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Katie Hawcutt
Katie Hawcutt

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Lessons learnt on my road to code...

Last week I officially graduated from the School of Code Bootcamp (πŸŽ‰) and as such I've been reflecting on my journey into coding over the past year. Without trying to sound overly dramatic (okay maybe I do want it to sound a little bit dramatic...) I really have had the most amazing, life-changing experience and one which has led to a career change that I never planned to have at the grand old age of 32. Having spent the last decade as a professional musician and teacher, building a career in which I have shared some of my favourite moments in life with some of my favourite people in life, I was ready for a new challenge. (I have an insatiable appetite for personal progress in life... often a blessing, occasionally a curse.) I needed a new adventure. A new way to fulfill my potential. I found that desire satisfied in technology. And more specifically in coding.

Inspired by one of my favourite people (I won't say who because he'd be awfully embarrassed and probably kill me) I embarked on my journey from musician to programmer. I swapped the saxophone for a keyboard, exchanged the language of jazz for the language of JavaScript and went from complete newbie, to self-taught coder, to School of Code bootcamper, to School of Code graduate who's workplace-ready and probably the most enthusiastic junior on the planet right now, in less than a year. And on my road to code I learnt a lesson or two about the world of tech. I don't claim to know it all (or even half of it all) but these are some of my musings so far...

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Tech is about team

This is something which probably surprised me the most at the beginning. Being from a non-programming background, I always had that stereotypical image in my head of a lone-ranger, genius developer, sitting alone in a basement somewhere, sleeping for a few hours a day, coding all night, and somehow doing amazing, clever programming things which were changing the world. Turns out I was only right about one thing there. (Incase I need to clarify it's the bit about technology changing the world.) These days, tech is all about TEAM! This pleases me greatly as I love team. I love people. I love communicating and getting to know people. I love the push and pull of working together, the discussions, the tensions, the glorious moments of unity and progress. I can do team. The ability to think creatively and solve problems by working with others is a vital skill to cultivate as working on a project or delivering a product requires expertise and experience in many fields.

To quote the late Steve Jobs:

"Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people".

A huge part of the bootcamp has been learning how to work with others in Agile, cross-functional teams - something that has been made even more challenging by the fully remote nature of the course. But it has been worth persevering with because today's world is so complex that it is simply impossible to solve problems effectively alone. Teamwork and collaboration is not an opinion. Countless studies have proved the importance of healthy collaboration and teamwork on an organization's ability to make an impact. It's been amazing to see how each person in our bootcamp has been able to contribute different strengths and skills to their teams which resulted in some really creative final projects. We've all got something to bring. A skill you have, which you might take for granted, could be exactly what a team is missing and looking for. So try not to compare yourself to others. Just do your thing and do it really well. In fact, become the best at your thing. It's very likely that someone out there will like your thing and want your thing. (Okay I've said thing enough now...)

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You'll never stop learning

What I love about technology is the constant progression, the change, the sense of moving forward. It satisfies my need for adventure and progress. From what I gather from the more experienced among us, by embarking on a tech career you are pretty much committing yourself to a lifelong education - there is always more to learn!

I have a theory about this. (It could be completely wrong so be sure to make up your own mind.) This 'you never know everything' reality kind of makes everyone a little bit more equal. You may have been working in your first coding job for a couple of months or you may be two decades into a successful career and the CTO of a big company, but you still need to commit time to your own educational journey, to look into and learn new technologies, to be willing to adapt to changing business environments or adopt the latest best practices. Maybe that's why I've found the tech community to be so helpful and encouraging in comparison to some other professions - no matter how experienced you are you can still remember what it's like to be a junior because the learning never stops.

So how I am feeling about this 'learning never stops' thing? Well, basically... great! It means that there's the potential for a really exciting and varied career, I'm pretty sure I'm never going to get bored at work, and I'm confident that I'm going to meet lots of amazing people along the way. Although I've learnt a lot over these past four months and made very rapid progress in a short amount of time, I am under no illusion that I am only at the very beginning of my programming journey. There are so many more languages to learn, technologies to master, processes to understand and situations to negotiate. On a good day this challenge can feel exciting. However, on a less good day it can feel a little overwhelming or even downright scary. But it shouldn't. And that's why I think that it's super important to make sure you always celebrate milestones and look back at how far you've already come. Which brings me nicely on to my next point. (It's almost as if I've planned this...)

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Reflection is key

I started documenting my learning journey a while before I joined the School of Code. Early last year, with the support of my other half (who had recently made the jump into tech himself), I was teaching myself HTML, CSS and JavaScript basics using a combination of online resources, tutorials and kid's coding books (honestly the perfect level for me at the start). After a few months I was making good progress but some days I was finding it hard to stay motivated and see my progress. I didn't know what I was aiming for. It was then that I stumbled across the 100 Days Of Code challenge.

Now anyone who knows me well knows that I love a good challenge. I'll do anything for a badge. (Unfortunately there are no badges for 100 Days of Code but the pride was enough in this instance.) I was immediately hooked. It gave me fresh drive to keep learning as I wanted something new to tweet about each day. Tweeting with the #100DaysOfCode hashtag immediately made me feel part of something bigger (I'll come back to this later) and alongside tweeting I also committed to keeping quite a detailed learning diary in which I documented my progress, my thoughts that day and links to any work or resources I used. I continued with this throughout the summer, into September (the first day of the bootcamp was Day 53) and into November. When I finished my 100th day on the 17th November, I knew I had to keep the diary going (I'd begun to see it's value) right up until our School of Code final projects began! It was a commitment, and sometimes the last thing I felt like doing after an whole day of intense, remote learning but it was absolutely, 100% worth it and I'm so proud that I finished it! And here's why...

