If you would’ve told me a year ago that in February 2019 I’d be a confident full-stack software developer, I wouldn’t have believed you. At this time last year, I was working at Coding With Kids, an education organization that brings after-school coding classes to elementary schools across the country. While it was a very rewarding and fun job, I didn’t consider myself a true programmer teaching Scratch. While it’s a brilliant visual programming language, it is meant for children to learn coding concepts and cannot replace real-world software development. Fast forward to fall 2018, and while I had enjoyed my time at Coding With Kids, I was ready for a change. I missed the thrill of problem solving and the collaborative nature of working in teams that I had during college, and I knew for a long time that I wanted to eventually get into the tech industry. After doing some research on Portland-area bootcamps, I found Alchemy Code Lab and was immediately drawn to its thorough curriculum, welcoming instructors and students, and commitment to diversity in tech.
I began my bootcamp journey in October 2018 with the simultaneous feelings of excitement and nervousness. I had read so many stories about bootcamp life, and while I had done as much preparation as I could have, I was still anxious about adjusting to the 60–80 hour a week workload, making new friends, and dedicating my entire life to one thing for a few months. Now, five months after enrolling, I can look back and reflect on the incredible learning experience I’ve had. Here are 5 of my biggest takeaways:
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS
This may sound cliche, but it’s something that introverts (like myself) can struggle with, especially when starting something with a whole group of people you’ve never met before. Luckily for me, the community at Alchemy is super welcoming, so it wasn’t hard making friends in our cohort and talking about everything from code to life outside of bootcamp. It was also helpful that our instructors and TAs encouraged asking questions. When you create an environment where no student feels judged for asking a question, you are bound to have more student success. It’s also become common knowledge nowadays that even very experienced developers ask questions (see this Tweet). You’re never going to know everything, so be prepared for continuous learning (or choose a different career path if that’s not your cup of tea). This leads me to my next point:
2. GET COMFORTABLE KNOWING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
Yes, I know that’s a mouthful. To put it in more understandable terms, get comfortable in expressing things that you don’t know, and learn how to ask questions that will lead to the most helpful answer. In practice, this means trying to debug your own code and doing a thorough google search for the issue before asking for help. That way, when you do ask, you know exactly what it is you’re looking for and can convey the solutions that you’ve already tried. You’re much more likely to get a helpful answer if the question is well thought out!
3. NETWORK, NETWORK, AND NETWORK!
Okay, another cliche. But this really can’t be over-emphasized enough. I’m really glad that Alchemy pushed us to attend local tech Meetups early on, and it has already paid off for me in the job search. Portland, like many other cities, relies heavily on networking to get a job, especially in tech. Again, meetups may seem intimidating if you’re on the introverted side, but going to them with friends from your bootcamp lifts off all of social anxiety nerves and makes it easier for you to meet new people! And don’t just attend the meetups — be sure to get business cards and/or connect with people you meet on LinkedIn and thank them for having a conversation. Make a good impression — these are the people who will be getting you a referral for a job!!!
4. GET REALLY GOOD AT THE BASICS
5. HAVE FUN!
It can be easy to get caught up in all the work involved in a coding bootcamp, but one of the most important things to remember during the stressful moments is why you chose this career path in the first place — solving problems is super fun!!! Coding is a beautiful combination of analytical and creative thinking — it’s where technology meets art, and that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it.