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Software Engineering Project Reviews at Flatiron School

saramccombs profile image Sara McCombs (she/her) Originally published at Medium on ・4 min read

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels

To put it bluntly, I was nervous about my first project review. I somewhat knew what to expect from the process outlined by Flatiron, but I didn’t know what that process would look like in reality.

Project reviews are intended to prepare a student for the dreaded technical interview and to make that varied and less-than-standardized process a little more friendly and comfortable, which is a pretty tall task if you ask me. Technical interviews are as diverse as applicants are for a job. It’s hard to prepare for something with such variety. However, practice at anything with a technical focus is better than nothing.

As an overview, a Flatiron project review consists of three major parts:

  • A student explanation of their code from execution point to exit point.
  • Q&A session to assess a student’s understanding of Ruby fundamentals (as the first portfolio project was Ruby focused)
  • Refactoring student code a.k.a. a live coding session by the student

Now, if any project requirements are missing or if a student appears to have significant gaps in their understanding of the material, a student might have to:

  • Extend their project with a new feature, more data, something to meet the project requirements fully, etc.
  • Submit an improved version
  • Meet again for another Project Review

All this can sound a little intimidating, especially for the first project review. However, Flatiron assures its students that:

  • You won’t be yelled at, belittled, or scolded
  • You won’t be put on the spot without support
  • There’s nothing you can do to instantly fail or blow it

Fantastic.

So, what was the outcome of my first project review?

It went exceptionally well. I aced it with flying colors.

I owned it.

I was suddenly Queen of the world.

All the preparation and long hours refactoring and DRYing my code paid off.

But, I was successful in my first project review, not because it was easy, but because I had the tools I needed to succeed.

I was supported at all stages by my peers, my instructors, and my family.

Advice for those who haven’t completed their project review and those curious about how to make the next one better

  1. Know that this process isn’t sunshine and rainbows every time. There is a significant variety of outcomes for students, and the review itself is dependent on not only the project and the student but also the reviewer. Every reviewer has a unique style, know that going in and don’t assume a single format every time. Remember, we are all human.
  2. Schedule an appointment with your instructor to review your project from the onset to ensure you meet all the requirements. A seasoned developer has foresight from their long experience that can help junior developers head off some significant headaches down the road. Don’t be too proud to lean on those with more experience than you. Ask a million questions.
  3. Take FULL advantage of your instructors’ office hours. I met with my cohort lead every single day the week before the project was due. He assisted me with ironing out errors, as well as providing great mid-development feedback about my project.
  4. Practice presenting your project not only to yourself but to another human. It’s something you will need to get comfortable with, and now is the time to do so.
  5. Know precisely what you want to say. Write a script if you have to and read it verbatim until it feels comfortable. Use as much technical terminology as you can; this a vernacular that you will be using in future employment. Now is the time to master developer-speak.
  6. This goes for just about every project and assignment, but don’t wait until the last minute. You know your schedule, and you know the hiccups that might occur along the way. Try to plan for those. Give yourself as much time as possible to approach this project without a sense of urgency or panic that comes from quickly approaching deadlines.
  7. Ask family members and friends for help to ensure you dedicate as much time as you need to your project. Ask a spouse to pick up a few extra chores for the project duration. Arrange a sitter or a family member to help with childcare for an hour or two. Ask a friend to provide some accountability. Any little thing that can allow you to focus more on your project are ways family and friends can help.
  8. Eliminate distractions. This could come from a plethora of sources, but ensure that the time you are focusing on your project is quality time. Know what will steal your attention away and actively try to eliminate those during your project. For me, it is a good movie. I can’t focus with the TV playing, but I also cannot study or focus in silence. Music is that happy medium.
  9. To me, this is the big one, select a project focus that inspires you. Your passion will come across in your presentation, as well as your desire to flesh out a quality project. We all know the drudgery that is felt when working on what feels to be a lackluster project, avoid that by selecting a project that inspires you and something that you will be exceptionally proud of upon completion.
  10. Last but not least, don’t give up. This project might be easy for you, or it might be hard. But no matter what, don’t give up. Reach out for help. Ask a million questions. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to do whatever it takes to ensure you understand the material. Your instructors are here to help you and guide you to success. Allow them to help you succeed and trust their wisdom and advice when they offer it. They see a lot of students in their day and see what sets a student up for success. Ultimately, they want you to reach your goals. Allow them to help you along the way.

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Sara McCombs (she/her)

@saramccombs

Software Engineer | Bibliophile | Diversity, Inclusion, & A11Y Advocate | Community Engagement Leader @ Project Alloy

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