Three years into her degree, Selin realized that she no longer wanted to study neuroscience. She had always been interested in coding so she signed up for the Lighthouse Labs 21-Day Coding Challenge to test out the waters. The coding challenge helped Selin solidify her desire to switch direction, and she enrolled in the Lighthouse Labs Web Development Bootcamp in Toronto! Find out how the 21 Day Coding Challenge set her up for success in the coding bootcamp interview, in the program itself, and in her internship when she graduated!
What’s your background before you decided to get into coding?
My background is in neuroscience, which I studied at the University of Toronto. But I've always been interested in coding. In my third year at university, I realized that I did not want to continue pursuing neuroscience, but I was hesitant to change my degree because I didn’t have a clear idea of what to study instead. Computer science was an option, but there were some logistical roadblocks when it came to transferring course credits. I would have had to start a new degree completely from scratch.
While working through my degree, I started learning Python on Codecademy. One day, the ordering system at my sister's restaurant went down and she ended up having to manually place all orders and calculate totals including tax and discounts. At the time, I couldn't do much beyond writing simple functions – but even with my basic knowledge of Python, I was able to code a simple calculator that could compute final prices, and it saved the day! Applying my basic coding knowledge to a real-life scenario was the pivotal moment where I decided to invest my time and money into a bootcamp and totally change my career path.
Did you try to keep teaching yourself? What made you decide to look into coding bootcamps?
So this past summer I decided to start learning to code. To get started, I used free online resources from sites like CodeAcademy and freeCodeCamp, but found that they weren't structured very well, especially for a total beginner. Before long, I really began to see my potential for becoming a web developer. So, I began researching local bootcamps. Knowing that they can be pricey, I was hesitant to commit. I discovered Lighthouse Labs through its 21-Day Coding Challenge.
What is the 21-Day Coding Challenge like?
The daily challenges start very easy and get progressively more difficult. But even the beginner-level challenges were difficult for me with my almost-zero prior experience. The questions typically revolve around a theme or storyline. When I did the challenge, it had a space expedition storyline where the captain of a spaceship encounters various issues which are presented as coding problems to be solved.
The Coding Challenge interface was really nice. There was a grid format setup where challenges would be marked complete each day as you went along. There weren't any time-limits on each challenge, but to be eligible for the day's prize draw, you had to complete the challenge the same day.
Having the daily challenges released one day at a time (rather than all at once) was particularly helpful. At the time, I wasn't certain that I wanted to pursue coding long term. I wanted to use the daily challenge to figure out whether I could sustainably keep coding regularly – and whether it was something I wanted to do beyond those 21 days. In the end, the Coding Challenge helped me make my decision.
Was there a prize associated with every challenge?
From what I can recall, I believe there was a list of prizes announced at the beginning of the 21 days. There were also final prizes. if you had completed all challenges by the end of the 21 days, you could still win one of the final prizes. I didn't win any prizes, unfortunately. Although, after finishing the 21-Day Coding Challenge, I did receive a $500 discount on the price of the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp tuition.
What did you learn by doing the 21-Day Coding Challenge?
The most valuable thing I picked up was the habit of coding on a daily basis. Also, I did learn a little about data structures – knowledge I picked up from forum discussions with more experienced coders.
What happened after the 21-Day Challenge?
Because Lighthouse Labs had managed to engage me with the structure and delivery of the content during their 21-Day Challenge, I knew that if I decided to progress to a coding bootcamp, it would be Lighthouse Labs. Lighthouse Labs has also received really good reviews compared to what I had read about other bootcamps. I also preferred their curriculum – others seemed to focus on either the front end or back end, whereas Lighthouse Labs is one of the few bootcamps out there offering a full stack program.
How soon after finishing the 21-Day Challenge did you apply to the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp?
Only once I had finished all 21 challenges did I start applying. The Challenge started in May; I finished in that same month, and applied to the bootcamp at the beginning of June. The next cohort was set to begin at the end of June, so I expected they would place me in the cohort after that. Fortunately, they managed to squeeze me into the June cohort. In the two or three weeks prior to beginning the bootcamp, I needed to complete their pre-course program, and so it felt a little rushed.
