Right now, in the Fall of 2020, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. For most of us this year has been strange and stressful and challenging in ways we have never faced before. However, it has also provided many people opportunities to make significant changes in their lives. For myself, learning to code has been one of those changes. After months of social distancing and losing both my jobs, I decided it was time to do something new and started using free online resources to get started learning HTML and CSS. After learning I actually enjoyed coding, I decided to make the leap into a bootcamp-style immersion program. After shopping around I decided on Operation Spark’s software engineering immersive program based in New Orleans, LA.
There are plenty of ways to learn to code. Whether you choose to self-teach, enroll in a coding bootcamp/immersive program, or consider a four year degree, it takes determination to learn something new. It can be challenging at any time to make a major career change, but especially in the middle of a global pandemic. So congratulations for making the leap and starting the journey. A coding bootcamp can be a pretty intense experience. But the following are some strategies that have helped me work smarter not harder:
Set up a work space:
When you begin learning to code, you will be spending a lot of time on your computer… like A LOT. So set yourself up for success! Make it as easy as possible for your brain to stay focused and stay in “work mode”. Set up a designated work space and implement a routine to start your work time. Make sure you have everything you need to start working (computer, charger, notebook, water etc.) and avoid distractions like phones. Leave distractions in the other room so you won’t be tempted! If you don’t have a lot of space to spare that’s okay. A designated work space can be as simple as a specific corner of the kitchen table or living room. I like to surround my work space with house plants to keep my mood up throughout the day. Do what works for your situation but separate “work space” and “relaxation space” as much as possible.
Give yourself breaks:
Especially while working on long projects, it’s important to pace yourself. Again, when you start learning to code you’ll be on the computer a lot. Probably for increasing amounts of time as you get farther along in your code journey. Learn to listen to your body and take breaks when you need them. Get up, move away from the computer, stretch, drink water, and get some sunshine! Take a lunch break if you’re working all day long. If your head is jammed full of information, and you are struggling to take in any more, give yourself some time to digest what you’ve learned and come back to it later. Give yourself a little 5 minute break every hour or so to get a snack or water, and use the restroom. If you’ve had a long hard day, maybe give yourself the night off to recoup. Longevity and stamina come over time, so take it easy at first and build good habits with your workflow.
Let go of being good right away:
For those perfectionists among us, feeling like you are “bad at” something can be a difficult emotional hurdle to overcome. Personally, this is something I have struggled with, but in an intense bootcamp environment it is something I had to let go of in order to make progress. No one will be the perfect software engineer when writing their first lines of code, and it would be unreasonable to expect so. It is absolutely okay to struggle with a concept the first, second, or even third time you encounter it. Learning to code is like learning a new language. The more time you spend with it the more familiar it will become. In a bootcamp-style program of study you will learn a lot in a short span of time. It can be overwhelming but just keep moving forward, build on what you do know, and things will start to click.
Utilize diverse resources:
Google is your friend! There are plenty of helpful resources out there for learning to code. MDN (https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/), W3School (https://www.w3schools.com/), and Stack Overflow (https://stackoverflow.com/) are great resources worth spending some time on. Or blogs! But don’t be afraid to search for alternative ideas or perspectives on a given topic. If it isn’t sinking in with the first explanation you see, find another one. If you have an Instructor or Teaching Assistants available to you, ask them questions! There are lots of experts who can explain things in lots of different ways, which can be overwhelming. But that means there are plenty of information sources to learn from.
Take care of yourself:
Being well physically is a huge factor in staying well mentally. During long days coding make sure you drink water, eat regular meals, and go outside for some sunshine. Do your best to get 6-8 hours of sleep before a full work day. Getting enough sleep is critical for memory and focus. When I’m trying to learn, there’s nothing worse than being hungry, tired AND confused. If I’m well-slept and well-snacked, I can at least avoid two of the three.
Appreciate incremental change and don’t give up!
No matter what path you’re taking to learn to code there will be hiccups, frustrations, breakthroughs, and teaching moments. Celebrate small achievements and take time to appreciate how far you’ve come. At the end of every week, do a quick reflection to look back over what you’ve learned recently and reward yourself for your achievements. It is not easy to learn something new, and staying motivated during a pandemic is its own challenge. But keep moving, take care of yourself, and don’t give up!