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To Retain Or Not To Retain

yechielk profile image Yechiel Kalmenson Originally published at blog.yechiel.me on ・4 min read

How can I retain all of the information I’m learning at my bootcamp? Or should I?

Even though I graduated Flatiron a year and a half ago, I have remained relatively active on the Flatiron Slack channel. I see it as a way of paying it forward for all of the wonderful people who helped me back when I was starting out. Plus, it is one of the most supportive and inclusive communities I know!

Recently someone reached out to me with a question and being that I’ve seen this question pop up pretty often I decided (with their permission) to publish my answer for a wider audience.

Hi Yechiel!

I am nearing the end of the online bootcamp I’m taking and have hit a bump. I was curious to see if you experienced this during your time or at any time in general.

I feel like I am not retaining as much information from the lessons and labs. I don’t know if it’s the pressure of knowing that I’m nearing the end and my mind is just overwhelmed or if I am not studying effectively.

Did you ever experience this or know someone who has? How did you overcome it?

Thanks for your time,

Man looking at a computer frustrated

Hey there,

Yeah, retaining information can be tough, especially when trying to cram in a lot in a short amount of time (personally, I ran into that issue much earlier in the curriculum, if you’re only complaining now that you’re nearing the end that’s not bad at all… :P)

I can share some of the things that helped me retain information (and I will by the end of the message), with the caveat that everyone learns and retains information differently so what worked for me might not work for you and vice versa.

However, before I share what worked for me, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that figuring out how to retain what you’re learning might not be the most important thing to focus on right now.

What I mean by that is that the primary skill you’ll be gaining in your bootcamp is not the specific skills you’re learning (Rails, React, whatever). Instead, the main skill you should be teaching yourself is how to learn things and find the information you need on your own.

For example, at my current job we use PHP, SQL, and very minimal JavaScript, does that mean that the Rails and React that I learned at Flatiron were a waste of time now that I don't use them anymore? Not at all! The months I spent teaching myself these things at Flatiron meant that when the time came to look for a job I was ready for anything they'd through at me. I've had interviews in Ruby, JavaScript, PHP, Java, and Go, and when I joined a new company without a shred of PHP experience, I was able to get up to speed quickly. In fact, within just 2 weeks I already made my first Pull Request in an unfamiliar codebase in a new language.

Woman looking at a computer frustrated

So in effect, every time you forget the syntax for a React lab and go back to the relevant lesson or Google how to pass props into a component you’re practicing a skill that you will definitely be using IRL; the skill of knowing where and how to look up information you need. On the other hand, if you would have remembered the syntax after the first time, all you would have gotten to practice is a React skill, which you might not even end up using after graduating.

So to summarize; focus less on retaining information in the here-and-now, and more on sharpening the skills that will help you look up information when you need it :)

Now, not to leave you hanging, I did promise to share what worked for me:

Taking notes: writing things helped me remember them (even without going back to actually look at the notes).

Doing something repeatedly: the first 2–3 times I did something I always had to go back and look it up, doing it 5–6 times usually meant I’d remember for some time.

Last, but definitely not least, teaching others: I always tried to be helpful in Slack and Flatiron’s Ask A Question forum. I found that explaining something to someone a few lessons behind me helped me solidify the concepts to myself, and retain the information better.


This article has been cross-posted from my blog Rabbi On Rails.
You can read more about my coding journey there, or by following me on Twitter @yechielk

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Yechiel Kalmenson

@yechielk

He/Him/His I'm a Software Engineer and a teacher. There's no feeling quite like the one you get when you watch someone's eyes light up learning something they didn't know.

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