So you’ve decided to make the plunge and enter the matrix (aka attend a coding bootcamp). If this is you, congrats on choosing the red pill! Regardless of your decision (future coding bootcamper or not), I implore you to sit back, relax, and buckle up! What follows are my tips for not just surviving, but excelling during a coding bootcamp.
[If you’re not big on reading you can skip to the infographic at the end of the article]
Bootcamp Students Sophia Banda (L) and Christopher Menendez (R) share a smile while working on their final project, In Between. [UX Team (not in picture): Meade Peers Mccoy & Thais Quintana]
Pre-work: Do it! Most coding bootcamps have some kind of pre-work that is given to new students to complete before the start of the program. This is to help soften the steep learning curve that is associated with learning new concepts. It is imperative that you complete this to the best of your ability. Again, pre-work completion will give you somewhat of a foundation to stand on when the storm (bootcamp) comes. A big part of learning new material is predicated on the prior knowledge that you have.
If you have little or no prior knowledge, you will likely have to do a lot of new learning during your program (this is not necessarily a bad thing, but preparation is always good). The converse is also true. If you have a lot of prior knowledge going into your coding bootcamp, the learning curve for you may not be as steep. However, this may be a good time for you to reassess your knowledge base and rebuild your coding foundation with sound principles. If you find that the pre-work is challenging, don’t panic. It should be. You can get extra support (for free) by further exposing yourself to content via online platforms like Freecodecamp, Nodeschool.io, Codecademy and Sololearn.
Growth Mindset. Starting something new is not easy. Being a beginner has its fare share of ups and downs. Do your best to focus on the process of learning and not so much the end result (ex. “Why isn’t display: grid working!?”). The value in your experience over the next several weeks is less about what you are able to do and more about who you are becoming from consistently challenging yourself. As psychologist and motivational researcher Carol Dweck puts it, “Becoming is better than being”. So when things get rocky, which they will. Remember, “you can”. You can learn. You can improve, and, you will figure out that display: flex was the better option (wink).
When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world–the world of fixed traits–success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other–the world of changing qualities–it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.
― Carol S. Dweck
Make friends. It is unlikely that you will be able to take on all of what a bootcamp entails on your own. If you have the ability to muscle through it solo, don’t. Do not rob yourself of the great friendships that can be forged during this time. Your next business partner, bridesmaid or soccer buddy could be sitting right next to you. A big part of my bootcamp experience involved working in groups. There were several occasions where I had to rely on others for opinions and strategies related to solving problems. I encourage you to share some of the highs and lows you are experiencing during your software development journey with the person next to you. It is through honesty and sincere interaction that lasting friendships are forged.
Be Patient. You will need a lot of patience. Your attention span will run thin, you will get overwhelmed at times, and you will need to google a lot. You will have break throughs, and your code will break. You will stare at your computer screen for hours unsure of how to resolve an error only for someone else to point out that you are missing a semi-colon or curly brace. This is all a part of the process. You are not alone.
Google/W3schools/Stackoverflow. These three resources will prove to be high value assets during your journey. A lot of the coding problems you will encounter are not simple. If you are not familiar with any of these resources I encourage you to start now! Make them your new best friends. Bonus Tip: If you make a Stackoverflow account now you can get your rep up from asking pertinent questions, answering questions, and editing other community member’s questions (start here if you don’t have a lot of coding experience). You can read up more about rep here.
When you can,** **do extra work. Extra work could mean you finished all of your assigned homework and can start preparing for the upcoming DOM manipulation module. If this is you, do it! Do more than what is assigned! Again, if you have the ability to work ahead, do it. Work on your portfolio or anything that could further your learning. Like Shia Lebeouf said, “Just.. Do..It!”. Essentially, you get out of the bootcamp experience what you put in.
Bootcamp Students Anthony Gil and Joshua Martinez work on their final project Votelity
Ask questions. Ask as many pertinent questions as you can. In other words, if you don’t understand something related to the topic, be brave — ask the question. In fact, even if you are not sure if the question is pertinent - ask! Often times there are other people in the class with the same question. One of the best questions you can ask is, “Can you help me with this please?” Bonus tip: If you struggle with asking questions in front of your class, you can write it down and ask your instructor during a break. Questions add value. Asking for help shows interest.
Help others. If you are finding that you are understanding the material faster than your peers. Congrats! Don’t sell yourself short by keeping the learning to yourself. One of the best ways to further develop your learning is through teaching others. One of the great things about offering to help is that you don’t have to be the best student in the class to do so. It could be that you understand one part of an assignment - that could be your opportunity to share your knowledge with someone else.
Get to know your TA’s. This is really important. If you are bootcamp-ing properly you will be asking the TA’s questions like, “How do I make this while loop stop!?” or “I forgot to git commit! What do I do!?”. Homework assignments are challenging. You will need help. In addition to this, get to know your TA’s in between your curriculum related questions. I remember talking to one of my TA’s and learning that he knew a lot about blockchain technology. How cool! In addition to this, your TA could be your next coworker, boss, friend etc. If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what will.
Bootcamp Students Timothy Martinez (L) and Raphael Burkhardt (R) receive guidance from their TA; Tommy Suwunrut. [UX Team (not in picture): Rebecca Leiva & Carolina Munoz]
Don’t compare yourself to others. I know it’s cliche´, but it’s true! Spoiler alert, you will probably do this from time to time. Just don’t make it a habit! My advice is to focus on your own development. When you find yourself comparing yourself to others in your group, remind yourself about what you know today and what you didn’t know a day or two ago. It really is very remarkable what you will learn over the course of your bootcamp. Save a few moments out of your day every week to unwind, and consider how far you have come.
Sleep. This is going to be a challenge. Try to get as much sleep as you need in order to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. There may be some nights where you will have to sacrifice a few hours of sleep in order to complete an assignment. This is reasonable but try not have too many of those nights in a row.
It takes a lot of courage to do what you are embarking on. Be proud of yourself for taking this first step in your software development journey. When the going gets tough, which it will. Remind yourself why you started. Remember to celebrate the small victories you will accomplish. Lean on those around you for guidance, practice growth mindset and remember that you are most likely a better programmer today than you were yesterday!
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