Pandemic pivot: From bartender to coder with just three months of school

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The first phase of the pandemic was a rough ride for Maggie DeVito. The 26-year-old former Vancouver-based bartender says she was out of work for months amid frequent restaurant closures and COVID-19 restrictions.

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So when her former employer had to temporarily lay off her again after the summer of 2020, she started thinking about a radical career change, she says.

Roughly a year later, DeVito is working as a full-stack developer for a record label, working on the company’s site and also building and designing websites for its artists.

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The work is “super interesting,” she says. “And I get a little glimpse into the music industry.”

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Her hourly wage has risen to $25 an hour before tax, which is a significant increase from $15-$20 an hour with the tips she used as a bartender. And unlike her previous job, there is no uncertainty about how much she will earn every week.

Even better, DeVito was able to pull off a dramatic professional pivot with just three months of schooling.

Robert Furtado, who heads Compare Courses, a website that compares courses and training programs in different industries, says their employees often hear from potential job-switchers who believe they need a four-year degree in computer science to get a job in tech. Will be

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“The reality is, if you’re interested in becoming a web developer, for example, you should explore all avenues,” Furtado says.

These days, that includes free online learning options on YouTube; GitHub, the open-source software development community; and Coding Boot Camp, a new breed of post-secondary school that promises to churn out office-ready IT workers in just a few months.

The latter is what DeVito did, enrolling in a 12-week web-developer course Lighthouse Labs which started in January. She says that she got a job in a record company within a few months of finishing school.

Canada’s IT workforce shortage, which was already acute before the pandemic, has become even more severe, says Jonathan Ward, president of the tech-focused recruitment and staffing agency Ward Technology Talent.

“It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen in terms of labor shortages in the last 20 years,” he says.

Some companies recruiting for mid- and senior-level positions have had to shorten their recruitment cycles to five business days to be able to snag in-demand candidates, he says.

And salaries are so competitive that some IT candidates with coveted skills are getting paid higher than their own hiring managers, he says.

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“The pandemic has markedly accelerated our use of digital technologies for everything from banking to groceries shopping,” Furtado says. And it has sent companies in almost every industry to strengthen their IT workforce.

Because of the shortage, firms are also willing to hire entry-level candidates, Shaki says.

“There were already a lot of companies[that]were still waiting to find that one magical person they could (want) to find at the price point. And now companies are coming up with better staffing solutions that include young entry Maintaining and training level talent and helping them grow,” he says.

Furtado says that many large employers in both the private and public sectors have dropped degree requirements for many IT positions.

But the pandemic is also attracting more workers to the tech sector.

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According to Furtado, web traffic related to technology careers and courses was up 178 percent in September 2021 compared to the same month in 2019 at CourseCompare.

And according to Shaki, enrollment at Lighthouse Labs has soared during the pandemic.

“We have doubled our student base since the beginning of 2020,“He says.

Shaki says that at least to the fact that Lighthouse Labs was quick to set up a COVID-19 relief scholarship for workers affected by job losses linked to the pandemic.

Since March 2020, the company says it has made available $1 million in scholarships to students. Currently, it offers $750 for its part-time courses and $3,000 toward its full-time programs, according to its website. Courses cost up to $13,000 for a full-time, 12-week class.

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DeVito was among those who took advantage of the scholarship, without which she would have had to push back her enrollment to save, she says.

She was still able to put $2,000 in her savings and cover the rest with government student loans, she says.

Even before she could go back to school, the pandemic, she says, had forced her to eliminate credit card debt.

“I just paid for it right before COVID,” she says.

Now, however, she earns enough money to get back on track financially.

“I’m able to save,” she says. “I am able to start working to get out of the debt I acquired throughout COVID and also pay off my student loans.”

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