HTML500 and Lighthouse Labs bootcamp mentors ignite passion for web development

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      When the HTML500 was held at Vancouver’s Rocky Mountaineer Station in 2015, it was the largest free learn-to-code event in Canadian history. Among the hundreds of participants was Kevin Blues, then a part-time British Columbia Institute of Technology student working for minimum wage in a shipping-and-receiving job.

      Organized by Lighthouse Labs, the HTML500 brought out representatives from 50 of Vancouver’s tech companies looking to hire talented tech workers. “They had tons of mentors walking around,” Blues recalled in a phone interview with the Straight. “If you needed to ask for help or clarification on anything, you just could.”

      He was impressed that these mentors were all working full-time in their field. And he remembered many of them telling him that they had gone through the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp, which is a comprehensive eight-week web-development program offered in its funky Gastown premises.

      This encouraged him to research the program before enrolling a few weeks later.

      “It is challenging,” he said. “Mainly, it’s a big-time commitment and it’s also a new way of thinking for a lot of people.”

      After graduating, Blues said, he scheduled a bunch of interviews and quickly found a job as a web developer with an online-education platform called Thinkific.

      “I couldn’t be happier with my experience with Lighthouse and the HTML500,” Blues said. “Without both of them, I wouldn’t be where I am. I would still probably be slaving away to carve my way into this industry.”

      The next HTML500 is scheduled for next March in Vancouver.

      “Our goal with the HTML500 is to help introduce as many people as possible to the idea of digital literacy,” Rebecca Haliburton of Lighthouse Labs told the Straight by phone. “We really want to give them the tools that they need in order to be champions in their own understanding of how technology works and how they interact with it on a daily basis."

      Watch this video to learn more about the HTML500.

      Blues said that when he was attending BCIT, his goal was to work in video games. But his time at Lighthouse ignited a passion for web development.

      He learned how to program with the computer language Ruby, which he never knew before attending bootcamp. “I’ve been working in it for a year and a half now,” he said. “It’s just been great. I never thought I would actually love web development and working with the Internet. But there are always new and complex problems to solve that are so interesting.”

      He mentioned that he knew a little bit about JavaScript before signing up for bootcamp, but only on the front end. His final group project was entirely in Node.js, which is a JavaScript used on the back end.

      “Now that Lighthouse has changed its curriculum a bit, it’s more focused on Node.js,” Blues stated.

      So what does it take to get through the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp? Blues said it’s a myth that people need outstanding math ability to become web developers. He suggested that strong problem-solving skills are far more important to succeed.

      Kevin Blues found his stride in the tech industry after graduating from a Lighthouse Labs bootcamp.
      Miya Gu Photography

      According to Blues, an average day in the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp started with a lecture lasting up to two hours. That would be followed by assignments related to what the students had just learned. There would also be breakout sessions with mentors in the afternoon.

      Some mentors remained on the premises into the evening, offering words of advice to the keeners who stuck around.

      “There were some people who didn’t leave until 11 at night most days just because they were talking to people from other businesses or wanting to look up more things and getting excited about it,” Blues said.

      Below, you can read an edited version of the Georgia Straight's interview with Kevin Blues

      GS: How did you learn about the HTML 500?

      KB: I found out about it only shortly before it happened. And I think it was only a week or two beforehand, so I signed up. It was really because I wanted to build up my knowledge of the [workings of a] website and meet more people in industry. And so I ended up going. It was great. There were just a bunch of people at tables. It was in a huge room and they had this huge projection set-up. They had tons of mentors walking around. Basically at every table, there was someone there dedicated to it. If you needed to ask for help or clarification on anything, you just could. I had done a bit of the HTML stuff before so I go through it fairly quickly. So I started talking to mentors there and they kept suggesting...adding animations beyond the résumé page. After that, I asked how the mentors got here, and how they got into the HTML500. They said they had all gone through Lighthouse Labs. Then I asked every person: do you actually work in the field now? And they said yes. That's what kind of pushed me forward to Lighthouse Labs.

      GS: When did you enroll in Lighthouse Labs?

