Khurram Virani is the co-founder and head of Education over at Lighthouse Labs, a Canadian web development bootcamp with several locations across Canada. I had the pleasure of meeting him on my first day as a part-time student for web fundamentals course.
1. The majority of startups are based on some sort of app or product whereas your idea for a startup helped create a workforce for the startup community. How did you come up with this unique idea?
The idea for Lighthouse Labs came from my experience as the CTO of Functional Imperative, a boutique software development agency that I started about 4 years ago in Toronto which works with local and international business to solve their technical needs. Like most dev shops and technical teams, we were always looking to build our team. I had hired graduates of other bootcamps, and although I saw the validity of the model, I saw the need for bootcamps to be training their students with a focus on setting them up to succeed in their career.
The other driving force was my passion for teaching, which I discovered at the early age of eight as a volunteer at a local community centre and I have been teaching and mentoring in various capacities ever since.
2. What was it like when you first started Lighthouse Labs? Where does the name come from? Was it hard at first to get funding?
When I first started Lighthouse Labs, I was the only instructor and one of just a handful of TAs. We also only had a class of 6 students. So although it was a very tight-knit group, I’m sure they got a little sick of me 🙂
There’s a sea of knowledge out there on the internet, and becoming a solid developer is about navigating it with persistence and guidance, and that’s why we called it Lighthouse Labs. It also helps that lighthouses are pretty damn cool and that all founding partners agreed that we associate the west coast with them (though currently cross-Canada now, Lighthouse originated in Vancouver).
Funding was never a major focus for us – we have been completely bootstrapped from the start! Having a previously successful software company helps in that way.
3. What advice would you give to people who looking to work at a tech startup or are thinking of forming their own startup?
Don’t work in a vacuum. Get out there and ask people about your idea, validate the market, and look for help. There are incredible people out there willing to make themselves a resource to you, and if you ignore them then at best it’ll take you longer, and at worst you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.
If you are looking to start a software product (be it a web or mobile app) and if it is taking longer than 8 weeks with one developer to create your MVP, then you’re doing it wrong. I would suggest giving The Lean Startup by Eric Ries a quick read beforehand as well.
4. Lighthouse Labs is behind Canada’s largest free all-day coding event called the HTML 500. Are there any plans to hold the event in more cities next year? Or to have more than one event in the same city?
We’ve been very happy with Canada’s reception of the HTML500 series. We are actually exploring right now the different ways to bring the HTML500 to more people. Although I can’t say too much since it’s in the early stages, I will say that it involves greater technology integration, a larger number of communities, and a pretty epic scale!
5. Do you believe the interest in learning how to code has increased significantly and that more people from non-technical backgrounds are looking to make the switch into becoming a developer?
Absolutely. I think it’s starting with more and more people realizing that digital literacy is important in virtually any career, and that coding isn’t just for certain types of people. Then, as more people open themselves up to the craft, more are finding it enjoyable, and seeing the value in making a career of it.
Most of our students are career changers who have already dabbled a bit in coding and have decided to take the leap forward and switch careers.
6. What advice would you give to people who are interested in learning how to code, but are too afraid to try? Why do you think so many people are intimidated by technology in general?
My advice would be to ask someone for help! Mentorship is something we really believe in here at Lighthouse. It’s so easy to start a free online coding course but give up after hitting a roadblock. If you have someone to help you through it, you’ll go much farther.
I think the reason many people are intimidated by technology is they can’t see the result from the process. Many can’t fathom the connection between the rainbow-coloured text editor they see on a coder’s screen and the robust applications that are parts of their everyday life. That’s why I think something like something like The HTML500 is so powerful. By starting to create those bridges in people’s brains, even with something as simple as seeing a tag becoming a header, their intimidation factor is greatly reduced.
7. What skills and qualities would you consider beneficial to help someone become a developer or become a better developer?
Teamwork – Many people don’t realize how much developers collaborate. It’s an essential part of development.
Persistence – You’re going to get stuck – it’s important to know how to not give up!
9. I took a few computer science courses myself in high school as electives. Based on how prevalent technology is in our everyday lives, do you think the high school curriculum will eventually make taking computer science classes mandatory for students?
I think we are already seeing that. England recently became the first country to mandate computer science courses for students aged 5 to 16 (source). As this field continues to grow I think we’ll see more of that. Digital literacy is only going to continue to grow in the coming years.
Software is a big part of our lives and a science that we should be exposed to early on in life. It’s the best industry to be in right now and not enough people are aware of how exciting it is to be a part of it. While we may not go on to be physicists or chemists, it’s important to learn fundamental laws of physics and chemistry in high school, and the same should be true for Computer Science.
10. In the meantime, for students who are interested in learning how to code, what resources would you recommend for them?
If students are curious about what The HTML500 was all about, I invite them to try out the curriculum at https://lighthouselabs.ca/html500ebook.
Otherwise, the best place to start is probably Codecademy’s HTML/CSS introductory course:http://www.codecademy.com/tracks/web
11. In what direction do you see the future of technology heading?