Living Boldly: A Conversation with Bitmaker Labs CEO Craig Hunter

In our competitive cities, you need to be bold to set yourself apart.

So we found six of the boldest men in Canada to gain a little more insight into their lives, jobs, and what gives them a competitive edge. 

We caught up with the CEO of the rapidly growing Bitmaker Labs, 29-year-old Craig Hunter, in Toronto last week over a midday glass of Graffigna Malbec (because it’s always ‘wine time,’ right?).

Prior to this, Hunter – who dropped out of university two credits shy of a degree in politics – worked in politics and at a digital agency in London before becoming one of the first employees at Uber, helping to launch the now hugely successful company in both Vancouver and Toronto.
Tell us what you do in less than 140 characters. Go.
I am the CEO of Bitmaker Labs, which is Canada’s largest coding boot camp.

What is the most significant milestone that helped you end up where you are today?
The exposure in the Canadian tech scene has helped us a ton, because our business places people in careers in technology. As the tech companies in Toronto are growing like crazy – the Shopifys and the 500 Pixels – their need for developers and designers grows, and that’s what we train. So our success is dependent on that scene continuing to grow. We’re sort of partners with them; their growth has really helped to grow our business by providing them with talent.

Graffigna celebrates men who live boldly. What does living boldly mean to you?
For me, it means living with a high impact, or creating real value in the world. I’m always very inspired when you see a company grow really quickly and affect a growing number of people in a growing number of countries. It’s less about the money, but feeding people with something they find useful on a regular basis. At Bitmaker, 92 per cent of our grads find a job within three months of the program. It’s very satisfying to see someone who maybe only has a high school diploma take one of our courses and end up at one of the coolest tech companies in Toronto. I work with some non-profits, and our growth is meaningful to people’s lives, it’s not just fluff.

Drinking red wine says a lot about a person. What does it say about you?
Red wine represents maturity and something you really develop a taste for when you get older. It’s something you turn to when you don’t want to party, but relax after a hard day’s work. For me, it’s best enjoyed with a steak. Whenever we’re celebrating something like a win at work, it’s always with steak and red wine.
Who would you most like to share a glass of Graffigna with?
Elon Musk, who is the founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors. I would love to pick his brain on a ton of things, and he just thinks way bigger than anyone I have ever read about or been exposed to before. The problems he’s tackling are an order of magnitude bigger than most people go after and he is undoubtedly one of the smartest people of our generation right now.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career and how did you manage to do so?
I think that coming from a non-traditional background and getting into tech was one of them. I thought that not having that piece of paper of a university degree would be a barrier, but I think that the way I overcame that was through tenacity and being the type of person who creates value for people without asking for value back. It’s about being very helpful, and you’ll open a ton of doors for yourself if you help someone and ask them to do you a favour later, versus going around asking people for help. I didn’t have a degree from Harvard and Stanford like others did at Uber. I had to be a total hustler. Once your foot is in the door, nobody really worries about that stuff.

The tech world is always evolving. How do you set yourself apart from your peers in this space?
Staying ahead of the curve and being genuinely passionate about it is the big thing. I am a huge nerd and love this stuff, so I immerse myself in it 24/7. So when you’re passionate, it’s easy to always be reading about it, attending tech events, and always connecting with people in that industry. Reach out to people who may be more of a stretch, but if you can connect with them, they can probably lend some insight. I still try to do that, even in non-traditional industries. I know most of the people in tech, but people from totally other businesses help too.

What drives you on a daily basis?
The impact we have on people’s careers is big for me. Bumping into graduates who are now working at major tech companies, and them telling you that they got a promotion feels pretty good. Having that much of an impact now, it will be cool to see where we end up eventually. It’s nice to hear people tell us that we’ve done such a great job on programming talent, that now we need sales talent too. Running a fast growing company can be exhausting at times, but for me, there’s so much variety and it’s so exciting. You don’t have to think about what drives you because you love it.  

Who’s someone you look up to, someone who’s living the kind of life you aspire to lead?
I think my old boss at Uber, Travis Kalanick. I used to spend a decent amount of time with him when there were only 50 employees and it was really small. I am constantly impressed with how principled he is and how he’s laser focused on one problem – transportation – in all these different cities, and it’s taken off like a rocket ship. He has a great ability to stay focused and not get distracted by the success. Uber is a disruptive company – challenging an industry that has been around for 100 years. At Bitmaker, we’re disruptive too in providing an alternative to a college or university degree.

What advice do you have for anyone else who’s trying to live their life as boldly as possible?
Add value to someone’s life before you ask for anything in return. Help people and it will be the biggest tool for your life, ever. If you can help someone solve a problem, they’re going to be much more interested in helping you in the future.

What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself a year from now, 5 years, 10 years?
I want to take this to multiple cities, multiple countries, and ideally around the world. I want to be a world-class leader in tech. 


This post has been sponsered by Graffigna Wines

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