Katie Peterson was a chemical engineer for 7 years before moving from Idaho to Calgary, Canada. After having a hard time finding a position in the oil and gas industry, she decided to transition into tech and start learning to code. Katie walks us through her coding bootcamp journey, first attending The HTML500 hosted by Lighthouse Labs, then committing to their Intro to Web Development program, and finally diving into the full-time iOS Development Bootcamp. Learn about Katie’s new job as an iOS Developer!
Tell us about your pre-Lighthouse Labs story!
My background is in chemical engineering, and I worked in Idaho at a semiconductor manufacturer for about seven years. I decided to move to Calgary, Alberta, with my husband (where he grew up), where the most prevalent industry is oil and petroleum gas. I had a hard time finding a position that I thought would be like a good fit in relation to what I was doing before.
One of the things that I liked in my previous job was that it was very high tech, and it was certainly cutting edge. I decided to learn to code in order to stay in a high tech field.
Did you try to learn to code on your own before researching coding bootcamps?
I did use some online resources like Codecademy. I also participated in ChicGeek, which is a non-profit that hosted Ladies Learning Code workshops, and then The HTML500. Those all-day workshops were great to dip my toe in, but they didn’t make me feel confident that I could do it on my own. Without programming experience, it was difficult to understand what languages I needed to learn, what tools I needed to learn, and what the natural progression should be.
When did you realize you were ready to learn at a coding bootcamp?
I didn't actually know that coding bootcamps were a thing until I went to this workshop called The HTML500. I was connected to a bunch of different tech meetups, and they mentioned the event. At The HTML500, Lighthouse Labs partners with private and government entities for a free, all-day workshop, and you basically learn HTML and CSS to build a website. I went to The HTML500, and that's where I got introduced to Lighthouse Labs and the idea of a coding bootcamp.
Tell me about your experience at HTML500.
We created a really simple website, and at the time, I started to feel like this was easier and more accessible than I realized. I also really liked the teaching style because they gave you the basic concepts and some of the core code that you would need, and then you did an assignment on your own. Lighthouse Labs is full of people with lots of experience, and mentors are going around the room answering questions. It's a very empowering way to learn. You get the basic knowledge that you need and then you learn by doing.
Did you decide immediately that you were definitely doing Lighthouse Labs? What did that transition look like?
It did take me a while to make the decision. I knew that day I was interested, and I did look into other coding bootcamps as well, but one of the nice things about Lighthouse Labs for me was that in addition to The HTML500, they also had a part-time web development course offered in Calgary (where I live).
I was able to do the part-time course (six hours a week for six weeks) before I committed to the full-time bootcamp in Vancouver, just to make sure that the teaching style was working for me and that I thought it was something I could be good at. That was a part of my decision-making process before I made the entire huge commitment.
How was the Lighthouse Labs interview process for both the part-time Intro to Web Development and full-time iOS Development bootcamp?
The application process for the part-time course is much less rigorous. I think anybody who wants to do the part-time course is accepted, but the full-time application has a lot more steps.
For the full-time bootcamp, my first step was an online application, and then I had a phone call interview with the education manager, which included some discussion about my goals and my background and what I was hoping to get out of the bootcamp.
The next step was a timed logic test to see how I thought about problems. She then took that information, and discussed it with the founders. As I understand, the higher level of management approves each applicant after their education contact has collected all the information. Then I heard back from them a day or two later that I had been accepted.
You mentioned that you researched other coding bootcamps before deciding on Lighthouse Labs- how did you make that choice?
One of the things I did was talk to developers in Calgary to understand what their job looked like, what the industry looked like, and which jobs were available. Canada doesn't have nearly as many coding bootcamps as the US, so I didn't have as much of a choice in terms of numbers, but I did research the Vancouver bootcamps.
At the time, I didn't really know enough to say, "Oh, I want to learn back end, Java, etc." I just looked at what was available and then did my research on those programs to see which of those languages or fields I thought would be the most appropriate for me. I chose iOS from what was available.
What did your Lighthouse Labs cohort look like? Who were you studying with?
The part-time cohort was 15 to 20 people, and it was made up of a variety of backgrounds: high school students, professionals, a freelance Mobile developer, marketers, and entrepreneurs. The founder of ChicGeek was even in the cohort! The part-time cohort was pretty diverse and large compared to my actual full-time bootcamp cohort.
My full-time bootcamp cohort was six people. I had three classmates from Vancouver, then there was a guy from Turkey and a guy from Brazil. The two international students came to Canada just for Lighthouse Labs after starting their own businesses. Two of the guys from Vancouver have programming backgrounds and wanted to transition into mobile development, and another guy’s company sent him there to learn more skills.