Firstly, having to write down exactly what I'd learnt each day really helped me to consolidate my learning. Some days I found it harder to articulate what I'd done which often meant that I hadn't quite grasped the concepts fully yet. This often led to another hour or so of me looking into things and going over them again in order to be able to clearly document them in my diary. At the time, this often felt like very hard work and a bit of a drain, but in hindsight it was this dedication to my diary that enabled me to make such rapid progress and build on my understanding each day without getting behind on the bootcamp. Consolidation is key!

Secondly, in those moments when things are a bit tough or I'm out of energy or I'm wondering if I made the right choice or if I'm simply wondering what I've done with all my time over the past 6 months, I can look back and see how much I've achieved and how far I've come. Even if no-one ever reads it apart from you it's worth doing. And to quote my mother, "if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing properly". So document, reflect and do it well! (If you want to see my 100 Days of Code / School of Code diary you can do so here...)

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There's a community out there

I mentioned earlier that one of the things I have enjoyed about getting into coding is the tech community that surrounds it. Sadly (due to the current pandemic which we shall not dwell on) I have not yet had to chance to experience these communities in person but I have been able to join them online. People seem very helpful and from my experiences so far, senior developers always come across as willing to help us less experienced developers and point us in the right direction. Many even give up their time to mentor or coach others for no financial reward. (I know, these people are wonderful and brilliant.) Although I am new to this scene I have felt very welcome and get the impression that there are lots of people cheering me on, who want me to be successful and do well. Coming from a very competitive profession previously where it was a little more (very at times) dog-eat-dog this feels amazing! There's space for all of us. I really love that.

I know that my journey into tech would not have been what it is without my amazing School of Code family. The School of Code team have a done a great job of cultivating a close knit community but I think it's ultimately the intensity of the experience which really knits each cohort together. If I think back to the start of my bootcamp experience...I was thrown together with 47 other bootcampers from all different backgrounds, different ages, different life situations. Before you even speak to them for the first time you know that there's something special about these people as they've already successfully completed a rigorous interview process, they've all decided to step out of their comfort zones and been willing to try something completely new, they've left their jobs and have sacrificed having an income for the next 4 months, and all of this to try to learn to code - which I'd just like to mention is one of the hardest skills to learn and at this stage they've got no idea if they're even going to enjoy it or be good at it! These people are special. Or crazy. (I'm allowed to say that because I am one of them.) And that's before we even get started on the course. It's instantly 0 to 100 mph on the learning front, 8 hour teaching days on Zoom, homework, projects, recap tasks, afternoon energisers (these are fun), mime you lunch (only eat something you can mime), pair programming, guest lectures, waking up in the middle of the night thinking about code (who am I now?), group presentations, mastery tasks, daily squats (yes my legs are like tree trunks), trying to explain to your friends and family what exactly you're doing with your time. And then there's all the blood, sweat and tears. The blood is metaphorical. The sweat and tears are not. (Believe me, you don't know what a cold sweat is until you've had to do a live demo of your product in front of hundred's of potential employers on Demo Day.) All of this bonds you together. I will never forget my bootcamp experience or any of the friends I have made along the way. We walked through the fire of SoC together and have made it to the other side. (For those of you who think I'm being dramatic again, it really does feel like this!)

Many ex-bootcampers now come back as mentors or to give lectures on the course and there's something really nice about seeing this full circle of education. The student becomes the teacher. It's inspiring for current bootcampers to see where they might be in a few years and it's also rewarding for ex-bootcampers to be able to give back to an organisation which changed the direction of their life (for the better!). I know that it's definitely something that I'd like to do as I continue in my tech career. I'm so thankful that I've had the opportunity to embark on this amazing adventure and I want to help others make this journey and excel on it as they go. It seems that once you've been a bootcamper, you'll never really leave the School of Code family.πŸ’–

So if you're new to tech or trying to learn to code I would encourage you to find a tribe. Whether it's a community on Twitter, a channel on Slack, by joining 100 Days of Code, or finding out what's going on in your local town or city (there will be something tech related for sure) - go for it! It helps to accelerate your learning, build understanding and you might come away with some really great friends. I can highly recommend it.

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Tech needs YOU!

I wanted to end with this point as I believe it's an important one. Diversity and inclusion is one of the biggest challenges facing the tech industry today. Sure, it's come a long way in the past few years but there is still so much further to go. Technology now rules the world. People across every corner of the earth now use or rely on technology in some way (even if they don't realise it) and we need to make sure that the businesses creating this technology have the same diversity of thought and perspectives as their users.

This is the part where I'm going to big up the School of Code. The School of Code aims to get more and different types of people into tech and they are doing a fantastic job of it! A big blocker for a many people wanting to get into technology is the cost of retraining but the School of Code bootcamp is free. Yes you heard, FREE! This means that a career change into tech is an option for so many more people. If you’d told me two years ago that as a jazz musician I was soon to become a software developer and land my first job in the tech industry I would never have believed it. (I still have to pinch myself!)

So if you live in the West Midlands (UK) and are ready for a new challenge in life, hungry to learn new skills, willing to put in LOTS of hard work and wanting to start a new career in tech, this might be the perfect opportunity for you! You can find out more about how the School of Code works and how to apply on their website.

So there we have it. A few thoughts from a recently graduated bootcamper. There's more stuff I could talk about (wotwotwot, that really important day Tommy slept in, the terrible happy birthday singing, sign off's, silent zoom clapping, "you're on mute", etc. etc.) but I'm going to leave it there.

My closing thoughts (I know you're dying to hear them...) - there is room for you in this industry. Whatever your background, age or experiences you've got something to offer to the world of technology. What are you waiting for? Tech needs you! πŸ™‚

Top comments (1)

zaqar profile image

lovely read! found it all to be very true

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