The Peak sat down with Lighthouse Labs graduate Andrew Markham to find out how he levelled up his career. Andrew told us about his decision to leave his steady job behind and jump into tech, how he chose which skills that were right for him and how he financially and mentally prepared for the transition.
What did your career look like prior to Lighthouse Labs? What inspired you to make a change?
Prior to Lighthouse Labs, I worked in the commercial real estate industry where I helped to manage the real estate assets for a Canadian pension fund. It was really enjoyable work, shaping the strategy for a portfolio of assets and pushing forward high profile, multi-billion dollar development projects. Concurrently, I was keeping a close eye on the exciting advances taking place at the intersection of real estate and technology, and was learning software development in my spare time. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but found myself gravitating toward this new skillset. It took me a couple of years to build up the courage to pursue a career change and dive headfirst into the unknown.
How did you decide on web development as the skill set to change your career path? What made you choose Lighthouse Labs?
Web development is a universal skill set, valued by any company, small or large. At a minimum, a website represents a company’s front door for a customer interested in buying a particular product. Quite commonly, however, it can host complex product offerings, so there is a vast range of applications. I had built small web applications before, enjoyed the process, and recognized its applicability. While I was conducting my search for a bootcamp, I was struck by how Lighthouse sets the expectation that if your aim is to build a strong foundation in web development in 3 months, you need to put the hours in. There were no “get rich quick” promises; the more you put in while in the bootcamp, the more you would get out. And to help you do that, Lighthouse Labs offered a lot of support along the way – both with instructors and mentorship, as well as career resources. Other things I was looking for that I found with Lighthouse Labs was a specific tech stack (including React and Rails, which are popular web development tools) and strong references from alumni. I wanted to know that the cost and time spent without employment would be worth it, and this is ultimately how I took the decision to join Lighthouse.
How did you prepare yourself mentally and financially to make the leap from full-time employment to full-time education?
Financially, I came up with a budget that included the estimated time I would be unemployed after graduation and made sure I had saved up enough prior to making the leap. While I didn’t know that a bootcamp specifically would be the way I would make a career pivot, I had been saving up for something like this for a while. Mentally, the tough part was leaving the team I had been working with for years and committing to a career transition during a pandemic, at a time when many companies had put a freeze on hiring. It helped to know that in the meantime I would be moving from a structured working environment to a structured learning environment but more importantly, I was really excited to go through with it and felt I didn’t have much time to lose.
Briefly explain the teaching process at Lighthouse, why was this effective for you?
Day-to-day, the teaching process would include a mix of readings and exercises, classes with instructors, projects (solo and with peers), and tests; a little bit of everything. Every day was different, and I often found myself excited to see what was in store for me the next day. We learned different tools to tackle the same problem, often building up from the most DIY, cumbersome approach, to leveraging existing libraries - the benefit being that we understood the pros and cons of each approach and would come to appreciate the value of using existing tools having already tried to do things the hard way. Important concepts were repeated, sometimes several times, in different ways, to help you retain information and hammer home the key takeaways. We learned quickly how to approach solving problems we didn’t know how to solve (which occurred daily!); first by trying things out yourself and searching for the answer, and then seeking help from their many mentors, who were readily available and happy to talk through the problem with you. By the end of the bootcamp, I was very pleased with the amount of content I had learned and actually retained.
What were the top three hard skills you learned at Lighthouse Labs?
What were the top three soft skills you learned at Lighthouse Labs?
Group work is an important component at Lighthouse Labs and I found this was the best place for me to hone my soft skills. When working on your own, you alone decide how to solve a problem and the approach you want to take. In a group setting, with peers from diverse backgrounds, we were able to discuss a variety of options as to what to build and how to build it. To that end, communication and teamwork were very important, just as they are in the workplace. Additionally, we had more responsibility than just making things work using code. We had to think about other holistic things like design, product management, general architecture, etc. Throughout the project I’d be thinking “okay, so we have 1 week to build an app. What, specifically, do we want it to accomplish? How do we want to build it? What do we prioritize – given our limited time – in order to deliver an impressive but functional application that a user would want to use?”.
Where are you in your career now? How did Lighthouse Labs help get you to where you are?
Following graduation, I was fortunate to get a job as a Product Manager at VTS, a tech company building software for commercial real estate landlords and brokers to help them lease space as well as manage their assets and relationships with tenants. I had been following VTS for a few years as they built a ton of momentum in the industry and announced that they were expanding their workforce into Toronto, so I am thrilled to have joined them to help build out their product. I have been able to combine my background in real estate with my passion for technology. I work closely with a team of designers and engineers, and having completed a bootcamp with Lighthouse Labs, I can actually understand and appreciate the challenges and successes of the engineers. Not only has this helped to demystify the inner workings of the product, it has allowed me to better understand realistic timelines, set the right expectations internally and ultimately enabled me to be more effective in my role.