Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

I survived a coding bootcamp and so can you

I took a 12 week coding bootcamp course in Washington, DC to become a Full Stack Developer and survived. Here is my story:

One Monday morning I was getting ready to start another grueling 70 hour work week. I got to work, sat at my desk, and looked around my office. I saw so much unhappiness — so many people on auto pilot just trying to get through the day. I thought to myself, this can’t be life, I refuse to work my whole career this way. So I decided to make a change. I had always loved working with computers so I started teaching myself basic HTML, CSS and Javascript. I found a lot of free resources online that were great, but after a few weeks I decided I wanted to learn faster. I knew that once I learned the foundation of building web apps, I could teach myself the rest much faster, so I did some research and that’s when I learned about coding bootcamps.

Now, I am not much of a risk taker, anyone who knows me knows that I like to make very calculated thoroughly researched decisions, but I decided in order to move up in my career I needed to take this risk. The bootcamp was full time for 12 weeks, at the end of it I would have enough knowledge to be considered a Full Stack Developer and the class was filling up quick so I had to act fast. It was a really scary decision, but I decided if I was going to do this, I had to go in with a positive mind and put my trust in this system and work as hard as I can.

These are my take aways from that experience and I believe that if you work hard and are dedicated to learning you can make it through a coding bootcamp too.

IT’S HARD WORK

If you come into this experience with very limited knowledge of computers, you must work that much harder than the rest of the class to keep up — that’s the truth of it. If you can take free online courses before the bootcamp starts, do it. The bootcamp courses are intense and you aren’t just learning how to code, you are learning how to think like a web developer. I remember when I first got into tech, my biggest struggles weren’t the actual coding, but retraining my brain on how to approach coding problems (debugging).

I have always been a firm believer that if I work hard and focus on my goals, I will succeed. This kind of thinking really helped me get through the course. You need to approach the bootcamp with clear goals that you can follow — without a path to stay on you could get off track very easily.

What you get out of this experience depends on how much you put into it.

YOU WON’T LEARN EVERYTHING

After the first week, so much information was being thrown at me from every angle and to say I felt like my brain was going to explode would be an understatement. They warned us we would be going on emotional roller coaster rides, I just had no idea I could go from feeling on top of the world to a complete failure in the span of a few hours.

I started to take walks during class breaks to try and clear my head. This helped me to at least think straight long enough to get through the day. I really love to learn and wanted to absorb all the information that was coming at me, but then one day I realized I can’t — and that’s ok. During one of my sleepless nights thinking about if I should focus more on Ruby on Rails or Javascript, I finally realized that I don’t need to learn everything under the sun to follow the career path I wanted after the course ended. I just needed to pick the few things I really wanted to work on and after I got a new job I could teach myself the things I missed out on.

If you completely over load your mind, your learning will come to a halt. Remember to breathe and focus on your goals — don’t stress the small stuff.

DON’T BE ASHAMED TO ASK FOR HELP

A lot of people in the course, including myself, were making career changes. Some people were sacrificing high positions and high pay to make this change and were not used to asking for help. I saw so many people who would rather struggle and not understand the information than go ask for help. This was my thought on the whole thing — I’m paying big money for this course, I am going to ask all the questions I can and hunt someone down to help me when I’m struggling.

In the beginning, many of the instructors stayed after hours when they should have gone home just to help us — after a while they realized they shouldn’t be working from 9am to 10pm every night and learned how to say no to us and go home. At first I was super bummed and felt like I couldn’t wait until morning to fix my issues. However, what started happening was a few students including myself would stay after hours and help each other out. So not only did I get help, I also made some awesome friends.

You’re paying for this course, don’t waste time and make sure you ask the right questions to understand what you need to know to keep moving forward.

ACT AS A TEAM

Everyone in the course had various levels of knowledge when it came to coding. Some people withheld their knowledge and kept to themselves and others were open to share what they knew. Just remember, you will all be in this struggle together and should come together as a team. Do not look at each other as competition, but as a network that will help you get through this and may even help you find a job after. Sometimes all I needed was someone to listen to me as I rambled on about what I was trying to do. Even if they couldn’t help me, they usually asked enough questions to make me think of the issue differently. This usually helped me figure out the problem myself.