What was the application process like? Did you feel prepared for it?
What was your Lighthouse Labs cohort like?
My cohort was quite small; initially with only 15 of us. Including me, there were only four women. As for age, it was really diverse: there were people similar in age to me; others who were younger and still in college, and some in their late-30s. People in my cohort came from all sorts of backgrounds, but we all shared an interest in web development.
What was the learning experience like at Lighthouse Labs?
From the first day, the program was intense. Lectures happened daily from 10am to 12pm, with time outside of this designated to completing the work online. First we would do some background reading on the concept, then answer a few questions to help us synthesize the newly-acquired information. After that, we’d work on a mini-project based on that concept. For example, if we were learning about HTTP requests, we would spend most of Monday reading about the concept, then at the end of Monday, we would start to set up the project. The rest of the week – with the exception of Friday – would be dedicated to completing the project. Friday was available as an extra day to complete the project before submitting, if necessary.
For the first half of the cohort, a computer science lecture was held every Friday, where we learned about runtime and a lot of other in-depth computer science topics. On Fridays, they would also test our understanding of the material presented during the week prior. Towards the second half of the cohort, they set up mock interviews, also intended to test our knowledge.
My typical day involved a 90-minute commute each way, and I would arrive around 7:30am. Initially, I could end my day around 6pm, but towards the end, I needed extra time and would leave at around 10 or 11pm. It was intense. That said, towards the end, it becomes more exciting than intense. What I really liked about the course setup was that you complete a project every week. Seeing the end result of your week’s work was really rewarding.
Did the 21-Day Coding Challenge prepare you for the bootcamp?
What was your favorite project at Lighthouse Labs?
My favorite was the TinyApp project. We worked on it during the week that we learned about HTTP requests. The end result was an engine that converted long-tail URLs to an abridged more shareable, shorter URL. We used Express and AJAX. At the time we were still using EJS for the front end. The reason I liked it so much is because that week’s material had been particularly well-explained. It was also a full stack project and meant we did everything from the back end setup of the server, to the front end. And working across both the back and front ends was conducive to a more holistic overall understanding.
How did Lighthouse Labs prepare you for the job search?
We had four mock-interviews throughout the course; two before the midterm, and two afterward. The first mock interviews included simple questions about concepts we had learned, lasted for about an hour each, and were run by the mentors who would simulate real-life interviews. If at any point during the interview, the interviewee became stuck, the mentor would take the time to explain how to best approach responding to the question. When it came time for me to be interviewed by real-life employers post-bootcamp, I was appreciative, because the real-life interviews were almost identical to the mock ones!
What have you been up to since you graduated?
I’m currently interning for a startup. After that, I’m considering taking some college computer science modules. I haven’t yet decided whether I want to go back to school in a full-time capacity or to work and study at the same time.
Are the skills and languages learned at Lighthouse Labs proving to be useful in your internship?
Definitely! To me, the internship feels like bootcamp 2.0. There's a lot of self-learning every day. What I learned at Lighthouse Labs (particularly on React for the front end) has been very useful because we use React as part of our code stack. What I learned at Lighthouse Labs about server setup and deployment has also been useful.
How has your background in neuroscience and biology been useful during your internship?
Biology courses require a lot of research, and being able to word my search queries in clever ways to find exactly what it is I’m looking for online has been useful when self-teaching. Also, if in the future the company goes on to develop apps related to biology or the medical field, I'll be able to leverage my biology background.
What advice do you have for other people who are considering going to a coding bootcamp?
I suspect that many of those considering a coding bootcamp are seeking a drastic change in their career path. My advice to these people is to be diligent about your research and to try to get a thorough understanding of what coding is and what it might entail career-wise. Ultimately, my advice is to confirm your interest before fully committing – and for me, the 21-Day Challenge was a means of doing just that.
Would you recommend the 21-Day Coding Challenge to others?
Absolutely. Aside from picking up the practice of coding daily, the discussion forum is a really nice place to create a circle of other people with shared interests. Overall, it's a great place to start.
Find out more and read Lighthouse Labs reviews on Course Report. The next 21-Day Coding Challenge starts on November 1. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Lighthouse Labs.