What if you could follow the activity of restaurants and bars in your city and plan your night out on the town? Well, Steve built an app to do just that for his final coding bootcamp project at Lighthouse Labs. Steve showed us his team’s “HotSpots” project and walked us through the design and building process – all of which helped him land a job as a Product Owner at Kater! He also has great advice for bootcampers looking to use their final project to get a job (hint: tell an interesting story.)
What is your career background and how did you end up at Lighthouse Labs?
My interest in web development started 10 years ago when I was involved in building WordPress websites. I was looking at design and user experience but it wasn’t too coding intensive. From there, I worked in advertising, focusing on UX and research, helping advertising agencies come into the digital age.
Most recently, I was working as a Project Strategist, a role between a product manager and a product owner. I was conceptualizing what a product would do, how it would be built, and other functional aspects, but not actually doing any coding. I got interested in coding because I had a lot of ideas but I didn’t necessarily know how to execute them. That was the impetus for me to expand my skill set and learn how to develop and build things.
When I started looking into various courses, I discovered Lighthouse Labs. Their Web Development bootcamp had a great reputation and the alumni spoke highly of it. I decided to take the plunge and do the bootcamp!
Did you consider other coding bootcamps or online coding courses?
I searched based on what was available and how it aligned with my goals. Based on that research, I felt the competitors (who I won’t name) were more about their branding and less about their alumni experience. I was really looking for job placement and while lots of them touted their job placement rates, Lighthouse checked the boxes in what I was looking for in the quality of education, alumni support, and career placement services. Their comprehensive learning experience plus the job placement component was highly recommended in various online forums, so I decided to dive in.
What was the Lighthouse Labs application and interview process like?
I first visited the campus to see what the facilities looked like before completing the online application. Then I went in for an interview – it included a behavioral component and a coding aptitude test, which I didn’t think I did that well on! But apparently I did enough to show I had the foundations of a “coding brain.” After the application process, I started the required prep course work which was quite intense because coding was still new to me. Usually, people take a month to do the prep work, but I only had two weeks between being accepted and starting the course.
Who were the other students in your cohort and how diverse was it?
There were 14 of us and while there was only one woman in our group, I think that was a bit unusual. Our backgrounds were pretty diverse. Some people had technology experience and some were hobby developers who wanted to grow their skillset. Our professional experience was pretty eclectic but everyone wanted to learn how to build interesting things.
On the first day, they said we’d work tightly together, and they were right! You really connect with your cohort when you go through the bootcamp experience of spending 12 hours a day together, going through the same struggles. It was definitely a “trial by fire” experience. We all became friends and still stay in touch.
What was the learning experience like? What was a typical day at a Lighthouse Labs bootcamp?
When they say “bootcamp,” they really mean it! It was 12 hours a day – we were generally there from 9am to 9pm. In terms of a typical day, it started with a two-hour lecture in the morning, followed by a series of assignments with access to mentors or teachers if you were stuck or had trouble with a concept. They would then have a breakout session later in the afternoon for you to learn other topics. It was a flipped-classroom model, so you were thrown into it with a lot of self-directed learning. I even had dreams about coding!
Every day was something new, interesting, and exciting. Some days you’d work on various projects solo or in teams. There was also career assistance throughout to help prepare us for technical interviews, practice interview questions, understand how to do whiteboarding, and how to format our resumes as developers. It was intense for someone like me who didn’t have a coding background, but you learn a lot by pushing yourself through the exercises.
What types of projects did you build at Lighthouse Labs?
The midterm project was our first group project and you could pick from three or four projects. We picked one that was Pinterest-like, allowing you to save resources, create bulletins, and share them. Another project was creating a chat application using web sockets and React, and we had projects directly applying the various technologies we were learning at a given point in the bootcamp. For the final project, we could select our teams and had two weeks to work on it. The mentors and teachers helped us refine the idea and build it out. That was the most interesting component of the bootcamp – applying the things we’re learning and building our vision.
Tell us about your favorite project! What was it and how did you build it?
We created a web project called Vancouver’s HotSpots. This was an idea I’d had for a while but wasn’t sure if it would be possible to get access to the required data. I was lucky to team up with two very talented back end developers, Bobby and Nick, who were able to bring this idea to life while I did all the UX and front end development. Here are some features of the website:
Live HotSpot Scores: The website pulls in live data from Google Places. It’s taking a snapshot of the busiest places, and the HotSpot score is weighted from the total reviews from Yelp and Google, essentially showing you the most popular places in Vancouver right now.