How did you feel about your learning experience at Lighthouse Labs’ iOS Development bootcamp? Share a typical day with us.
It was an 8-week bootcamp where we started everyday at 9am. We had lectures for about an hour; then we did an assignment. Usually, I finished my day at 7pm or 8pm (and I often found myself in the classroom on weekends). We didn't pair program in the strict definition of the term, but it was very collaborative because we were a small group. If somebody got stuck on something, they would ask the other people in the cohort as often as they would ask our mentors and instructors.
What were the main programming languages and technologies that your class used at Lighthouse Labs?
I specifically chose iOS development, so we learned Swift and Objective-C, and then Apple’s IDE which is called Xcode. We used a lot of the free libraries that were built in iOS– CocoaPods, and other frameworks.
Did you have a favorite project or app that you built while at Lighthouse Labs?
I was really proud of my final project. It was a dating app! My partner and I built a lot of fancy UI, and a lot of interesting gestures. Right now I work for a company that sells a very utilitarian, B2B product, and that’s what I tend to be drawn to. I like really useful, bare bones apps that just do a good job. So this final project pushed me into the more visual arena, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. It looks really sharp. At our demo day, it was definitely the most polished and it showed really well to potential employers, so I was very happy with that. Here’s the link to the project.
How was your transition from student to employee? How long did it take you to get your new job after Lighthouse Labs?
The transition was very quick. I understood that there wouldn’t be a huge tech scene in Calgary (compared to Vancouver or a lot of places in the States). However, there also is not enough talent to fill the positions that are here. So there's just a few employers, but they are really looking, and having a hard time finding people.
I didn't have any difficulty finding a job. I was working within two weeks of leaving Lighthouse Labs in Vancouver.
Tell us about your new job!
I started my new position at a small company, Aimsio, which makes a configurable field ticketing app for people who do contract work remotely. When I started, I was the 14th or 15th employee as a Junior iOS Developer
My first developer job has been really good. It's a small iOS team as there are only four of us working on the mobile app. I work really closely with my boss and he's been a strong mentor to me. I came on as a Junior Developer, but I do the same work as everybody else on my team.
Did Lighthouse Labs give you any job prep, resume critiques, or portfolio help?
Yeah, they did. Lighthouse Labs has a whole employment program, and they have a fast track that's really tailored around people who are there locally. Their Career Services team connects students to tons of employers until they get that first job.
For me, I needed a little bit more specific help. The employment team in Vancouver were putting feelers out in Calgary and they got me the interview with Aimsio. I got a lot of help from Lighthouse Labs.
How are you feeling about your career transition now that you're an iOS developer?
I’ve been at my company for a year and it's been great. I'm really happy I made this change. I feel like I’m using a lot of the problem-solving techniques and systematic way of thinking that I learned as an engineer. It's gratifying that I haven't left that phase of my career behind entirely. There are a lot of new challenges, and a lot of things left for me to learn; but I'm really enjoying it.
Did you have to learn any new programming languages at your new job? Was there a learning gap for you when you first started?
What was your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learning how to code?
I spent a lot of time not knowing how to approach coding as a career. I was going to all these workshops, talking to people, doing Codecademy, and that process took me a long time. For a year it was just fits and starts, with nothing really clicking or moving me forward. Once I went to the coding bootcamp, the progress has been pretty seamless.
Do you stay involved with Lighthouse Labs at all now that you're an alum?
I haven't been back to Vancouver, but Lighthouse Labs did start a small web development cohort here in Calgary, and we actually hosted them in our office at Aimsio one night for a meet-and-greet. I've been to a Lighthouse Labs demo day as well; and periodically the admissions team at Lighthouse Labs will connect me with somebody in Calgary who has a lot of questions about if LHL is the right path for them. So yes, I am involved!
What advice do you have for anybody considering a career change through a coding bootcamp?
Don't go into a coding bootcamp looking at it as a quick, easy means towards great earning potential forever. Do it if you want to be coding every single day for the rest of your career. The best advice I got when I was thinking about attending a coding bootcamp was from a guy who had worked in the tech boom starting in the 80's and 90's. He said at that time, "When I was working during the boom, I was making $85,000 a year. Then when that bubble burst, I was making $30,000 a year and now I'm making $200,000 a year." He went on, "For me, obviously it was better during those times when I was making a lot of money, but during the times when I wasn't, it was still something that I loved doing every day." I guess that's the key. Don't do a coding bootcamp for an instant career and money. Make sure that coding is something you want to do every day until you retire.