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Judit Lehoczki (she/her)
Judit Lehoczki (she/her)

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The Start Of My Bootcamp

I was originally going to title this post "First Steps".

Forget about steps.

Starting my bootcamp was more like deep diving into a whirlpool but I couldn't be happier.

Northcoders's bootcamp (a.k.a. The Developer Pathway) is a 4 x 3 weeks course with 4 separate blocks:

  1. Fundamentals
  2. Back End
  3. Front End
  4. Project Phase

This post is on my first impressions on the course and about the Fundamentals block. If you want to know how I got here, please read this.

What Should You Expect?

If you made it to the course it will be no surprise that it isn't easy.

You study hard to get in then you study harder to get through with the view that in the end Northcoders (or yourself) will do their best to get you a job that you actually like.

But how do they do that?

Firstly, they train you to be employable. They train developers that the market needs and they teach you current technologies. They also serve as Recruiters to tech companies across the UK. They have a large number of hiring partners, and a Business Development Team that continues to add more. You learn what these future employers will want you to know and they will get exactly what they need. Everybody wins.

There are also regular visits from these companies who do a little presentation on what they do and you can ask questions to get some insight into what's waiting for you if you were to work for them.

There's also a job board for Northcoders graduates which you will have access to even after graduation. Once a Northcoder, always a Northcoder, building the community.

The Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

(There are also some good videos on this here, here and here.)

I used to be really worried about changing my career. How can I learn something in 12 weeks and actually get a job with it? Am I good enough?
I think the following model works and definitely helps me tackle my fears:

  • Having to work hard to get in gives you a feel of achievement and makes you appreciate your space on the course.
  • Being encouraged all the way and seeing other cohorts develop is a great motivator.
  • Being able to listen to potential future employers give a level of comfort. On one of these talks the presenter told about why they like hiring from Northcoders and he said: "You guys are adults who made an adult decision to invest in yourselves and change your career. You are committed, motivated and you want to do it."

First Impressions

From the first moment you enter the office you are made to feel welcome. Everyone's friendly, the office is modern with free tea and coffee and fresh fruits.

The office is actually an office, it doesn't feel like being in school at all. There's a big open plan office space and two lecture rooms which could be training/meeting rooms at any decent company. From day one you feel like you are in work rather than in school.
The students of all four blocks sit together but in different desk banks - just like different teams of a company. This way you also get to see what other groups are doing - especially if it's something as visual as flying a drone! (I'm not entirely sure what that was all about but it looked fun.)

My Cohort

We are a group as diverse as it can be. Diverse in age, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender and probably much more.

On the first day we were given a Student Handbook where Code of Ethics is high on the agenda and puts a big emphasis on the big no-no's of harassment and discrimination. There's also attention and efforts made to accommodate any kinds of special requirements due to pretty much anything. There are three toilets and there's a prayer room. Nuts are banned from the Manchester office because one of the tutors has severe nut allergy. In a nutshell: everyone is welcome and encouraged, exactly as it should be!

I personally really enjoy being surrounded by a bunch of intelligent individuals who are all very different and yet we have this one thing in common: our brains are wired similarly and we all think code.

Let's Get To It!

From the 19 people in my cohort 15 of us were new and we had 4 people who were resitting the Fundamentals block. The important info crumb here is that you can resit any of the blocks at no extra charge whether it's for your tutors' recommendation or if you choose to.

It is not lame at all to resit. The pace is as fast as expected from a bootcamp, picking up so much knowledge in 12 weeks is supposed to be difficult. It is also a full-time course (Monday-Friday 8.30-17.00) and many people have other responsibilities, hobbies (or a life?) that will not allow them to do any further studying than these hours and that's okay. All blocks build on each other and this is Fundamentals in the end of the day, it's important to not build on shaky grounds.

How And What Are You Actually Learning?

A normal day starts at 8.30 when you have an hour to work solo on different challenges you are given (or just to revise). Usually from 9.30 you have a lecture until 11.00.

After the lecture you work on related challenges/projects in typically one or two days sprints (or canters as we decided to call them). But what on Earth is a sprint?

According to Agile Alliance, a sprint is "a timebox during which development takes place". In this case you solve as many challenges (solo or in pairs) as you can within a given time. It is however not a race, the aim is not to complete them all but to practise and get a good understanding of all concepts. All this to get used to the idea of Agile Software Development (another good read here).

You have an hour lunch break at 13.00 and then you continue with your challenges/projects. Some afternoons there are hiring partner presentations on the agenda, some Friday afternoons have a Show & Tell session where students can practise their presentation skills for their graduation which is every third Friday. Afternoons are also good to schedule an hour here and there with your mentor.

On the first week you revise some of the basics you learned while doing the pre-courses, like most common array methods, to make sure they are all clear and also learn a bunch of new stuff in the coming week. This includes:

  • Testing with Mocha, Chai and Sinon's spy - the tutors hammering TDD (test driven development) into us from the very first day.
  • Pair programming (which I wrote a short blog about).
  • Scopes, the call stack, command line and Node.js in general.
  • And you just kept going: closure, recursion, classes and async.

Typically by Thursdays you are craving for the weekend to come and your brain to have a break.

Is it difficult?

The short answer is: yes. But it is a lot of fun!

Some days you feel totally lost and other days really confident. There are a lot of lightbulb moments.
It is important to do your best to not get disheartened too easily and keep it in mind that you will have bad days when things just don't go well. You might wake up with a cold or your kid didn't sleep through the night, your dog chewed your shoe and you miss your bus/train.

It is a very intense course, it is full-time, it is normal to feel down sometimes.

In the meantime the tutors are approachable and friendly, they are there to help. They know what you're going through, they have all been there.
At the start you are expected to try to solve your challenges with no help. When you get stuck, you are encouraged to google (as you would in an actual job). In the end of the day coding is regularly about getting stuck and then getting yourself unstuck and you are mastering both.
However help is there, reaching dead ends regularly is perfectly normal and in these cases you are expected to not waste all day and call for help instead.

Everyone is assigned a mentor who follows them through the 4 blocks (unlike the lecturers who might be different in each block). They are there for you specifically to sit down on a 1 to 1 basis and go through anything you might struggle with.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Last Friday I got to see the graduates. As the course is built, there are a graduating cohort every three weeks so it will be fun to see the next few too. In the last block they are split into groups of 4-5 people and they have two weeks to create a new app (web and/or mobile) from scratch and present it on their last day while it's being live streamed and watched by the world (or at least some hiring partners a.k.a. potential employers).

For me - after only three weeks into this - it all seems like dark magic and as if they are lightyears ahead of me. It is hard to believe what we will be able to do in another nine weeks and although I am a nervous presenter, I am really looking forward to doing my project whatever it may be.

Roll on Back End!

Cover Photo credit: Jukan Tateisi

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