Heat Map: In the map component, we’ve overlaid the hottest spots in Vancouver for restaurants, bars, and pubs. You can see how the popularity of places evolves over the night, especially as places start closing down and the activity concentrates in the downtown area. You can select the neighborhood you want, the day and time, and be able to see the hottest places, check out images, and save it to your list.
Trip Planner: If someone was visiting Vancouver and wanted to plan out their trip, they could save their list, and then the site generates a plan for your evening. It shows the recommended time as the busiest time (which is funny because everyone we talk to wants to go when it’s NOT busy). You can see your plan stats, the time you’d want to go to each place, and a graph of when the places get busy and expect to die down.
There were some other things we would have liked to have done had we had more time, but we were pretty happy with what we were able to build. We really wanted to play with the most interesting points of data. One interesting point is the APIs we were using to gather the data weren’t actually public, so we had to employ a Python web scraper for us to use that data, so if we wanted to build this out for other cities, we might have some flags raised with Google, but we’re under the radar for now.
How long did it take you to build the project?
We had two weeks for development, which included the wireframes, the back end architecture and ERDs (entity relationship diagrams), and creating all the features we wanted to include. I was lucky that the people I was working with were really competent in accommodating those requests. Our initial concept was just a basic list, we originally didn’t want to include the map since we were planning a minimum viable product (MVP) to deliver the project. But our mentors and teachers encouraged us to try to incorporate the map to make it more interesting. We wanted to make it more mobile accessible and build out the trip-planning feature with suggested routes between the places but didn’t have time.
Did you have to learn any new technologies that weren’t covered in the Lighthouse Labs curriculum?
Not for me, specifically, because my strength is the front end and UX components. One of the biggest challenges was integrating Python with the Ruby-on-Rails back end which took us three or four days to figure out. The Google Map component was built with React on the front end and while we learned about API fundamentals, the heatmap overlay was something we hadn’t covered. It was a learning curve to understand how to pull all the data and represent it on the map.
Did the project help you in presenting to potential employers?
We definitely wanted to make sure it looked great, knowing we’d be presenting to potential employers. We built it to be able to tell the story. Unbeknownst to us, one of the attendees at the Lighthouse Labs demo day recorded our presentation and then shared that with their CEO. When I got home, I had a call from him at around 9pm (I was exhausted!) and the team and I went in the next week to present to him! We didn’t have any expectations, but we were all offered a job at Kater!
Congratulations! What does Kater do and what is your new role?
British Columbia doesn’t have ride-hailing yet, but the legislation is coming through. Kater is a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) product trying to get into the ride-sharing and taxi bookings industry, as well as booking various forms of transportation. At a startup, you tend to wear a lot of hats, but on paper, I’m more of a Product Owner and the other two guys I did the project with are on the coding back end. I’m building on the previous experience I had and am now combining it with my Lighthouse Labs experience. Before, I would understand projects on a larger level (a house needs windows and doors), but now I know more granular details (I know which hinges and window panes would be best). It helps me in my new role to have that background and knowledge, certainly when we’re looking at projections of time and effort.
While going through the coding bootcamp, I realized I like talking and interacting with the user, and my strengths are in product conception and understanding the user. I’m currently overseeing the projects we’re working on, representing the user when decisions are being made, project managing the backlog, and understanding what needs to be built and why. I’m working on the infrastructure and back end to give drivers applying to drive with Kater the ability to log into the system, understand what their routes are, and manage their payouts. That’s the current priority as the legislation is being passed, but there are lots of long-term opportunities.
Are you using the same technologies you learned at Lighthouse Labs in your new job?
Some of the features in the project involving the data visualization and mapping components have been relevant. At Lighthouse Labs, there were a lot of parallels and technologies that are complementary to the stack that Kater uses.
What is your advice for people considering a coding bootcamp like Lighthouse Labs?
Knowing that the final project is going to be presented to a group, it’s important that whatever you build presents well and can tell a story in an interesting way so people remember it. Keep it short, maybe hold on to some of the back end technical details until after the presentation if they want to learn more, but make sure you keep people interested.
People like to be entertained to a certain extent, so that’s how we approached this project. We thought it would be interesting to tell the story of how people move throughout the night, enjoying food and drink, and where the current hotspots are. Other projects were very interesting technology-wise, but weren’t able to capture people’s attention - there needs to be a “wow-factor”. All that said, I was not expecting to get a job out of the project!
This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Lighthouse Labs. Read Lighthouse Labs reviews on Course Report and learn more about the Web Development Bootcamp on their website.