Training the territory’s future techies

The Yukon government wants to beef up the territory's tech industry, and they've hooked up with a slick Vancouver training program to help.

The Yukon government wants to beef up the territory’s tech industry, and they’ve hooked up with a slick Vancouver training program to help.

Jeremy Shaki and Khurram Virani of Lighthouse Labs were in Whitehorse this week to make their pitch to sign up a handful of Yukoners for an eight-week web developer boot camp.

The program is intensive. It demands 70 hours a week of lectures, labs and assignments.

But that’s what it takes to go from zero to professional web developer in just two months.

“We’re not for people who purely are just in it to dabble,” said Shaki in an interview this week. “One hundred per cent of our graduates have jobs as web developers.”

And a lot of them come in with little or no tech experience.

“I’d say the majority of the students that take our program are career changers,” said Virani. “They’re adults. Motivation is definitely not a problem, they’re willing to put in those 70 hours a week, because that’s what’s required at that pace.”

The Yukon government reached out to Lighthouse Labs after hearing about an event in Vancouver where 500 people learned to code in one day.

They wanted to do something similar here in Whitehorse, but the logistics were just too much, said Shaki.

“We didn’t know that we could actually house that here and deliver it properly, the way we wanted to.”

So they started considering other ways to build the Yukon tech community, and began a conversation about distance education.

“In talking about remote, we looked at, can we do this in a way where we can assure quality?” said Shaki.

“When you look at online schools, the challenge is generally you stay at home, you’re in your bedroom, you’re working on it, you have to motivate yourself every day, and when you graduate you don’t necessarily have a community around you to continue working with.”

Those conversations finally led to the course that is now available for Yukoners – a hybrid between online and classroom learning.

The Yukon students will be a part of a boot camp class in Vancouver, without having to leave the territory.

They’ll gather in a classroom every day and get their lectures by live video feed. They’ll do the same program, the same assignments, at the same time.

Not only will they be gathered together to support each other, but they’ll have a Yukon teacher assistant for help, too.

“There are a lot of learn-to-code programs online, to learn at your own pace,” said Virani. “This is not just a learn-to-code, it takes it a step further and it’s about not only learning to code but also becoming a software developer, becoming a coder.”

It’s not just about teaching skills but about spreading developer culture and community.

That’s something that aligned well with what the Yukon government was trying to do, said Shaki.

“We’ve talked and worked with a bunch of governments now in a bunch of different spaces, companies, governments, people who are looking to build their developer community, and I will say that the Yukon government, the people we’ve dealt with here, have probably been some of the most progressive people, as far as trying to address this issue in Whitehorse and in the Yukon generally.”

The goal is to get Yukon graduates jobs right here at home when they finish the program.

“We definitely have the interest as far as people who are looking to hire,” said Shaki.

One hundred per cent of Lighthouse Labs grads have been set up with paid internships upon graduation.

Starting salaries for web developers across the country are about $45,000-50,000, he said.

The program itself costs $8,000, but the school can provide information about grants that could offset up to two-thirds of that cost.

A good candidate for the program is interested in a career as a web developer and up for the intensive environment, said Shaki.

“The more rational and logical a thinker you are, the more you are a linear thinker, the easier time you will have in a boot camp. We’ve seen artists come through with that, we’ve seen comedians, we’ve seen people we would never think like that.

“It should be people who enjoy problem solving. People who see a problem and want to solve it – that’s a key trait in a good developer. It’s not someone who is going to get extremely frustrated every time they approach any problem that they see.”

One great thing about being a web developer is the flexibility it can offer to have the kind of lifestyle you want, said Shaki.

If you work really hard for a year to get your skills up, you can find yourself in a place where the options are limitless.

“Your career could take you as someone who travels all over the world, and you just do your stuff remotely from wherever you are, you could work for an amazing product company and be part of the energy of this vastly, quickly growing company, and be part of building solutions that are solving tons of problems for people across the board, or you could stay in your community and do this as a nice 9-5 lifestyle job.”

Tech companies around the world are starving for talent, and they’re happy to have people work remotely from wherever they want to be, he said.

“There’s so much demand, that companies have to acquiesce to what you’re looking to deliver. Maybe one company isn’t willing to give you exactly what you want, but there’s another company that is.”

The Whitehorse program runs April 27 to June 19. Visit for more information.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at