When I went out and started interviewing, I let my classmates know some of the places that were hiring and offered to practice mock interviews with them based on the interview questions that I came across. I knew there were enough jobs for all of us and many of my classmates became my friends — I wanted to see them succeed as much as I wanted to see myself succeed.

You will all be in this struggle together, help each other through it and don’t ignore the networking possibilities with the people who sit next to you in class

NOT EVERY JOB INTERVIEW WILL GO WELL

When I felt like I had enough knowledge to go through an interview, I applied to anything and everything related to web development. I ignored the years of experience requirements, because after this course I knew more than a few web developers that I knew that had been working for 3 or more years as developers. However, In the beginning my interviews SUCKED. No one seemed to know how to interview someone coming out of a bootcamp.

Here are some of my worst interview situations:

  • Junior Front End Developer position: I was asked a bunch of algorithm questions, which I later learned is taught a lot for CS degrees. No questions really seemed related to the ad online I saw for the position.
  • Junior Web Developer position: I was asked to define a bunch of technical terms and buzzwords. I felt that I clearly demonstrated in my work I knew what I was doing, but I had no idea how to give a text book explanation of the terms.
  • Web Developer positions: I was asked to create a lot of functions on a white board, which is hard for developers in general, but coming out of a bootcamp you rely a lot on your muscle memory and maybe even autocomplete in your text editor. So, I learned how to do pseudo-coding and sometimes that was acceptable and sometimes it wasn’t.
  • Entry Level Front End Developer Position: I was asked to create and solve algebra problems on the white board (WHAT?).

After bombing at least 10 interviews and feeling like a failure, I had to remind myself that I was highly skilled and had a lot to offer. I just needed to learn to steer the interviews in a direction that would show that I knew what I was doing.

Eventually, I picked myself back up and during my second round of interviews, I tried my best to show my code and show I know what I am doing I just haven’t learned all of the technical terms. During some of the interviews, if the topic went to something I wasn’t familiar with, I would remind them I just came out of a bootcamp and didn’t know all the terminology and ask them to explain the subject further. Then I’d try to equate what they said to ANYTHING that I could think of in any professional experience I had, so that I could take control of the interview and change the subject to something I knew. If I still had absolutely no idea what they were talking about then:

  • I would be honest and say that I wasn’t currently familiar with what they were talking about
  • I would ask them to explain the subject further to me and thank them for their explanation
  • Lastly, I would remind them that if I can learn Full Stack development in 12 weeks I could learn this subject I wasn’t familiar with pretty quickly

Try and take control of the interviews to show your skills and do not be afraid to be honest and admit you have limited knowledge in certain subjects — we can’t know everything.

BUILD A PORTFOLIO THAT SHOWS YOUR STRENGTHS — QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

At the bootcamp I attended, we had a lot of in class projects. There were some I could get through and some I couldn’t. At the end of the course I had a lot of half-baked web apps on my portfolio and wasn’t sure if I should clean them up or just get rid of them. I decided to choose my best 3 projects and clean them up to show them off. One web app showed my front end skills, one web app showed my creativity, and my most complex website demonstrated my full stack skills.

I saw some people made the mistake of adding projects to their portfolios that had a story behind them that needed an explanation. Just remember, once you send out your resume with your portfolio on it, you won’t be able to explain anything to a future employer unless you get the interview. If your website looks like crap or is broken you won’t be able to share the struggles you overcame or why it looks like that. Make sure what you use is polished and showcases the skills you want to be seen. A lot of people are used to seeing WordPress templates and assuming it’s easy to create a polished looking site in one day — that’s major competition. Don’t be afraid to use Bootstrap or Materialize to clean up the front end part of your websites and give it a more modern look.

Your website needs to look better than Craigslist.org to compete in today’s market.

CLOSING STATEMENT

In the end, taking this course was one of the best risks I’ve ever taken in my life. I finally get to go to work every day and do something that I’m passionate about and absolutely LOVE doing. However, even though anyone can take the course, I don’t think this way of learning is for everyone — it was extremely trying and difficult to get through, but it made me a stronger person. Just make sure that you REALLY want it and that you are ready to make the sacrifices necessary to get through it all. If you really put in that effort, I truly believe you can succeed!