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Matt Edwards
Matt Edwards

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Manchester Codes - Software Engineer FastTrack Bootcamp - Week 1

Manchester Codes Software Engineer FastTrack is a 24 week, part-time bootcamp structured as two 3-hour lectures per week plus a fair amount of self-study in between. Owing to Covid restrictions it's currently a fully remote course with lectures delivered via Zoom. Tutors are also available for 1-2-1 assistance during Saturday "remote drop-in" sessions. The part-time structure appeals to me because I still work full-time in a non-tech field.

I signed up for this bootcamp a few weeks ago. It seemed to take ages for the start date to roll around and I was excited to get going. I was also apprehensive because I knew I was going to be significantly older than my classmates.

Lecture 1

Lecture 1 wasn't really a lecture, it was more of an introduction. We all introduced ourselves by giving a very brief bio and, as a bit of an ice breaker, offering 3 statements about ourselves two of which were true and the other a lie. There's a whole mix of people in my cohort and some of my fellow students have interesting back stories :-) And, at 54, I'm definitely the Grandaddy of the group. I keep telling myself it's all about mindset: I'm not "old", I "have experience"; and, my age is not a bug; it's a feature! One of these days I might even believe myself! Haha.

The tutors Miguel and Jenny then gave us a brief introduction to the work we will be doing over the next 6 months. After that we all got down to business setting up our development environments. The tutors were on hand to help out when anybody got stuck. I've been playing with Python for a few months so I'm fairly comfortable working in the Mac terminal. I still found the whole process a little stressful.

A Zoom classroom is a slightly weird environment - everybody on camera but quietly getting on with their own stuff except when asking for help. Somehow it still feels like a classroom. My main weakness in a classroom setting is that I fundamentally lack self-confidence and I'm scared of being the one who just doesn't get it and holds everybody up. That self-imposed sense of time pressure causes mild to moderate anxiety that manifests itself as an impaired ability to follow simple instructions. (I have to stress here: it's entirely self-imposed, the tutors put no pressure on us whatsoever; they are nothing but supportive and patient)

Setting up the development environment

This comprised the following steps:

  • Install Node Version Manager
  • Install Node Package Manager
  • Install Node.js
  • Install Git
  • Generate SSH key and add to Github
  • Install Visual Studio Code
  • Install ESLint
  • Install the ESLint extension to Visual Studio Code

This mostly went without a hitch. There was a fair amount of copying & pasting bash commands which I find it a little unnerving though because when you're simply copying commands you don't really know what's going on and I have an in-built desire to understand things from first principles as much as possible. I guess it's an unavoidable part of setting up new tools though.

I took the copy/paste process a little too literally with the Node.js installation and failed to follow the simple instructions (for reasons outlined above) and installed an out of date version instead of the latest LTS version. With a little help from tutor Jenny I was able to rectify that the next morning so it was no biggie.

The whole SSH thing this was a bit of a headscratcher! I have used Git before I never had cause to explore its SSH functionality. The GitHub instructions are pretty comprehensive but, again, I found them difficult to follow. I got through it eventually and received the confirmation email from Github. Phew!

So that was it for lecture 1! All done with time to spare. I needn't have got so stressed. Now the first lesson is behind me I should hopefully find it easier to relax.

Study material

The bootcamp material includes a comprehensive online study pack to work through between classroom sessions. Tutors estimate that you need to spend 14-20 hours per week studying on top of the 6 hours of classes so it's a hefty commitment.

Lecture 2

Each lecture session kicks off with a stand up: an industry-standard practice where everybody gives a brief description of what they have been working on, what has gone well and where they have struggled. Miguel then delivered a more traditional style lecture covering the command line interface. After that we all installed a pimped-up replacement for the humble Mac terminal called Oh-My-zsh. It includes Git integrations that should come in handy.

Next we worked through an introduction to Git with the tutors on hand to help out with any questions. They can take people into a Zoom breakout room to deal with questions if necessary so that the rest of the class isn't disturbed. It's a pretty smooth setup.

I spent the rest of the week working through the remaining command line and Git study material which included a Git tutorial, updating the Manchester Codes Student Roster Git repository with our own details and solving a murder mystery using nothing but the command line. I particularly enjoyed that last project, it was great fun.

So, after being so excited ... and nervous ... how did the first week go? I have to say that I absolutely loved it!

I've played around with programming in an amateur fashion for a while, simply because I enjoy it. I have dabbled in Python & Django. I have learned the basics of HTML & CSS and a bit of PHP. I completed Harvard's CS50 introduction to computer science course earlier this year. I am painfully disillusioned with my current career and would like to take programming beyond the amateur level but reailse that I'm unlikely to get anywhere with it on my own.

Manchester Codes has given me a routemap to follow, a curriculum that offers a solid grounding in modern technologies and, more importantly for me, a community that I am part of and a way into the world of professional programming.

Week one has left me energised and optimistic about the future, both pretty rare commodities in these uncertain times. Bring on the next 23 weeks!

Cover photo from Unsplash by @bamagal

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