Recently, a family member approached me with the idea of attending a developer bootcamp and working as a web developer before finally going to university. The idea behind this was that he didn't feel ready to slog through another four years of education and wanted to acquire some life experience before taking on the daunting task of pursuing a career. He had put a fair amount of thought into this, and felt confident that it was a viable path that would not only provide fulfillment, but a first taste of success. As much informing me of his intentions as he was seeking my advice, he sat expectantly waiting my response. My own experience at his age had been very different, and the stark contrast between how I had seen life and how he saw it fuelled some deep thoughts on this subject.

When I was in high school, I was an avid classical musician. Six out of seven nights a week, I was at some rehearsal or performance, more often wearing a tux than jeans and a t-shirt. Symphony halls, marching band rehearsals and practice rooms were my homes away from home, and I was sure of my path and my passion at that point in my life. Computers were merely a hobby, and programming something that I understood but had not devoted any significant time into understanding at the arcane level necessary for becoming a programmer. Admittedly, at that time, there were no languages like Ruby or JavaScript. This was the early 1990's, and the programming landscape was still growing. Music was my passion, computers were my hobby, and the road ahead of me was clear and well-mapped.

My transition from high school to university was seamless, without any gap years between where I cast about to discover both an identity for myself as an adult and to carve out my own space in the world. I went through a four-year music program at a university to obtain my bachelor's degree, and then set out to translate all of the skills I had spent sixteen years cultivating into a career.

Later in life, my path changed. Computers became my career and music became my hobby. Music was still a passion, but it was unable to provide the income that I needed to support my family in the style to which they would have liked to become accustomed. However, when I set forth to establish a career as a web developer, I found myself woefully unprepared. As a musician I had kept my interest active, dabbled a bit in languages and technologies such as Perl and JavaScript as they emerged as players in the world wide web. But I was entirely self-taught, and had more than my fair share of bad habits and misconceptions about how software should be developed.

One of my early websites (a true design masterpiece).


Beneficially to me, these were the very early days of the web. The bar was quite low. A terrible web site was still an accomplishment, and I built many of those as I struggled to learn the intricacies of managing servers, integrating languages, and delivering finished products to clients. Through a number of patient mentors, friends, and many nights spent burning the midnight oil, I managed to forge a career for myself that included work for a number of companies who are all still willing to admit that I used to develop software for them. I transitioned myself from being someone yearning to learn best practices to being someone who followed them and ultimately became the patient mentor and friend who was passing them on to others.

But as this mosaic of nostalgia was running through my mind, I realized that my young family member was sitting right there waiting for a response. So I put myself in his shoes and weighed the pros and cons of what he was proposing. He was between high school and university, without a tremendous amount of work experience. He had a vague shape in his mind as to how he thought his career might unfold, but it was amorphous still.

Most young adults that leap into a university path right out of high school are doing so with the fervent hope that a path is going to appear out of the shrouded mist that is the end of high school, and point the way to a (hopefully) long, fulfilling career. Many find this, but yet many do not. Having had my experiences teaching with other institutions, and seeing one and two-year programs produce entry-level designers and developers, I evaluated whether a developer bootcamp like Lighthouse Labs would be beneficial to someone wanting their first break into the workforce.

In that moment, the answer was clear. Immersing himself in a bootcamp environment and then transitioning into the workforce would clarify his passions, give him some much-needed income, and also arm him with the life experience which could only benefit him should he later pursue a four-year university education in any field. Having been on the employer side of the table when hiring candidates, I knew that were I presented with someone who had the in-depth training and best-practices that come from an immersive education program, work experience honing those skills to support products and customer experiences, I would look far more favourably on them than I would someone who had gone straight from high school to university and had no real-world savvy with which to benefit my company.

I passed on my kernels of wisdom and insight, feeling at that moment a sage mentor. Eagerly, I outlined my thinking on how he would benefit, and let him know how much I wished that there had been something like Lighthouse when I was starting as a web developer. I know I would have been more successful had I been able to gain the skills and experience that I would have gotten. I am happy with the direction my career has taken, but I can't help but imagine how much further I could have gone.

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