At Lighthouse Labs, we want to help make the tech industry more inclusive and accessible. For too long, the lucrativeness of digital skills has been much too exclusive. You shouldn’t need to have a master’s in computer science or engineering to learn how to code or use data analytics. That’s why we’re excited to train students from a variety of backgrounds in digital skills like web dev.

Our students come from a variety of industry backgrounds, from manufacturing to retail to customer service to the humanities. Take, for example, Fatima Altaf, who graduated from our web development bootcamp at the beginning of 2020. Before transitioning into a career as a developer, Fatima worked in the nonprofit sector. There, she worked on public policy initiatives, especially in relation to child poverty in Ontario.

No matter who you are or what industry you come from, you should get an opportunity to upskill or reskill into our digitally-driven future. Let’s take a look at what it’s like for people from non-STEM backgrounds to transition into a tech career by following Fatima Altaf through her journey.

Here’s what we’ll look at through this article:

  • Transitioning into tech from a non-STEM field
  • Why a person might reskill into tech
  • What it’s like to go through a coding bootcamp
  • Job-searching during a pandemic
  • Advice for those considering enrolling in bootcamp

Let’s look at Fatima Altaf’s journey!

Transitioning From the Nonprofit Sector into Tech

Fatima completed an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in political science. In 2017, she graduated from her master’s and transitioned into the nonprofit sector. In her work there, she was initially working as a researcher before moving up to become a research coordinator.

Within that field, Fatima did a lot of work on public policy. In her day to day, she would meet with various stakeholders and community groups to convene on initiatives. One of the large, overarching initiatives she was working on was eliminating child poverty across Ontario. A bold and necessary measure.

Around that time, Fatima discovered the Women Learning to Code initiative, through the International Development and Relief Foundation. This program offers young women between the ages of 18 and 29 an opportunity to learn more about web development through no-cost training.

In the summer of 2018, Fatima took Lighthouse Labs’ intro to web dev part-time course through Women Learn to Code. While working through the course curriculum, Fatima had a lot of fun on the HTML and CSS parts, but she confesses that the JavaScript module kind of flew over her head. “I didn’t know whether I could see myself doing this kind of work on a daily basis,” reflects Fatima.

Through the IDRF, scholarships were being offered to Lighthouse Lab’s full-time web dev bootcamp. Fatima and a couple of other classmates from the course applied just to see, and Fatima ended up being accepted. However, she had two young children and no access to childcare, so she put off her admission. Some months later, when her work contract ran out, she decided to enroll in bootcamp after all.

Why A Person Might Reskill Into Tech

Fatima says that her career change wasn’t due to irreconcilable differences between her and the nonprofit sector. “I did love the career path I pursued after school,” she admits. “But when I took the intro to web dev course, my mind suddenly opened up. It was a breakthrough moment.”

Reflecting on her passage through education, Fatima says she didn’t have a lot of faith in her abilities at STEM subjects. This lack of confidence was enforced by teachers who were unsupportive and demoralizing towards her during school. Because of this, she was much more comfortable in her strength at writing and communicating.

But after taking the intro course with Women Learn to Code, Fatima started to believe in herself and feel like she was capable of coding. It helped that there were other women in the course from various non-STEM backgrounds, like a classmate who came from a pharmaceutical background. “It was helpful to have other women around in similar situations, and seeing them succeed,” says Fatima.

What It’s Like to Go Through A Coding Bootcamp

Even with confidence equipped, working through bootcamp is never a walk in the park. It requires a lot of hard work and commitment. Fatima recalls how completing the coursework could be really intense at times, especially during the beginning. She says that the first week was the most challenging, and there were times when she doubted herself and her abilities.

Connecting with others was part of what helped her get through these difficult moments and keep aiming for success. She talks about connecting with other women who had already completed the bootcamp. “There was one woman I was messaging on basically a daily basis, and she kept sending me words of encouragement,” says Fatima.

As the weeks went by, Fatima started to fall into a rhythm with her studies. Being able to wrap her mind around JavaScript was the most challenging part for her, but she did succeed at it. And as bootcamp went on, the cohort got to know each other very well and they started to lean on each other. She stayed connected with her cohort after graduation, especially with the other young woman in her cohort who she did her capstone project in collaboration with.

“Looking back, I can see my growth trajectory,” says Fatima. “By the end, when you realize you’ve become a web developer, you see how far you’ve grown. And that’s a really great feeling.”

Job-Searching in Tech During a Pandemic

Fatima graduated from the web bootcamp in January 2020; right before the COVID pandemic and its lockdowns rocked through Canada and the world. Through the winter, Fatima was applying for jobs and attending employer demo days. But then March hit, and there were a lot of layoffs and hiring freezes. Competition for jobs became really intense.

Instead of stressing herself out with her job search, Fatima tried to enjoy her summer as much as possible. She spent it relaxing, enjoying time with her family, and doing outdoor activities like hiking.

Exercising patience paid off for Fatima. Eventually, she was hired at an internship. A friend of hers who also graduated from bootcamp notified her that her company was hiring, and she started working at LoyaltyOne. She then had her contract extended to April, at which time she’s hoping to transition to a permanent position.

LoyaltyOne is the owner and operator of Air Miles, and with them Fatima has been working on web accessibility. She’s been working on making the Air Miles website accessibilities for Canadians to use if they have any disabilities. Her day to day work consists of debugging and refactoring existing code so that it works well with devices like screen readers.

Advice for Those Considering Enrolling in Bootcamp

After successfully passing through Lighthouse Labs’ web dev bootcamp, Fatima has some advice for others who are considering enrolling. She knows that bootcamp can be difficult, especially at first. “If you’re feeling uncomfortable, just sit with those feelings,” advises Fatima. “It’ll be okay, and it definitely gets better. But don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside.”

Fatima says that one of the things that helped her to get through more challenging periods was having someone else to talk to, and to be validated by. For Fatima, one of Lighthouse’s career advisors was really helpful in that regard.

“Having a trusted relationship with a Lighthouse mentor is also really helpful,” continues Fatima. “My mentors gave me a lot of good life advice, and it was nice to have someone to vent to who understood the experience.”

Fatima speaks to how unique her situation was because she had two young children at home. Social connection and community support was especially important in that regard. For Fatima, that meant having her mother-in-law fly over and help with household tasks. But it also meant things like venting with classmates and mentors.

Ready to take a chance and reskill with our web bootcamp yourself?