriculum to teach how a front-end framework would work rather than having everything done on the server side.

      Where do you see things going from here in your career?

       I'm working with a software developer right now. I think software is one of the only industries that I'm always challenged on the job and I'm always learning. So I will likely stay as a web developer and progress in this industry from a junior to an intermediate to a senior.