SooJeen Park was going through the motions as an accounting clerk when he decided to quit his job in search of a fulfilling and challenging career. After graduating from a full-time web development immersive at the Toronto Lighthouse Labs campus, SooJeen landed a job as a Software Developer at real estate startup HoodQ. Now six months into his new career, SooJeen tells us not only about a his time at Lighthouse Labs and his creative idea to fund his bootcamp tuition, but also gives us awesome insight into a day in the life of a web developer.
What were you up to before attending Lighthouse Labs?
About a year ago, I quit my job as an accounting clerk. I wanted a career path that was fulfilling, challenging and would be promising for the future. I couldn’t find the time or the energy to do that research and soul searching while still at work. I had enough savings to do that search for about a year.
What made web development stand out as a career path?
I had a few semesters of Computer Science under my belt from University. I didn’t do well in University- it wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be so I ended up dropping out. Working as a web developer means that you build useful products, whereas Computer Science classes felt like learning how computers work.
Once I started Codecademy and other online resources and talking to people in the industry, I was pleased to learn that the career was a bit different than what I’d expected..
Have you found that any of those CS classes helped you learn web development more easily at Lighthouse Labs?
It helped me a little bit in the first week or two. I was familiar with coding syntax, basic elements like data structures, conditionals etc. That was the first week, so it helped me in that way but otherwise, I don’t think so.
Did you consider other coding schools in Toronto?
I attended another bootcamp’s’ demo day, and I was really impressed by what they were doing and what their students were building. But what led me to Lighthouse Labs was the HTML500, an event hosted by Lighthouse Labs where 500 people are invited to learn the basics of HTML and CSS.
The fact that Lighthouse Labs had organized this event to spread coding to everyone really spoke to me. After hearing them talk about their philosophy and approach, when they announced they were opening a campus in Toronto, I jumped on the opportunity.
What is special about Toronto tech scene? Did you ever consider moving cities to do a bootcamp?
Toronto is just home for me and because I was unemployed, it was getting harder to consider moving for a bootcamp. From my limited knowledge of other big tech scenes, I think that Toronto is pretty strong, especially in Canada.
Can you take us through a typical day at Lighthouse Labs?
A typical day was a lecture in the morning, 90 minutes to two hours where we’re introduced to a concept or we walked through an example of code.
The remainder of the day, we were given assignments, problems, and projects to work on either independently or with classmates.
The experience was overwhelming in terms of the amount of knowledge that was laid at your feet and how much you had to absorb in a very short time. At Lighthouse Labs, they had mentors who were working developers who were there to answer your questions.
Who was your main instructor for your cohort?
For our cohort it was David Vandusen. He came from the Vancouver campus to teach the first cohort. David had a particular brand of genius. He just knew about everything. He had tons of experience as a working developer, and he had opinions about the right way of doing things. He also had a breadth of knowledge- he could talk about design, but also deep algorithmic efficiencies.
David did the bulk of the lectures, but we also had a lot of guest lecturers. I learned to appreciate the different styles and approaches and the different ways people think about coding and how they approach it.
Tell us about your favorite project that you built at Lighthouse Labs.
We did two projects; our midterms and final projects. Those were fun and exciting but what I remember most was building a tool called ORM or Active Record in Rails. It’s the tool that does object relational mapping. Your database needs to talk to your application and your application needs a way to translate or model your data in such a way that your application makes sense of it. It brought a deeper appreciation and understanding of how the tool works and how to take advantage of it in ways that we might not have if we hadn’t built it out ourselves.
How did you pay for the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp?
By that point, I had run out of savings so I ended up crowd fundraising with my friends. I approached a dozen friends and said, “If you can lend me $1000 each, I can go to this bootcamp and I’m confident that after I start working in 6 months, and I can start paying you guys back.” I got about 8 or 9 friends to do that, and then covered the remainder on credit.
Yours was the first cohort in Toronto. How many people were in your class?
We started off with 10 and we graduated 7.
