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Lighthouse Labs is a Vancouver-based coding school

Lighthouse Labs

Dakoda Reid, an industrial designer with a degree from Toronto's Humber College, wasn't finding the opportunities he had expected in his field.

"The industry in Canada is a little tight," he says. "I had to make a kind of pivot in my career."

But Mr. Reid didn't get another degree to make that happen. Instead, he enrolled in an intensive nine-week course in web development offered by a small company, BitMaker Labs.

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"It's accelerated," he says. "You take a university degree or diploma, you're going to learn a lot of fluff and it's a little dated. [BitMaker] was the best way for me to make that pivot and that transition really quick."

High demand for computer programming skills and a soft job market for young people is driving strong growth for a new type of digitally-focused education company – small private schools that offer intensive "coding bootcamps," eight to 12-week programs that teach specialized computer programming skills.

"We are outcome-driven education," says Jeremy Shaki, co-founder of Lighthouse Labs, a Vancouver-based coding school. "We want people to be good enough that they can get jobs immediately and learn on the job and get paid to continue learning."

For Lighthouse Labs, those outcomes are good. The school boasts that 100% of bootcamp graduates who wanted full time work landed co-op placements or full-time jobs within three months; 85% of those placements turned into full time paying gigs.

Mr. Reid says finding a job was easy for him. He received two job offers before graduating from the BitMaker program and now works as the director of user experience for SurfEasy, a Toronto-based online encryption startup.

It's not just traditional tech companies or startups that are hiring bootcamp grads. Mr. Shaki says Lighthouse Labs has placed graduates at large non-tech companies like Mountain Equipment Coop, Nike and Lululemon. Meanwhile, graduates from other programs are going to work for small marketing agencies looking to develop Facebook apps or websites for campaigns.

"For a long time, coding was treated in a very academic, mathematical fashion," Mr. Shaki says. Coding bootcamps, on the other hand, treat coding as a skill, or a trade.

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"That's why this program works," he adds. "When I put someone in front of an employer and they get tested on their coding skills, they either have them or they don't."

Lighthouse Labs has seen significant growth as a company. Since launching in 2013, it has expanded its bootcamp program to Toronto.

One of the big advantages coding schools have is their agility. Mr. Shaki says Lighthouse Labs changes around four to five per cent of its curriculum every month.

Craig Hunter, the CEO of BitMaker Labs, calls it "market-driven education," focusing on the skills that employers want.

The programs are intensive, as students spend between 40 and 80 hours a week in-class and working on assignments. The programs also boast small class sizes and high student-to-teacher ratios.

They don't come cheap. Lighthouse Labs charges $9,000. Other bootcamps range in price from $5,995 to $8,000.

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But, given the results and the speed, there's a lot of talk about the return on investment for students.

"We have this attractive package, it's got proven success, it's constantly iterating – when you compare it to a lot of traditional education, it's got a very high ROI," says Mr. Hunter.

Still, the people running coding schools don't necessarily see themselves as an alternative to traditional universities and colleges.

"I think of ourselves as complementary to a lot of traditional education institutions. Eighty per cent of our graduates have postsecondary education," Mr. Hunter says.

While universities teach a variety of soft skills, coding schools focus on a specific skillset. "When you combine them together, you actually come out as an extremely employable person," Mr. Hunter says.

Heather Payne is the CEO of Toronto-based coding school Hacker You and founder of Ladies Learning Code, a non-profit that teaches shorter one-off tech skills classes and is focused on encouraging women to enter the tech industry. She says there's something very attractive about a program where students with basic skills can get a good job after nine weeks.

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Several coding schools offer part-time introductory courses and most of those offer a discount for people who move on to the bootcamps.

Jane Lytvynenko says she took a class at Ladies Learning Code which led her to enter the Hacker You bootcamp.

Hacker You was an "incredibly supportive environment," she says. And the fact that the company was run by a woman was a strong selling point.

Ms. Payne says around 70 per cent of her students are female, even though she hasn't made a particular effort to recruit women.

"For me, the fact that we've created a place where women can come and feel comfortable and learn and excel and then enter the industry" she says, is "why I love running this business."

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