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Students work on coding projects at Lighthouse Labs, an operator of Canadian boot camps since 2013.

Lighthouse Labs/Handout

When Nadia Hogg studied web development, she doesn’t remember going to sleep before two a.m. She was in the midst of an intensive bootcamp program at HackerYou, a nine-week period between January and March 2018 that she recalls as marked by a lot of hard work, and very little quality time with her husband. But there was a long-term vision dangling in front of her.

"The freedom that you get from becoming a web developer," she says. "You could live, work, sleep anywhere in the world, and still be very employable."

And, she adds, a future five or 10 years down the road where she could run her own company. “Where I’m doing the marketing, I’m doing the sales, I’m doing the customer retention, I’m doing all of the UX design, I’m doing the website.”

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Ms. Hogg, who previously worked in product training, is now a front-end developer at Deloitte Digital, and one of thousands of Canadians in recent years who have made a career pivot towards web development.

Non-degree boot camps have popped up in major cities and online where novice computer coders learn the basic skills needed to apply for jobs as junior developers working on apps and websites during a course that lasts 15.1 weeks on average. According to the 2019 Market Sizing Report from Course Report, more than 23,000 students were enrolled in North American programs in 2019, 11 times more than in 2013, for total revenue of US$309-million.

Though ads promote boot camps as a simple way to change careers and increase salaries in only a few months, they aren’t a magic fix. But for students willing to put in the work – and who can manage the almost US$13,600 average price tag – there can be long-term rewards on the other side of graduation.

Lighthouse Labs, an operator of Canadian boot camps since 2013, surveyed graduates from 2013 to 2015, finding that, of the 135 survey respondents, 81 per cent still worked as software developers three years after graduating. They earned an average salary of $85,200.

Jeremy Shaki, the company’s chief executive officer, attributes this to a selective admissions process that gets to the heart of a student’s career goals, not just asking them for a tuition payment.

Coding boot camps enable a way to change careers and increase salaries in only a few months.

Lighthouse Labs

"I think we are getting very good at making sure people self-select before they show up and not after," says Shaki.

He says the admission process – which at most boot camps involves a combination of self-guided coding study online, a test to measure technical skills and an interview – is where most people fall out of the process. Ultimately, Mr. Shaki says only one of three people who apply end up enrolled.

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Zola McAdie was making about $16 an hour as a department manager in a natural grocery store when he took a Lighthouse Labs web development boot camp in Victoria.

“I think the majority of the class was folks who were doing either hourly work or sort of low-paid salary work,” he says. Mr. McAdie increased his salary right away: finding an entry-level job with a small startup, making $43,000. Now working as a front-end developer in Toronto, a year and a half later, he is making twice what he could have as a full-time retail worker.

But Sara Mannseichner, a 2017 web development boot camp graduate of Le Wagon Montreal, says that the competition is tough. Graduates compete against job hunters with computer science degrees and others who’ve coded since a young age. While she says top boot camp students do well on the market, she remembers others getting disillusioned.

"It doesn't work for everyone," she says. "One of my friends, I think he's teaching English in Taiwan."

A former geomatics analyst for the federal government, Ms. Mannseichner now works as a freelance web developer in Ottawa. Though she is admittedly “hustling” and working long hours, she enjoys a flexible schedule and an income 20 per cent higher in her new field.

"I think a lot of people thought that they would just be a developer right off the bat and just didn't realize the work that you actually had to put in," she says.

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Ms. Hogg says it takes a person who is curious and determined to succeed in the field, and that it still involves late nights.

“Even now, as I’m employed and working on a project, if I’m kind of stuck with a problem I can’t solve, I’m up because I want to solve it – not because someone’s breathing down my neck,” she says.

“I’m putting in the extra hours because I want to know.”

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