A Tale of Two Bootcamps: Muay Thai Kickboxing vs. Code 201

By Glen Pham

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. “What’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done?”
  2. “Do I have a life?”

Regardless of your answers, Code Fellows will probably replace both.

The Most Challenging Thing

The most challenging thing I had ever done was train Thai Kickboxing in a jungle in Thailand. Six hours of grueling training every day in extreme heat and humidity was a recipe for perpetual exhaustion. But that was physical exertion — mental exertion is a whole different beast. When I approached my limits of physical pain during training, I had trainers screaming in my face to push harder and harder. The mind can push the body far past its limits, but when you approach the limits of mental exhaustion — when your brain feels so fried, it hurts to think — there is nothing to do but rest.

The Code 201 course has easily become the most challenging thing I have ever done. Expectations and standards are high to push you outside your comfort zone.

When I trained Muay Thai, I found the most improvement when I pushed myself past my own perceived limits — the same applies for coding. I learn the most when I pushed my brain to think of creative ways to solve problems.

The Curriculum

The Code 201 curriculum was designed with stacked learning in mind, where learned concepts stack atop each other and allow for accelerated learning and growth. All of the concepts I learned during the first week were relevant throughout the course and will continue to be relevant throughout my coding journey. The assignments were challenging and had optional stretch goals to challenge students even further.

I had no prior coding experience before taking the 201 course. On day one, I hardly knew what a variable was and by day thirty I was presenting a project that my team had created. It felt surreal to look back at the code I made and understand each and every line, when it had all looked like an alien language on the first day of class.

During lecture from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., our instructor showed us some demo code and introduced new concepts, but the real learning happened during lab in the afternoon, and ultimately it was up to us to learn by doing through lab and homework assignments (with TAs and our instructor on hand when we got stuck). Anyone can copy and paste code, but to use my brain and find the solution myself cemented the new concepts I learned that day.

The Schedule

My answer for my second question, “Do I have a life?”, was yes. But Code Fellows quickly became my life after day one.

Although normal school hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., many students, including myself, often arrived early and stayed late. Ten to 12 hours of coding per day is incredibly exhausting, but incredibly rewarding at the same time. I learned more than I ever imagined by being in such a rich and immersive coding environment. The campus felt like my second home (and during the class it’s common to spend more time with your classmates than your loved ones).

On weekends I reviewed what I learned and previewed next week’s material. By my second week I had my first dream where I was writing code (which was a good sign — they say you don’t really understand a new language until you dream in it).

What Code 201 Students Can Expect

Although the 201 course was a foundational course, the scope of the material is broad and stretches across many different subjects and fundamentals. If you’re a prideful person, swallow it and get ready to ask for help because you will need it.

There will be a lot of material to absorb in such a short amount of time. I spent many hours feeling lost, frustrated and confused. I even took an IQ test to make sure I wasn’t at room temperature levels because there were certainly many moments where I felt I was. One night I’d walk home feeling down and hopeless because I didn’t fully understand the material I learned that day, and the next I’d walk home glowing in confidence when I was able to complete my assignments with ease. I definitely took an emotional roller coaster ride during my time at Code Fellows, but I loved every minute of it.

What’s Next

With a successful completion of Code 201, I plan to continue on to Code 301 and Code 401. I’m content with continuing to not have a life for the next 14 weeks, and excited to see how much more I’ll have learned by the end of Code 401.

Ultimately, everyone’s experience will be different. The amount of energy and passion you invest into a code school will equal in returns. I had a wonderful and rewarding experience, and it will always be a memorable first step into my life long journey of code learning.


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