From student to teacher: How Jonathon Leathers is giving back

Jonathon Leathers is not only an instructor, but a business owner, mentor, and organizer of WordCamp Vancouver. He shares how completing the Front-End Web Developer (FWD) program at BCIT has changed his career, and allowed him to create impactful opportunities for others.

Where did you start your career?

After earning my Bachelor’s degree in California I moved to Portland, Oregon and started doing sales and marketing for the family business. A few years later, my partner and I moved to Vancouver so she could attend school. I started getting the urge to go back to school myself, and try something new. I’d had an interest in coding for the web since high school, but only as a hobby. I started looking around for options in Vancouver to learn it formally, and attended an information session for the FWD program. It convinced me to apply to the program, because it seemed like a great fit for learning the skills necessary to move into a career as a front-end web developer.

What was your experience like during the FWD program at BCIT?

I had a great experience during the FWD program, and enjoyed the quick pace of learning. I found myself learning a lot, not just from the instructors, but from my fellow students as well. Many of them had design and development backgrounds. In fact, I still work with some of my fellow students to this day.

“I found myself learning a lot, not just from the instructors, but from my fellow students as well.”

How did FWD impact your career?

FWD completely changed my career. Towards the end of the program, I began discussing with one of my fellow students the possibility of starting a business together. Neither of us wanted to work for someone else. For our final project in the program we created a website for a real client as a test run to see how well we worked together. It went so well that we created our own business, weCreate Design, immediately after the program and began taking on clients.

What is the focus of your web development business?

Our focus has been on creating custom WordPress websites for clients. Generally our workload is divided between us. My business partner, Aaron Rideout, handles the design and client management, while I handle the development. Most of our clients have been owner-operated businesses, and a large number of the websites we’ve built have been for businesses in the tourism industry in need of custom websites with custom booking interfaces.

What does a day in your work life look like?

When I was given the opportunity to begin teaching in 2018 I found that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m also drawn to new opportunities and challenges so I made the choice to focus on teaching and scale back some of my web development work. This year has been a transition for both Aaron and I. My desire to focus on teaching came when we felt our business needed to either scale up or back so when Aaron was offered a full time job, we chose to scale things back and focus on our respective new opportunities in life. Currently my days teaching are devoted to teaching, and any freelance development work happens during my breaks from teaching in the FWD program.

Can you tell us more about your teaching experience in FWD?

I began teaching in the FWD program in 2018, and I’m currently teaching WordPress and the Capstone Project. One of my favorite aspects of working in web development is that the industry is constantly changing and I get to learn new things. With teaching I now get to learn those things, as well as teach them to others, which is very rewarding for me. I love seeing what students can create with their new knowledge.

“I love seeing what students can create with their new knowledge.”

Please tell us more about your involvement with the WordPress web development community?

In 2017 I got involved in organizing Meetups for the Vancouver WordPress community. Later that year I offered to be the lead organizer for the next year’s WordCamp Vancouver, an annual conference held in Vancouver for all things WordPress related. We had a very successful event in 2018, and I was the lead organizer in 2019 as well. Next year I will step aside for someone else to take on leading the conference, and mentor that individual during the organizing process.

I feel like helping to organize these events is my way to give back to the WordPress community in Vancouver, as someone who has benefited from attending WordCamps and Meetups. I think it’s also very important for people working in the industry, especially freelancers, to have a community of people to learn from and work with.

SEE MORE: From designer to business owner: How Kelsey Grant is helping small businesses succeed

How are you helping FWD students become involved in the web development community?

I regularly encourage students to attend tech Meetups in Vancouver as they are a great resource to learn something new, see which companies are hiring, and meet new people. For those interested, I always encourage students to speak at Meetups, or offer to help organize, as it’s a great way to meet people in the community. With WordCamp, I offer the FWD students the opportunity to attend the event for free by volunteering on the day. This year one of my fellow organizers was even a previous FWD student of mine.

Final thoughts to share?

I’m so thankful for the opportunities that BCIT and the FWD program have afforded me, and I hope that my contribution to the tech community in Vancouver through volunteering and teaching can help others find success in their new careers, as well as advance their current ones.

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