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JC Smiley
JC Smiley

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Resiliency: 5 Tips to Learning How to Code and Surviving Tech Boot Camps

I have had the blessing to be a teacher assistant at two tech boot-camps. I would like to share my observations on what it took to survive, thrive, and grab the reward of graduating from a tech boot camp. In particular, regarding the resiliency factor.

Resiliency is the ability to fail over and over while never giving up. It means to continue to feed the passion and not get discouraged. Finally, it means to do it even though you're afraid or don't feel qualified.

Willing to Struggle without Quitting

Successful boot-campers must be resilient and be willing to struggle without quitting. When talking to them, I learned how they would study at night, in the morning, on their break at work, on vacation, and anytime they were free. They made learning to code a Priority, not an optional task.

As a TA, I encourage my students to carve out time to learn.

  • Can you wake early before your family wakes up or code once the kids are asleep?
  • You have to create a regular dedicated uninterrupted time period to learn your craft.
  • I advocate that it's better to learn 1% each day then to cram learning into one weekend.
  • Beg, borrow, or steal time from other activities to stay focused on the boot-camp.

Man reading his watch and standing next to a sand hour glass

Endure to the Finish line

The ones who got the job during or after the boot-camp were those who strive to finish it. They did not quit. There are many concepts and skills that you don't learn the first time you experience them at the beginning of class. It's the repetition of coding, giving presentations, and completing projects that overtime cements the advanced skills that are needed to be a developer. It's constantly being around tech culture over time that allows you to talk about tech in future interviews.

I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a brilliant student, who mastered concepts at the beginning of class and was my star pupil, get bored and abandon the boot-camp. When I finally had a chance to talk to that student, I found out that what she wanted to learn was simply a few weeks further into the course. If she had stayed, built the foundational skills, and then learned the skills she craved; I have no doubt she would have been a successful developer.

Practical Tip: This is a marathon, not a sprint. Each day, plan what challenges you will overcome and what key thing you will learn. Use a calendar, bullet journaling, or a digital to-do list to help you stay focused on the now. Consider that each new skill you learn builds upon each other to build a masterpiece that is impossible to see at this moment in your career.

Woman running across the race's finish line

Find Solutions to your Unique Learning Challenges

The best boot-campers didn't let anything hold them back. They were willing to find solutions to challenges to learning that they faced.

  • I remember one student who finished all her work 6 weeks early so she could have her baby. I was amazed at the amount of work she accomplished and the focus to never miss an assignment.
  • An example was when a student had a broken laptop, they used their cell phone, pair-programmed with a fellow student, and utilized a library computer.
  • Can't make it to class, many students notified me early to see if it can be recorded and then sent questions later to verify their understanding of concepts.
  • Assignments were turned in early just in case something happened before the deadline.

Nothing was going to hold them back from learning and starting a new career.

Fortify your Mind

You have to be willing to learn, willing to fail, and willing to stretch your brain muscles. Coding isn't about writing mindless boilerplate code.

  • You are constantly learning and testing your brain power.
  • You are testing if you can fail repeatedly and still rise to the challenge.
  • More importantly, you are learning about yourself, how you learn best,  and how to execute your knowledge to overcome software challenges.

Practical Tip: I can't stress enough how important it is to meditate or pray daily. Coding takes your mind through mental gymnastics on a daily basics. You have to make time to clear your mind, release mental anxiety, and reset your focus. Talk to someone about your problems. There is nothing wrong with crying if it solves the problem. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I'm lost, confuse, etc." You can overcome these challenges.

Strengthen your Body

Finally, resiliency means to make sure you are physically capable to endure to the end of the boot-camp. In my opinion, I think medical issues was one of the leading causes of student drop off. You have to take care of yourself. You can’t forgo sleep and expect to remember what you just learned. It comes with no surprise that those who succeeded place a high value on healthy decisions to protect their body and mind.

Man in super-man t-shirt lifting weights

Summary:

Practices you can emulate:

  1. Carve out times around work, family, friends, and all the crazy things life throws at you to LEARN. I'm not saying those things aren't important, but you have to decide if this career change is a priority or an option.
  2. If you encounter an obstacle, then plan around, over, under, and through it. But do not quit or stop learning.
  3. Push yourself to survive to the end. I saw them crawl, hobble, pull themselves, or was pull by others to the finish line. But they were determined to not give up. Each person must be resilient to the unique challenges they will face.
  4. Be willing to learn a lot in a small time period. This means being able to learn how you learn, organize your learning, and quickly act upon that knowledge.

I want to end by saying it's painful as a teacher assistant to watch students fail. They fail for lots of reasons but it normally starts at the beginning of the journey. My advice to any who is aspiring to learn to code is:

“You sow what you reap. If you want a good harvest, put in the work from the start to the finish. Don't give up on a dream because its hard. Will it be easy. Nope. Will it be worth it. Absolutely ”

Bonus

I converted several blog posts similar to this one into a free e-book called "Advice for Breaking into Tech". The book summarizes advice from 700 developers about learning how to code and looking for your first job in tech into an easy-to-read narrative.
Click for your free Download

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