Roland is an iOS instructor at our Vancouver campus and has been doing some amazing work in the community. He has been working in tech for over 25 years and have had the opportunity to work in both startups and large corporations. Alongside teaching at Lighthouse Labs, Roland also runs a program in the Richmond school district called Game of Apps, where he brings together the tech community to mentor students in a app development and design competition.
Where did you work before teaching at Lighthouse Labs?
In my 25+ years working in technology, I’ve had the opportunity to work at both startups and large corporations: Nortel and Ericsson (large), Abatis Systems and Redback Networks (startup). More recently I’ve done contract work and various projects with Atimi Software and also on my own.
What’s one cool non-development job you’ve done?
There’s a few. I’ve done Technical Sales, Business Development, but my favourite outside of Software Development is Product Management.
What do you enjoy doing outside of teaching and coding?
I love to play music. I play guitar, saxophone and I sing (or try to, lol). I haven’t had as much time to do these as I wanted though.
Why did you get into teaching?
I’ve had the privilege of being mentored and taught by countless individuals so teaching is a way to give back and pay it forward.
Tell us about your teaching philosophy.
One of the things I like to do is to teach concepts and techniques within the context of how and why they are used. I believe when when the student understands how the lesson fits within the bigger picture—i.e. what are the pros and cons of different approaches and how does it help in real world projects—they are able to better internalize it.
What do you love most about teaching at Lighthouse Labs?
I like meeting all the wonderful people—both the staff and the students.
What is the most rewarding part about teaching at Lighthouse Labs?
The “lightbulb moments”, the times when the student’s face brightens up and you know they just connected the dots and have grasped a difficult or challenging concept—these are the times that are most rewarding to me.
Why did you first get started with coding?
For me, it all started when I was in Grade 7. The Richmond School District just purchased their first Apple II computers (this gives away my age!) and my teacher, Mr. Glen Bussey, invited anyone who wanted to learn to program the computer to stay after school with him. I was one of the kids that did. I wrote my first ever program (in BASIC) on that computer, and I was hooked ever since.
Your first coding project?
At UBC, I learned a number of programming languages: C, C++, Pascal, Fortran, Modula 2, Lisp. (Java wasn’t invented yet back then, if you must know!) However, after graduating, my first job required me to code in PL/1! Even at that time, this language was already obsolete, haha! So I spent the first couple weeks of the job reading through the manuals and trying to understand the existing code base. I was up and productive soon after that.
What open source or side projects are you working on right now?
One exciting side project I’m involved in is the non-profit Game of Apps (gameofapps.org) program, an app design and development competition among high school students. We bring together developers and designers currently working in local tech companies and have them volunteer to teach and mentor high school students. It’s a great way for us in the tech industry to give back to the next generation.
Most people recognize that it’s important to teach coding to students in public schools. The biggest challenge however is the lack of qualified teachers. Game of Apps solves this by having industry (where we do have the knowledge and capability) partner with educators to provide this exposure to the students.
This is our first year running the program and our efforts have been well received by the community, the educators and the civic leaders in Richmond. The grand finale and awards ceremony is on February 24, where the winning team will be awarded the Glen Bussey Trophy (named after my grade 7 teacher—he is now retired but has dedicated his career to teaching in Richmond and was instrumental in many technology initiatives).
We are in discussions to expand this program into the Vancouver School District next year. We’re really excited about this.
What is your advice for aspiring developers?
One of the most important aspects to becoming a good developer is having patience and perseverance. Often times, you get stuck trying to solve a problem and you might try to approach it in so many different ways, or research countless methods to address it before you finally find an acceptable solution.
You also have to be passionate about technology. As in regular life, there will be many ups and downs in being a software developer. The ups are easy, but during the downs, it’s your love for technology that will keep you going.
What has been your most memorable moment at Lighthouse Labs so far?
The line-ups to go into the bathroom at 11am immediately after the morning lectures!
Joking aside, the most memorable to me are the times when a student completes a particularly difficult challenge exercise. This to me indicates that they’ve grasped the concept fully.
What’s one thing students should know about you before coming to Lighthouse Labs?
I’m an easy going person, I love to hear about the students’ dreams and aspirations, and I enjoy telling them about my experiences working in the industry.