Jobs, Dragons, and COVID-19: How Anas Qazi Navigated Uncertainty to Further His Career

Having moved from India to Saudi Arabia to Canada, Anas Qazi was no stranger to change. But when he first arrived in Toronto hoping to break into the city’s growing IT industry, he realized just how much was different from his previous experience in the field. Anas had years of experience working with physical servers in Saudi Arabia, but in Toronto, most technology companies had moved to the cloud. 

As he searched for career opportunities, Anas realized he needed to update his skill set for the Canadian job market. Seeking a program with comprehensive career services, he spoke to alumni of University of Toronto SCS Coding Boot Camp and decided to enroll.

Learning coding and development from scratch was no easy feat, but Anas would have to deal with yet another unexpected change before he could complete the program: the final weeks of the program — including demo day — were moved entirely online in response to COVID-19. From navigating the last-minute transition to creating a buzz-worthy capstone project and securing a new role in the field soon after, here are the highlights of Anas’s coding boot camp experience.

Adjusting — and readjusting — to the boot camp amidst COVID-19

Anas went into the boot camp with some background knowledge of HTML and CSS, which helped with the initial adjustment. But after a few weeks, the course moved on to Java and JavaScript. Anas found himself putting in extra time just to get a basic understanding of the concepts. 

“It was all new and complicated,” he said. “I did a lot of deep dives on my own, searching online for different shortcuts and strategies, and it really helped me understand how the topics were interconnected as we moved through the course.”

Group projects were a big part of the coursework, and Anas quickly found that the key to success was pinpointing — and playing into — each member’s strengths. His team would identify the different functions of each project, sorting them according to each other’s abilities to achieve the best possible result. In person, this consisted of hands-on meetings and sit-down sessions. But halfway into the group’s capstone project, it became clear that they’d have to move online.

“All six of us were meeting every day, trying to accomplish as much as we possibly could,” said Anas. “We spent the whole last Saturday of in-person class planning out the next two weeks. Demo day was delayed to account for the transition, and we were committed to making the most of our time. We reset our project targets, and came up with strategies to meet them more efficiently.”

Creating an exciting capstone and setting up for virtual demo day success

Acutely aware of the challenges of securing a job in web development, Anas and his group created a capstone project designed to help fellow boot campers and coders through the process.

“As recipients of the boot camp’s career services, we realized how much work and effort is needed to become competitive candidates,” said Anas. “The process can be repetitive and arduous. We thought, ‘What if there were a way to make searching for a job, building career materials, and keeping coding skills sharp a fun and engaging experience?’”

The end result was a MERN application called Jobs & Dragons. It reproduced the methods necessary to become employed, infusing them into a dungeon crawler/RPG game. Through GitHub, users were provided with initial character stats that improved as they finished quests. Each quest reflected a step required to prepare for entering the web development job market, including creating a resume, searching for a job online, and crafting a cover letter.

The game got a great response, establishing networks of users in both Toronto and Saudi Arabia. But the process didn’t end there. The team still had to present it at virtual demo day. Each team inhabited its own Zoom room, and every five minutes, when new professionals joined, Anas and his teammates would do their Jobs & Dragons pitch. 

The day concluded with a cohort-wide Zoom celebration — topped off with a final group screenshot. 

Navigating a mid-pandemic job search and coming out successful on the other side 

Anas’s hard work paid off. Following the same steps he had outlined in Jobs & Dragons, he became employer-ready shortly after his successful completion of the program — keeping his materials competitive and never missing a career coaching call or virtual meeting. He also continued to learn Angular, AWS, and other tools that helped him secure a substitute role with Trilogy Education and a software engineer mentoring role with Springboard, an entirely online technology education program. 

Then, on June 15, Anas started a full-time role at a technology-based commercial real estate agency, connecting lenders and buyers using the same stack he learned in the coding boot camp. 

“I love it,” said Anas. “I’m already working on projects that have thousands of lines of code, and my ability to learn and go deep down into each line has been a huge help. I appreciate that the boot camp is constantly updating to stay in touch with what’s used in the industry today. As someone who felt like their expertise had no value in the current landscape, that was invaluable to me. I gained all of the additional skills I needed in a very short time, and in the end, I managed to settle down and secure a job within one year of moving here. Ultimately, that’s what I came to do — and I did it.”

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