How I Explain Dev Bootcamp to Muggles

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on July 16, 2017.

7 months ago, I took the first steps on the long and winding road to a career in software development. I opted for the modern-day boot camp approach, which to those who are not in the know, is typically a 12–24 week intensive program on the fundamentals of coding, with a heavy focus on 1 language, with the expectation that you will (hopefully) be employable as a software developer upon graduation.

It is, in the immortal words of NBA champion Zaza Pachulia, NOTHING EASY.

For the Muggles in my life, it’s hard to convey what Dev Bootcamp entailed. I could explain the basics: we learn to code, we practice core concepts of software development, and work on projects that may go towards a portfolio to show employers.

I was but another Muggle just last winter. I knew that code was the “thing” that made the software “do the thing,” but it wasn’t until one fateful night that a bearded giant stormed into my bedroom and announced, “Jesse, you’re a wizard,” much to the chagrin of my reluctant caregivers, that I decided to enroll in a coding school. (Parts of that last sentence may or may not be true).

How do I explain how it was quite possibly the most fruitful 18 weeks of my life, that my cup runneth over with excitement for having finally found a career niche? For me personally, Dev Bootcamp went deeper than just learning code.


Dev Bootcamp taught me what it really means to keep an open mind

I would consider this clip from the Walt Disney classic, Alice in Wonderland, to be a microcosm of my experience in learning to code.

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, every time she thinks she has a handle on things, she is met with another surprise. While she may lose her bearings, she doesn’t lose her marbles. She keeps moving forward with a mindful and curious eye.

Writing code is an error-and-trial process. Whether it’s trying to print the words “Hello World” to the screen, or deploying the latest Pokemon Go update for millions of eager players, developers at every stage of the game are going to get stuck. We could all take a hint from Alice to be patient when debugging our code.

It’s incredibly easy to get bogged down in your errors and become discouraged, sometimes to the point where you want to throw your mouse/keyboard/iPhone/Unicorn Frappucino at the wall and curse your life decisions. I don’t think there was a single person I met who found coding to be a breeze. You’re constantly bombarded with thoughts of “I’m not good enough, everyone else gets it faster than me, how will I ever get a job, I’m not cut out for this”, and so on. The imposter syndrome was mad real.

So what did we do when we found ourselves stuck in this mire of negativity and existential doubts? Something completely different. <Boom!/>

Dev Bootcamp taught us to embrace our ignorance. The lightning-fast pace of the program made it counterproductive to hold onto any pretense. Saying things like, “I don’t know,” or, “I’m completely lost on this concept we covered two days ago,” became acceptable answers or comments.

As someone who attended an academically and socially competitive university, in addition to my past life as a serious jazz musician, the whole bit about leaning in to your failures and being open about your shortcomings went against my conditioning.

While it may have all been in my head, I felt there was some pressure in those past scenarios to be the smartest person in the room, the most well-read, the best musician who knew all the tunes, or the cool and rational hip dude who was fazed by nothing.

What Dev Bootcamp did was create a disarming and warm environment, where everyone is welcome to admit their shortcomings. Whether it was through engineering empathy classes, pair programming sessions, group projects, or cohort bonding activities, I think we all realized none of us were really that different, that we all wanted the same things out of life, and that we were all here at Dev Bootcamp to change our lives.

At the end of each day, we’d turn down the lights, light a candle, and hold hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah.”*

* Not exactly true, but I bet you believed me and started wondering what kind of cult I signed up for.

To tie this point back into coding, that’s the type of attitude you need to adopt in order to become a successful (and way less frustrated) developer. We humans are quick to judge ourselves and oftentimes won’t even attempt something for fear of failure. This is a field where you’ve got to take the leap into learning new technologies. You won’t understand it immediately, you may take longer to get it than the average person, but if you remain patient and trust your learning process, beautiful things will happen.


I realized I was stronger than I thought

Before getting into Dev Bootcamp, I was super nervous about the long days and the pace of the program. Some alumni I spoke to said they had worked 80 hours a week during the onsite portion, which lasts 9 weeks. I’m a slow and deliberate learner, and Dev Bootcamp’s pace looked to be swift and efficient. It also didn’t help my anxiety that I dwelled on how much I procrastinated in college.

Something miraculous happened when I began the onsite work. None of the things I worried about came true. My learning style didn’t change, it still took me a while to grasp concepts, but I barely noticed I was working for 10–12 hours most days. Sure, I was dog-tired at times and had to phone it in early some nights, but my determination to keep up the pace kept me focused.

After acclimating to the work load, my plan became spending every waking hour with learning of some sort in front of my face. I would get home at night and watch the preparatory videos for the next day until my eyes couldn’t stay open. For someone who was worried about procrastinating and getting bored, it wasn’t bad! In fact, it was quite the opposite. I told my family I’d never felt so alive!


Being a great developer is a constant and never-ending pursuit

Somewhere during the last phase of the program, something clicked in me that I was capable of teaching myself anything code-related that I wanted to learn. Google became my best friend. If I wanted to clarify a certain concept or figure out why my code wasn’t working, I was now extra-confident in my skills to find those resources and make the necessary adjustments.

After weeks of painstakingly climbing the mountain, I had reached the peak and was able to see the valley, and what a valley it is, some might even say it’s made of Silicon.* It’s the valley of life as a software developer and it never ends. You get to choose your own adventure now.

* Please don’t crucify me for this god-awful pun. You know I had to do it.

Now that I’m a graduate of Dev Bootcamp (read: funemployed), the job application process brings its own challenges and trials. There’s a constant barrage of questions and “should” statements: should I spend time leveling up and learning new stacks and frameworks? Should I apply to more jobs? Should I spend today practicing algorithms? Have you done any networking this week? React and Node aren’t going to learn themselves! Maybe you deserve a break and should catch up on old Twin Peaks episodes all day…

The internal dialogue never stops and no amount of fidget spinning will distract from it. While it’s really easy to get down on myself about my lack of job, I think back to everything I’ve accomplished and what I’ve learned.

My advice to myself and others in this same scenario? Trust the process. To any NBA fan that phrase is a dead horse that’s been beaten past the point of recognition, but hear me out: You’ve got the tools, you’ve got the talent. Find your white rabbit and follow it. You may get lost, you will probably get discouraged, but keep going. You’ve already failed multiple times and gotten back up each time. Eventually you’ll catch that white rabbit and reach the promised land.*

* Hopefully your idea of the promised land involves a commute, a 40-hours-a-week commitment, and a salary. Otherwise you may have missed the metaphor…

This just goes to say…

Attending Dev Bootcamp was one of the best decisions I ever made.

To my magical friends and my Muggle friends, may we all continue to make beautiful and meaningful things.

Disclaimer: Dev Bootcamp did not pay me to write this glowing endorsement of their program. The experience is fully what you make of it.


Update: As of finalizing this article, Dev Bootcamp has announced it will be winding down its operation and closing up shop at the end of this calendar year. The long and short of it is that they couldn’t maintain a sustainable business model without compromising the program’s mission. You can read all about it here.

Just like everybody else who was involved with DBC in some way, the news was a shock. Even though the camp may not live on, its mission will through its staff and alumni.


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on July 16, 2017.