Lighthouse Labs launches front-end fundamentals to boost digital skills of managers, marketers, and designers

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      In today’s wired world, marketers, managers, designers, and other professionals sometimes feel they’re at the mercy of IT departments. That’s because so many tasks require digital literacy.

      With that in mind, Lighthouse Labs is launching a new part-time course to help people in the workforce learn how websites and web pages work.

      The Gastown tech-training school’s cofounder and head of education, Khurram Virani, told the Straight by phone that the front-end fundamentals course will be offered twice a week in January. Classes will start at 6 p.m., lasting three hours, and the entire course can be completed in six weeks..

      “The technology that they’ll be learning is HTML and CSS,” Virani explained. “They’ll learn coding with languages like JavaScript to make their web pages more interactive. As well, they’ll be using libraries like jQuery to make the web page even richer.”

      He emphasized that students will feel empowered when they practise building web pages. They’ll also learn how to make the most out of a WordPress website after discovering how web pages are rendered.

      Lighthouse Labs has attracted nationwide attention for its daylong HTML500 events, which are the largest free learn-to-code sessions in cities across Canada.

      It already offers full-time web-development and iOS-development boot camps to kick-start careers as web developers. There’s also a part-time intro to web development course in the evenings for people in the workforce.

      The head of marketing and sales at Lighthouse Labs, Tiffany Chester, told the Straight by phone that the front-end fundamentals is ideal for those who need to understand the languages and processes of the Internet so they can communicate better with developers, colleagues, customers, and contractors.

      It can also help them make better use of tools like WordPress or Shopify.

      “We help people skill up for the new reality,” Chester said. “Courses like this new front-end fundamentals have a broad appeal to a whole variety of different professionals.”

      She noted that much marketing takes place nowadays in the digital arena through platforms such as Google Analytics, HubSpot, and Hootsuite. It can save time and expense if people in this field can perform basic tech tasks without having to go through the IT department.

      “Unless you know a little bit about it, you’re in no real position to make intelligent decisions that actually might have a big impact on how you operate in a couple of years’ time,” Chester emphasized. “Learning the very basics of code, marketers will be better able to work with analytics, with their agencies, with their tech teams.”

      According to Virani, the front-end fundamentals course zeroes in on how users experience websites. It pays a great deal of attention to design, touching on branding and colours. The intro to web development, on the other hand, provides a high-level view by also focusing on what happens on the back end of websites.

      For more information, visit the Lighthouse Labs website or the front-end fundamentals web page.

      Below, you can read an edited transcript of the Georgia Straight interview with Khurram Virani and Tiffany Chester:

      Georgia Straight: Where did the idea come from to create this new front-end fundamentals course?

      Khurram Virani: There are actually multiple sources. We already do a lot of different sessions that focus on teaching people A, how to code, and B, how to code on the web with things like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create websites and webpages. But we were and are doing them as small little workshops or large countrywide events like the HTML 500—which we ran multiple times in Vancouver and across Canada—where we taught in a single day how to create a very simple landing page that they could get comfortable with. So we would go into HTML and CSS. And that event got such incredible turnout and incredible registration to the point where there was a waiting list of people coming to the door on a Saturday. They were sacrificing an entire Saturday to learn to code with either their kids or their friends. Just having conversations with those attendees gave us an idea of what people are looking for. There was a huge demand by people after taking a workshop like that, saying "Hey, I would love to go further in this. I didn't realize I would enjoy this so much." Or that "it ties so succinctly into what I do. Even though what I do isn't coding, this is incredibly valuable." So the idea of it came from talking to a lot of people.

      Georgia Straight: What are you hoping to accomplish with the front-end fundamentals?

      Khurram Virani: It's a multipronged approach. First and foremost, it is an introductory program. So it basically allows people who have never coded before—but have obviously used things like websites and web pages on the Internet—and are curious about how they work. Maybe in the future, they want to actually be involved in being a software developer. But to be honest, it's really for anybody who has the curiosity and interest, either for personal reasons or professional reasons. So the goal really is to educate people on how the Internet works in terms of webpages and websites, really allowing them to practise building some, and feel empowered that it's not very difficult. And if they want, they can go even further beyond this course to continue learning either on their own or through other course work. So it's a combination of inspiring them and empowering them and also allowing them to work better with technology that they are essentially always going to be affected by. No matter what you really do, you're affected by technology, no matter what industry you work in.

