How I Decided to Learn to Code (and become a Bitmaker)

Before coming to Bitmaker Labs, I was a librarian, and I took every opportunity to work with library technology. While a student at McGill, I co-organized a one-day conference on the use of social media and other online services in libraries; I arranged for experts from across Canada and the United States to present to the student and professional attendees. As a librarian at Seneca College, I participated on a committee to explore such initiatives as introducing a modern, user-focused online interface for discovering library resources, and lending iPads to students. I could see that technology was continuing to change libraries, and I wanted to be more involved with it, but without any coding skills I felt limited. I wanted to learn, but I felt I couldn't justify the time and cost involved in working towards a computer science degree.

The idea of coding had always appealed to me. In the early days of the web, I learned the basics of HTML so I could build myself a website (complete with animated gifs and blinking text). A few years later I bought a thick book on C++ and made it through about 100 pages of seemingly unnecessarily convoluted syntax before giving up.

Fortunately, in the past few years a number of easy-to-use (and often free) online resources for learning to code have popped up. I started by learning JavaScript through Codecademy, and I appreciated their approach of using interactive, bite-sized assignments. After that I enrolled in an introductory Python course on Coursera and enjoyed the short video lectures and weekly code assignments that were automatically graded to provide immediate feedback. These experiences were enough to convince me that solving problems through code is something I would find challenging and fulfilling as part of my career, but I didn't feel that self-paced online resources would be enough to bring me up to the level I wanted to be at.

In a further stroke of good luck, not long after completing the Coursera course, I began hearing about coding bootcamps. The first one that caught my attention was App Academy, in San Francisco and New York, and I was blown away to discover that in less than three months they could prepare students to be junior developers. Some quick research showed me that similar programs were popping up across the United States, and the more I read, the more I wanted to sign up for one; however, the idea of relocating temporarily (or longer term, if I received a job offer near the program) was daunting. I was seriously considering it though, and that’s when I discovered Bitmaker Labs.

[caption id="attachment_1577" align="aligncenter" width="525"]Lead Admissions Officer Erik Dohnberg and Bitmaker Graham Lavender Lead Admissions Officer Erik Dohnberg and Bitmaker Graham Lavender[/caption]

At first glance, Bitmaker Labs appeared to be exactly what I was looking for: a coding bootcamp in Toronto, where I was already living. Being a good librarian and researcher, though, I wanted to dig a bit deeper to determine whether the program would be able to deliver on its promises. I started on the official website, where I read about the successes of former Bitmakers and saw that they were connected with a variety of high quality hiring partners. Then I looked up the blogs and Twitter feeds of former and then-current students, who had unanimously positive feedback about their experiences. Finally, I submitted my application and came down for an interview, which gave me the chance to see the students hard at work, and to learn more from Erik, the Lead Admissions Officer.

Needless to say, I was convinced. I signed up immediately, and here I am now, typing away on a comfy couch at 20 Duncan St., confident that I made the right decision by becoming a Bitmaker.

by Graham Lavender