Four years ago, Mathew Kostiuk was working odd jobs and wanted to find a career that would mentally challenge him. With his interest in coding piqued, he enrolled in Lighthouse Labs' Web Development bootcamp in Victoria, Canada. Mathew explains the benefits of his Lighthouse Labs over self-teaching, how he climbed the ladder at Pixel Union from Tech Support into a Web Developer job, and his tips on making the most out of your time at a bootcamp. Plus, Mathew shares his experience working in e-commerce and the high demand for developers with Shopify skills.
What inspired you to pursue a career in software engineering?
Before Lighthouse Labs, I was working odd jobs, mainly manual labor. I had previously attended university but chose to drop out to take time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Oddly enough, my love of Sudoku puzzles sparked my initial interest in changing my career! I felt a sense of satisfaction from the mental challenge, started doing coding tutorials, and noticed I had a similar feeling when completing them.
In 2017, I began to see coding bootcamps advertising themselves as short and packed with information. At the time, I was 25 years old and wasn't eager to pursue a four-year degree. The opportunity to change my career in a short amount of time was very appealing.
Do you think your past career in manual labor has made you a better web developer?
There are some similar techniques in working efficiently. In software development and labor-intensive jobs, you want to look for the path of least resistance to get a job done. You don't want to dive into every problem and hack your way through. You should take a step back and think of the most efficient way to address the issue. Work smarter, not harder!
With so many coding bootcamps out there, why did you choose Lighthouse Labs?
Location was a major factor. At the time, I was in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Lighthouse Labs was the only school in the area that offered an in-person coding bootcamp. This was back in 2017, so there were not as many remote bootcamps as there are now. The positive alumni reviews of Lighthouse Labs helped too!
When you graduated from Lighthouse Labs’ Web Development bootcamp, how prepared did you feel for the tech job market?
I was applying for Junior Developer and Junior Fullstack roles. I applied for a few intermediate positions, as well.
Did Lighthouse Labs help you with career support and finding your first job?
They set up interviews, scouted out opportunities, and encouraged us to apply. During the bootcamp, they had career services opportunities to help prepare students for technical interviews. My initial expectation was that someone would get me a job after graduation. However, it is definitely on students to also put in the work after graduation to land a job.
You have the opportunity to mentor current students, which some alumni do. I have stayed connected with three students from my cohort of ten. After we graduated, we often met at cafes to support one another as we tried to get those first jobs. Now, we meet or check in with each other a few times a year.
Tell us about your first job after Lighthouse Labs!
I first got a job as a Web Designer at an affiliate marketing company, which strayed from the traditional trajectory of a bootcamp graduate. I worked with them to build landing pages to direct their ad traffic to. It was a much easier role than I thought it would be, but I was happy to have landed this job and it was a step in the right direction after spending so long working in manual labor.
How has your career grown since graduating and how did you land your new job at Pixel Union?
Once I realized how easy that first Web Developer role was, I felt more confident to pursue other roles. I joined a Victoria tech Slack channel, where a Technical Support Specialist role at Pixel Union [a design agency known for themes, apps, ecommerce and custom digital solutions] was posted. Pixel Union had a few Lighthouse Labs alum on their staff. I messaged the hiring manager and things ramped up from there. I had an initial meeting, a technical interview, and then an offer. Two years later, I transitioned from the Technical Support Specialist into a Web Developer role at Pixel Union.
You started as a Technical Support Specialist – how is that job different from a Developer role?
In my role as a Tier 2 Support Specialist, I was working mainly with a support team. My job did include writing code, but it was primarily to fix technical problems. As a Web Developer now, I work in tandem with other developers to write code that gets committed to a repository. My current role focuses on creating more permanent changes to the product or developing new features rather than just fixing problems.
Would you suggest that a bootcamp grad start in a tech support role?
Yes! It is a great way to get your foot in the door, especially if it is a company with developers onsite. You might be able to work with them and solve problems alongside them, which is helpful. Our company also liked to hire from within and often filled open positions with internal hires.
My manager at the time was a great mentor and wanted me to grow. It's helpful to have that support rather than just searching alone and dealing with imposter syndrome in the job search process. My experience in tech support has also been helpful in proposing changes or strategies as a web developer. You can understand how customers will use a product from your time spent in support working directly with them.
Any tips for those looking to move up in their career at a company?
I was in my technical support role for two years, and I let everyone know my interest in moving up. On Day One, you need to make it known that you want to move up in the organization. Once I let people know, they would connect me with opportunities to work on projects outside the typical tech support job description. This proved helpful when the opportunity came to apply for a Developer role as I had a list of projects I had worked on that showed I was ready for a Developer role.
So tell us about Pixel Union and the projects you’re currently working on!
Pixel Union is a digital agency that specializes in world-class ecommerce experiences for platforms and businesses. We provide strategic solutions for Shopify partners and clients ranging from startups and budding entrepreneurs to the world's leading companies.
I work in the Shopify themes division, where we build and sell themes on the Shopify store. A Shopify theme is the look and feel of a store on the website. This is what the customers see when they visit a merchant’s website.
Shopify just had their yearly conference, Shopify Unite, where they announced several changes. One directly related to us has to do with their online store 2.0. Currently, the flexibility of sections has been limited to the store's homepage, and the rest of the pages were not similarly customizable. The 2.0 changes will make the rest of the pages more customizable. We are restructuring our themes to adhere to that new paradigm, which is a massive project since we have an extensive catalog of themes.
Are you using what you learned at Lighthouse Labs? Or have you had to learn a lot of new languages?
My time spent in Tech Support was probably the most difficult to adjust to. I got a glimpse of debugging at Lighthouse Labs but dealing with merchants who can't sell while their sites are down can be stressful. There’s much more pressure in the real world.
How has the demand for developers with Shopify skills changed in the last two years?
Demand has skyrocketed over the last year as shops try to move online. Even before the pandemic, e-commerce has had such a stark increase. Shopify is known for being user-friendly on the merchant side, as you don't need coding knowledge. However, someone with coding knowledge can take a store to the next level. If you're a developer who knows your way around the Shopify ecosystem, you'll be able to find a lot of freelancing work. Right now, there are even organizations dedicated to linking merchants to freelancers with Shopify experience.
What has been the biggest challenge in this journey to make a career change into software engineering?
For me, it has been managing imposter syndrome. You always ask yourself, "Do I actually know what I'm doing?" It is easier to manage this with validation from employment and a few good performance reviews. It helps me see myself as a good developer and know that I belong in this field.
Looking back on this career change experience, was Lighthouse Labs worth it for you?
The combination of structure, a cohort of like-minded individuals, and mentorship were great. Mentors at Lighthouse Labs are closer to what you experience on the job, as they help you solve problems similar to how Senior Developers support you. In retrospect, the material is online and I could have self-taught. But I don’t think I would have had the drive to do it without Lighthouse Labs.
It’s an amazing feeling knowing I get paid to do something I enjoy doing. There are absolutely aspects of the jobs – like meetings – that aren’t as enjoyable but have taught me a lot. This career switch has opened up a lot of opportunities for me that I wouldn't have had.
What's your advice for making the most out of a coding bootcamp?
I recommend utilizing the mentorship as much as possible. You're paying to have access to industry professionals who can teach you the best practices and refine your skills, so you're job-ready. Also, take a break and make sure you get some sleep!
How Mike launched a data science with UT Austin Boot Camps
How Nathan made a career pivot after Coding Temple
Learrn how this bootcamp grad upskilled with Lighthouse Labs!