My Bootcamp Experience (4 Part Series)
You wake up every morning feeling frustrated about the day ahead that hasn’t even started yet. At some point in the past you might have enjoyed your job but somewhere along the way something changed. You got bored. Or you’ve just had enough.
I spent way too much time debating whether I should give up my job and start something entirely new. When I thought what that change might be I always landed on something on the line of tech and yet, it took me five years (five years!) to finally make that decision. And that is because I was worried.
Is it too late for a woman in her late twenties (now early thirties) for a career change? Is it too risky? Will I regret it? The answer to all these questions is NO. A change is always good. Just because you learn something new, your previous skills don’t go out the window (if you were ever to go back). But if you constantly feel unhappy and unsatisfied with your job, you are in need of a change.
It is however important to have a clear idea about what you want to do. It is also important to have a level of certainty that the change you’re about to make is right for you. With that in mind I really wish I knew about a list of things that perhaps would have drastically shortened the time it took me to commit.
I met my partner in April 2018. He’s a software developer and so I asked straight away where he started learning to code. This was that magical moment in my life when I've got introduced to freeCodeCamp. That’s where he started so that’s where I’ll start too.
freeCodeCamp is exactly what it sounds like, an online "camp" to learn coding and it’s totally free. (You can however donate.) They have six modules you can learn and each of them also give you a certificate once you finish them.
I started off with their first module which is “Responsive Web Design". I learnt some HTML and CSS which seemed to be a nice way to start and by August 2018 I had the knowledge to create a basic website and style it to my liking.
At the time I was working full-time and had other outside work responsibilities too but the way their curriculum is designed allowed me to take it in small steps and at my own speed. If I only had twenty minutes at a time, I would still get through a couple of challenges. If I had hours then I would progress more. Really flexible.
Unfortunately disbelief eventually got into me. I was learning all this alone and I did’t understand how solving puzzles would lead me to landing a job that earns me any money and so I discarded the idea again as I had done many times before.
Over the coming year my boyfriend constantly encouraged me to consider it again and again. Every time I came home tired and angry after a day in work (which after a while became the norm) he would tell me that the industry needed women, that the market was short of good programmers. He believed in me and thought I would make a good programmer. I was very lucky to have someone so supportive, pushing me in the right direction and yet, I just wasn't ready.
As time passed I started playing with the thought again in July 2019 (things were getting worse in my job). While learning only online, I was lacking feedback and so I decided it would be for the best if I attended a course.
I remembered an acquaintance who graduated from Northcoders so I looked up the organisation. “Bespoke. Established. Evolving.” The website looked current and sounded friendly. They also seemed to have a big focus on building a community which you are part of even after graduation. They offered a 12-week bootcamp The Development Pathway which (as at January 2020) costs £7,200.
It is a big chunk of money and you also have to make yourself available for 12 weeks full-time a.k.a. leaving your job that’s earning you money. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it put me off.
But before jumping too much ahead into financial commitments, let’s have a look at how Northcoders work and what they actually offer.
One thing is very clear, they don’t want you on their course if they don’t think you have the potential. They don’t want to milk people who’ll never finish the course. The ultimate goal of the course is to make you employable and with their in-house Career Team to actually find you a job you like. They also pride themselves in looking after you even after you finished the course. In a nutshell, it’s for their own benefit to make sure you can do it.
As part of the application, you have to pass an entry challenge. When you apply (still no commitment), you receive a welcome email with a wide range of study materials to help you prepare for the challenge. They introduce you to some pretty handy online study platforms like freeCodeCamp (See? It comes handy.), CodeWars and some very useful videos on YouTube.
Within a couple of months I revised everything I’d long forgotten from freeCodeCamp, got going with CodeWars and passed the entry challenge in October 2019. Only at this point I needed to consider my finances.
Before checking your bank account and discarding the idea though, it’s worthwhile checking what your options are. Northcoders and their third parties offer different finance options starting from interest free loans to women and gender minorities, other loans and scholarships so don’t let money stop you straight away.
I also think it’s important to think about this as an investment. Investment in your future, giving yourself a chance to do something that you might enjoy. An investment in yourself that can only be risky if you don’t believe in yourself because at this point you had already earned Northcoders’ trust by passing their entry challenge.
I had spent years saving up to eventually get a mortgage but plans can change. So they did. I quit my job in October 2019, decided to have a break after 10+ years of always working full-time and prepared to start the bootcamp in January 2020.
Once you passed your entry challenge there are still some pre-course preparation to do before you're good to start. Let's see what these are about.
Pre-course #1: This section starts with creating your dev environment by downloading and installing a bunch of stuff. You create a GitHub account, choose your operating system (Mac or Linux if you have a Windows laptop), download VSCode, Slack and a terminal emulator. If this all sounds Greek to you, nothing to worry about, they give you enough info to start with but if you're struggling they are available online or in person on their weekly drop-in sessions so you can ask any questions you might have.
Once you're ready to learn some new stuff you get introduced to the Command Line and learn about GitHub. You are also given a set of recommended CodeWars' katas to do a bit more practice on stuff you've already learnt, strengthen that knowledge and prepare you for a set of challenges to solve, send back for feedback and receive a "good to go" for Pre-course #2.
There is also pre-course #3 which is an introduction to HTML and CSS (if you started with freeCodeCamp like I did then you're already familiar with them) and the ultimate goal is for you to have the knowledge to build your own portfolio site. This, however, doesn't have to be done before starting the bootcamp.
You might think this is all hard work and I'm not going to say it isn't. But you can probably see by now how it is ensured you are able to finish the course before you start it which takes the possibility of failure away. If you get in, you can do it.
So here I am, a woman in her thirties back in school, changing her life. I’m currently two weeks into it and I can genuinely say that I am loving every single second of it. Is it hard? Yes. Am I tired every day? Yes. But it is so totally worth it! I strongly believe that I should have made this decision years ago and I really wish I didn't wait this long. I wonder where I would be now if I started earlier. But: it's never too late...
Another thing I would have done differently is starting going to different talks and events earlier. They are great for networking, great to meet the kind of people you’ll eventually be working with. It's great for learning and very helpful to decide whether coding is for you. Plenty of them are free and often you get free pizzas.
I would recommend browsing around sites like MeetUp and CodeUp (I’m UK based so these sites are too) as well as checking out Facebook groups (e.g. freeCodeCamp meet up groups).
Is there anything else you'd be interested in reading about? If so, please leave a comment.
Cover Photo Credit: Ryoji Hayasaka