      Georgia Straight: The Internet is affecting so many occupations. What types of people would be well-suited to enroll in a course like this?

      Tiffany Chester: Some of the most exciting marketing experiences today are built on the creative uses of technology. So in order to be effective as a marketer, you need a good working knowledge of technology even if that's just to enable you to ask the right questions of your internal tech team or your digital agency or contractors that you're working with. Even as simple as being able to assess the price quote and the work order that they give back to you. So much of marketing, especially in the digital space, is driven by automation and technology. Unless you know a little bit about it, you're really in no real position to make intelligent decisions that actually might have quite a big impact on how you operate in a couple of years' time. Learning the very basics of code, marketers will be better able to work with analytics, with their agencies, with their tech teams. They'll be able make fixes that sometimes otherwise would have had to go to their tech team. Like for instance, if I want to adjust how an email template looks or I want to restyle one of my landing pages. The amount of time and money that would take if I don't have any level of digital literacy—it really slows down your capabilities and adds to your marketing costs. If I even have the basic level of knowledge, I can quite quickly fix those things on the fly and keep all my marketing operations happening quite succinctly.

      Georgia Straight: Does this mean that they'll be learning things in addition to HTML, such as JavaScript or Node JS?

      Khurram Virani: The technology that they'll be learning is HTML, CSS, how to code with languages like JavaScript to make their webpages interactive. As well, they'll be using libraries like jQuery to make the program, make the webpage even richer.

      Tiffany Chester: In marketing too, HubSpot, Google Analytics, Hootsuite, WordPress—all of these things all require some combination of those technologies in order to truly use their capabilities. So having an understanding of those languages will just enable you to do more with all of those tools. They become part of a digital marketer's toolset today.

      Khurram Virani: Another demographic that I think could really benefit for a program like this are people who already work as designers. They use different tools to design branding or websites but they have to turn their designs into actual websites. I am constantly approached by people who have this skill and want to take it further so they can work better with the developers that work with them and actually communicate their designs better. They will know more about the limitations of webpages they're building as well as their capabilities better, and can actually code the webpages that they design. This includes web designers. It includes UI designers. It includes UX designers, as they're called in the industry. These people are people are technical but they're technical in a creative-art way as opposed to being able to code. This course allows them bring that into their knowledge base and be A, more employable, and B, just more powerful with what they build.

      Tiffany Chester: I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine who is an amazing professional photographer in town and was mentioning this new course. She is extremely interested in it because of how much it can impact her business. She markets herself a lot on the web. Again, someone who has design skills in that creative-art sense. Not only does she take photos, she does the retouching. She does all those design elements. She thought that this would be particularly beneficial for her business.

      Khurram Virani: Another example is anybody who is either currently or thinking about working with something like WordPress. WordPress is a very prominent tool that a lot of non-coders who don't HTML, CSS, and JavaScript use and, in some cases, use successfully in a limited way. But they quickly find that without knowing the inner workings of how a webpage is rendered and how it works, it's hard for them to actually take it all the way. To be able to use WordPress to really build the website that they want—front-end fundamentals helps—though it doesn't focus too heavily on WordPress. It focuses on the technologies that WordPress uses so you can have a better understanding how it works within. Then you can do more advanced editing of your web pieces to make them look more customed to your business or customed to your clients' needs.

      Tiffany Chester: Everybody is using WordPress today. If you own a restaurant, you're probably doing your site off a WordPress template of some sort. The same if you're doing a small e-commerce business. So if you've got some specialized product line, you're probably using one of the Shopify templates and plugging it in. The ability to customize those, make them look unique, plug in the pieces that you need—whether that's the Open Table reservation system for your restaurant or some other reservation system—just having knowledge of the JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and how to style it can make it look good. And understand the widgets that you're plugging in will make your site so much more robust.

      Georgia Straight: Does Lighthouse have an education philosophy or guiding principle to how it engages with students?