      KB: A few weeks later, I researched the program and enrolled. I did my interview and got in. I had been working early mornings for minimum wage at the time just trying to put myself through computer science classes at BCIT. Then I decided to take a leap of faith with Lighthouse Labs. I didn't know too many people that were there. I wasn't able to get anything going until I started the bootcamp. I left my job—basically put my job behind a few months—and every day I was able to talk to more instructors. Because Lighthouse is connected to the Launch Academy, I was able to talk to entrepreneurs and people running their own business and getting ideas off the ground. By the end of the program, I ended up having, like, seven interviews scheduled for one week. I ended up getting a bunch of job interviews just from that. And the actual business side, the actual career services of Lighthouse, was amazing. They're constantly helping you through the program and they help coach you to making yourself viable in the industry and how to go further.

      GS: What did you learn in bootcamp?

      KB: I really learned about just web development in general. My background was more just regular programming. Originally, I wanted to get started working on video games. Working in web ended up being so interesting—just learning how the Internet worked, how people got their ideas together, the different tools they used. We ended up learning Ruby on Rails. As a programming language, I didn't even know Ruby before. I've grown to love it. I've been working in it for a year and a half now. It's just been great. I never thought I would actually love web development and working with the Internet. But there's always new and complex problems to solve that are so interesting.

      Whenever Lighthouse Labs offers free coding instruction at the HTML500, a big crowd shows up.
      Miya Gu Photography

      GS: Did you learn about JavaScript or did you already know about it before you started?

      KB: I knew a little bit about JavaScript but only on the front end. Now that Lighthouse has changed their curriculum a bit, it's more focused on Node JS on the back end. We touched on that a bit but that was before the curriculum changed over. But the final project that my group worked on was all in Node JS. That was very interesting to write in.

      GS: What happened after you got out of the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp program?

      KB: Immediately after the program, I started work at Thinkific, an online education platform. I was a junior web developer. At first, it was a development team of two people, just myself and the lead developer. I think we were a team of eight people together in total. And a year and a half down the road, I've had full-time work consistently with them. We're up to almost 30 people now. We've hired four more web developers in that time—another person from Lighthouse as well, actually.

      GS: How important was Lighthouse in launching your career?

      KB: It was integral. I tried to get into the tech industry beforehand. I found that everywhere I was looking demanded either a degree or even beyond that just for an entry-level position. With Lighthouse, I was able to talk to people who were trying to get an idea off the ground and who wanted new developers, and to kind of carve out good developers out of them.

      Mentors helped Kevin Blues feel at home at the HTML500 in 2015.
      Miya Gu Photography

      GS: What advice do you have for someone who might be thinking about Lighthouse? What types of skills would they need before getting involved?

      KB: A big one, I would say, would be problem solving. You don't need the strongest math skills. A lot of people think programming requires good math. Really, you have to be able to solve problems and start off at the really general sense. And then you just need to be able to break it down smaller and smaller until basically you can give anyone the most simple instructions to follow to do that thing. Also, you have to be interested in it. It takes a lot of research on your own time as well, and you have to keep up to date with new technologies. Technology doesn't stop improving. You have to be ready to use it.

      GS: What would an average day be like for a student in bootcamp?

      KB: An hour and a half to two hours in a lecture. Then after that, most of the day is just working on assignments that they've given that gets into the material you've just learned. If anyone expresses extra interest in getting more detail out of the topic of the day or if people come in with a concept, they will get some mentors do what's called a breakout session in the afternoon. Then you take an hour, an hour and a half, to go through the material there. Then basically you go until you're finished your assignment for the day or as late as you want to stay. There were some people who didn't leave until 11 at night most days just because they were talking to people from other businesses or wanting to look up more things and just got excited about it.

      GS: It sounds like it was fairly challenging

      KB: It is challenging. Mainly, it's a big time commitment and it's also a new way of thinking for a lot of people. Thinking in terms of working with a computer and giving it these instructions. It's difficult to learn at first. But once you get the hang of it, it really opens up everything else.

      GS: Kevin, you've done a great job explaining everything.

      KB: Thank you. I couldn't be happier with my experience with Lighthouse and the HTML500. Without both of them, I wouldn't be where I am.