It’s been two years since I graduated from my coding bootcamp. That’s two years of working as a developer in a hi-tech company, earning real money for writing real code. Two years of gaining experience, making mistakes, and lots and lots of learning on the job.
And even though I know I’m only at the very beginning of my journey as a developer, I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two since my days as a rosy-cheeked bootcamper. Perhaps even enough to share a few of my insights, advice, and recommendations with you.
So here they are.
Teach yourself to code before you enroll.
I recommend starting with a readable language like Python, and to learn by doing. I started with Codecademy’s free and interactive courses, did practice problems on Codewars, and developed a few simple games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four for the command line. In fact, the first time I thought about a coding bootcamp was after I had done all those things and found myself awake at 3 AM working on my text-based adventure game.
I understand that this might sound counter-intuitive. After all, why teach yourself to code when the program you’re enrolling in will teach you to code?
The answer is SO MANY REASONS. Here are just a few:
- You’ll discover early on whether or not programming is something you enjoy. If it isn’t your jam, why spend the time and money on a coding bootcamp in the first place?
- Programmers are — and have to be — autodidacts. Teaching yourself the basics of programming enables you to practice and assess how well you can learn on your own.
- You’ll get more out of the course itself. Instead of wrapping your mind around basic concepts during the bootcamp, you can focus on drilling deeper and truly take advantage of the program’s staff and resources.
In short, invest a little time upfront before you commit so you can determine if it’s right for you, and so you can make the most of the experience.
Don’t get hung up on programming languages.
Sure, languages are inherently different. Strongly- or weakly-typed, statically- or dynamically-typed, scripting or compiled — even the syntax can be alarmingly different. But the principles of development are the same pretty much across the board. Especially if you’re just starting out, you’ll want to focus on the core concepts of programming (including things languages can’t teach you, like debugging!) rather than get bogged down with the syntax of a specific language.
In other words, use the language to help you master the underlying principles of how code works. This will enable you to master any programming language later on your career.
Understand what kind of development you’re interested in.
Coding is creating. The question is: what do you want to create? It’s worth thinking about this question at least a little bit before you enroll in a bootcamp because it could strongly impact the decision of which bootcamp you choose.
Interested in developing video games? Would you rather build web applications instead? Or maybe mobile apps are more your style? I ask because software, web, and mobile development are all very different worlds. Your bootcamp should provide you with the tools to succeed in any of these areas; however, if you have a preference regarding the field you want to go into, it’s worth looking into bootcamps specific to that field.
This is something I wish I’d paid more attention to before making my choice of bootcamp. I don’t regret learning web development at all, but my transition to a software development role was made a bit bumpier because I didn’t understand the differences between web and software.
Talk to your loved ones before you start the bootcamp.
Every bootcamp is different, but there’s a reason they’re called bootcamps. They’re intense. The bootcamp I attended, for example, required on average 60–70 hours a week of work (ten- to twelve-hour days during the week and at least another ten hours on the weekends).
Make sure you’re at a place in your life where you have the time and mental capacity for this kind of intensity. Clear your schedule of all other obligations, and set expectations with your friends and family. It will give you and them peace of mind; you’ll feel able to jump into coding with both feet, and they won’t worry that you’ve dropped off the face of the earth.
Work really, really hard.
With coding bootcamps, as with practically everything in life, what you put into it is what you get out of it.
You’ve already set aside time and money (perhaps a lot of time and money) to learn a new skill and possibly switch professions. These weeks or months will provide you with the foundation of what could be the rest of your career. Don’t cut corners. Invest.
Complete all your assignments, and then do the extra credit work. Add more features than what’s listed in the requirements. Solve every single bug you find, no matter how small or inconsequential. Do as much as you can so that you can learn as much as you can. Because especially this early on, every little bit matters.
Plus, you’ll end up with projects that work perfectly and look stunning.
Be prepared to know absolutely nothing.
The bootcamp I attended consisted of two parts: three months of in-class lectures and projects, and a two-month internship at a real-life startup company. My transition from classroom to internship was very, very challenging for one main reason: I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.
In the classroom, I had attained a certain mastery of the material, but at work, every day made me feel lost and helpless in a new and different way. I went from feeling competent to feeling impotent in one fell swoop.
It was really, really hard.
Bootcamps don’t even scratch the surface of everything there is to know; they give you only the basic, raw tools to survive in the hi-tech wilderness. As such, don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re in survival mode for a few months at least. If you can keep your head above water for the first year or so, then trust me: you’re doing fine.
Enjoy being a student.
In an office environment, you’re measured on output. Delivery. How many quality features you can pump out in a given length of time. I’m not saying you won’t learn once you start working (quite the contrary!), but the purpose of your employment is to provide value for the company.
As a bootcamper, your purpose is on input. Learning. Gaining skills and absorbing as much knowledge as you can. It’s your time to invest in yourself, to learn about and do things that interest you — no boss to worry about, no product timeline to stress over.
Just you, and the code, and whatever your heart desires.