      Khurram Virani: Absolutely. It's a philosophy that not only translates into this new course but also our existing ones: our bootcamp programs, our existing intro to web development course. We take, for example, a very project-oriented approach to our teaching. There are a lot of tools and courses out there that teach with small little examples, where you work in isolation and you get to learn to code a little bit. But you're not really sure why you're learning what you're learning. It can be kind of demotivating or hard to even understand how to even use the thing that you're learning in the real world. So with our projects, we try to make them as realistic as possible so people can learn in a fun way but also be able to relate to what they're learning. We allow room for people to be creative and focus on things that excite them. Everybody is different. Not only do they have different ways of learning, but they also have different things that they want to focus on. Some might want to focus on the HTML side, others more on CSS, and so on. So giving them that flexibility in a project to be able to collaborate and find other like-minded people in the classroom to work together on a project—these are things that we make sure that we don't have too many constraints around in our program, and actually encourage them to do. Our program is also very hands-on. So instead of relying too much on lectures, it's very much about "the only way you're going to learn this stuff is to really experience it. And the only way to experience it is to start writing code." Yes, there are a lot of teachers that are present to help and display how to write the code, but at the same time, you're encouraged to either pair up with someone in the class or individually to start working on the actual website that the projects have you working on. The third is, as a result, a very high teacher-to-student ratio. We have mentors and instructors available in the class so that even though you're only there for a few hours each evening, you're able to get the most out of that time.

      Georgia Straight: So you have the mentors for front-end fundamentals in the same way as you do for the bootcamps?

      Khurram Virani: Exactly. Because it's hands-on and you're creating things. You're constantly either running into issues or questions. Mentors are there to facilitate.

      Georgia Straight: What are the differences between intro to web development and front-end fundamentals?

      Khurram Virani: Both are part-time classes. They're both in the evenings for people who have busy lives but are interested in learning to code. They start at 6 o'clock. They both spend time introducing you to code in different ways. They're both focused on modern web technologies and they have the same teaching style. What's different about them is that the existing intro to web development program is more high-level. So while it does have a lot of hands-on software development, it focuses on both the front-end design aspect but also what happens behind the scenes of a website or a web application. Like Facebook, for example, and how they manage their data, how things integrate with each other, and how different websites talk to each other. This is something that's more of a focus in the existing intro to web development program. Another way to call it is the Full Stack Program. With the example of e-commerce, the new front-end fundamentals would really focus on how the user would experience an e-commerce page in terms of how it would look and feel and flow, the user interface, the user experience, the design, and the content. Everything from as simple as the colour border, the backgrounds, or video elements, things of that nature, or even the interactivity of that page are focused in the front-end fundamentals. The intro to web development would go into that a little bit but because it's also covering other things, it wouldn't go into as much depth as front end. Instead, it goes behind the scenes into how the e-commerce system would work. How transactions would be handled. How inventory would be managed and how data would be flowed into the system, and how the orders would be processed. So it gives you a more high-level picture of the whole system and how it works. It's more high-level how as opposed to a more deep dive. So more breadth versus depth.

      Tiffany Chester: It also goes back to audiences. If you work in a company that has a web application or you're a product manager on a team or you're a nontechnical product manager working with developers to develop some sort of web application, and you need to understand the process or the lingo, it's a very good course for you.

      Georgia Straight: You already offer existing bootcamp programs for both web and iOS, which are full-time programs. How are these part-time programs different?

      Khurram Virani: They're actually quite different. Both the front-end and intro to web development are very much introductory programs for people who have existing jobs or existing commitments. They can take hem to further their knowledge and augment their skill sets. The bootcamp is very much not just learning to code but becoming a developer. So the idea is that you actually commit your entire time, more than two months, to actually learn how to craft these web apps and websites or mobile apps as a career. So it's a very much career-focused program that not only has the education side but also focusing on how to even enter the job market. And how to actually have a career as a software developer. So one is more career and software-developer focused, which is there are many, many more hours of time spent. The part-time ones are more skill augmentation and professional development, and of course, inspiration, and all the nice things that come with getting introduced to a new thing. A lot of our students are maybe not sure if they want to jump into a career as a software developer. But they're toying with the idea. So they're known to sometimes take our programs to test the waters. They're not ready to quit their jobs or leave whatever they're doing at the time. So they want to look at experimenting a little bit with front end or full-stack web development before they take the full boot camp.

      Tiffany Chester: So how do you skill up for the new reality. It's a big question mark and it was a big part of our very large push at the B.C. Tech Summit. That, in reality, is what we do here at Lighthouse. We help people skill up for the new reality. And courses like this new front-end fundamentals have a broad appeal to a whole variety of different professionals. It's delivered in a way such that it can get you those basics that you need to be more effective in those roles over six weeks—and around the work hours.