Was the class diverse in terms of gender, race, life experience and career backgrounds?
There was only one female, and the class was about 30 – 40% minorities. In terms of backgrounds, it was as diverse as I’ve ever seen.
There are at least two of us who had some kind of experience in tech, whether at school or otherwise. Of course those with experience floated to the top. But what was more surprising to me was how far all of us got over the weeks. To know where beginners started and to see where they ended up was just phenomenal.
What are you up to now?
I graduated in June and started working a week after graduation. I was offered a job at HoodQ.com, a startup in the real estate space.
What does HoodQ do?
HoodQ gives real estate agents a way to meaningfully connect their property to potential clients by providing a report that highlights the good things about the neighborhood. We’ve aggregated over 2500 different data sources then built a platform whereby the user can enter in an address and in real time it generates a neighbourhood marketing package, consisting of two types of reports localized to that address, including schools, parks, transit, safety and convenience.
How did you get the job?
What was the technical interview like for your first dev job?
The actual technical interview was pretty good. I didn’t have to whiteboard for that interview but I had to walk through some solutions for a technical problem. At the start of the bootcamp, they did mock tech interviews with us. As we progressed through the course, they ramped up those tech interviews. They tested us based on what we knew at the time and got us ready for the setting of a tech interview.
How large is the dev team at HoodQ?
The dev team is three people including me, Taz the CTO and Adam, Head of Aggregation.
What is your advice for coding bootcampers who are making the decision about the type of company that they want to work for?
Find a mentor that you like and that you think you can learn from. When I met Taz, I saw someone I wanted to learn more from and who had that knowledge. So find a mentor that you connect with and can grow with as a developer. For the very first job out of bootcamp that would be the most important thing.
You learned Ruby on Rails at Lighthouse Labs. Are you using Rails at HoodQ?
What does a web developer’s day-to-day look like?
What I imagined was sitting and typing code for hours at a time. But it’s a much more iterative process; you code for a bit, then you test it then you think about the cases you haven’t thought about. It’s this nice circular flow of stop and go/back and forth. It’s engaging, it’s challenging and it’s not as tedious as I thought it might be.
What’s been the biggest challenge that you have faced in becoming a web developer?
We have a small team at HoodQ, so I try to balance asking a ton of questions with figuring things out on my own. For me, that’s been the challenge.
At the same time, my team has confidence in me, so I’ve been fortunate to build features that I may never had a chance to otherwise.
Are you happy with your career change from accounting to web development?
One of the biggest drawbacks to my career in accounting was the lack of challenge and therefore, the lack of engagement. I was really just going through the motions a lot of days at my old job. As a web developer, I’m enjoying the challenges and continuing to learn; I’m fortunate that I enjoy my coworkers and the culture at HoodQ, but that’s just a really nice bonus for my first job out of bootcamp.
Do you have advice for people who want to make a similar career change?
I really benefitted from the immersive experience. I had tried the online resources like Codecademy and various other things. It’s hard to see how the pieces of web development fit together and it’s hard to stay engaged.
You lose your motivation very quickly if you’re just learning how to use a tool without understanding why you would want to use that tool. At Lighthouse Labs, you’re building a midterm and final project and you’re pulling the tools as you need them.
It’s the same here at work. I don’t spend time learning tools until I need to use them and I have that foundation to quickly pick them up.
A structured program focused on project-based learning helped with me immensely, but the other huge benefit was the mentors at Lighthouse Labs. Being able to talk to them about the life of a developer- not necessarily the technical stuff but just the lifestyle, working conditions, and what to expect really broadened our horizons.
Another thing I want to add and I think Lighthouse Labs was very clear about this, is that a coding bootcamp won’t make you a developer. It’s the year of working after bootcamp that really tests if you’re going to be a developer or not in terms of how you’re going to keep learning. How you’re going to grow your skills and grow your abilities. It’s that year-long journey that the bootcamp is setting you up for and what you’re buying into more than anything.