Getting comfortable being uncomfortable


Day 1 (Monday): Orientation

“From here on out all you do is code & exercise. This course has been carefully crafted to teach you all how to become junior developers. Due to the complexity and constant innovation within the technology space it leaves developers constantly working in and around the limits of their existing knowledge. We are here to help you find your limits, and at some point you will break. It may be in week 3 or week 11. But trust me, we’e seen hundreds of students come through our programme, and everyone, at some point will crack.”.

Ok, so these may not have been the EXACT words used by Sam Joseph from Makers Academy during our first orientation session, but it wasn’t far off. I feel a mix of excitement, trepidation and childlike giddiness as I look around the room at the faces that will be a part of this gruelling journey (think I’m exaggerating? Read on).

Sneaky selfie from the beanbag during one of the awesome breakout sessions

They run us through some of the logistics of the course, but it’s not until they start to brief us on their methodology and underlying philosophy that I’m feeling reassured that this was the right course for me. Blooms Taxonomy, Vipassana meditation, Agile & TDD mixed with Yoga. I am thoroughly impressed with the Makers team and feeling lucky to be here. Bring it on.

Days 2–4 (Tuesday-Thursday): Out of my depth

The easy pace of that first day was short-lived. As someone that has completed a marathon, climbed Kilimanjaro and spent 12 days in the Nevada Desert on limited food & sleep, I figured that surely they were exagerating just a little. I should have paid closer attention to some of the seniors comments, or spent a little time reviewing the coursework in more detail to get a better understanding what I had signed myself up for.

A flurry of Stand-ups, lectures, workshops, challenges and 4–6 hours a day of pair programming ensued. Nights are spent at home on the laptop reviewing the days work, as I soon grasp that an understanding of the days efforts will be required for what lies ahead tomorrow.

I enjoy getting to know my cohort, and connecting with my peers and the rest of the Makers community, and I’m starting to see that the only way we’re going to make it through this course is if we lean on & support each other. As I continuously struggle with my own sense of inadequacy to handle the course work I reminded of a concept that came up in orientation that is extremely common, especially within the developer community:

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

I am thankful that I put in as much effort as I did during the pre-course, it is paying massive dividends. Even so I cannot help but feel the onset of this syndrome.

Days 5–7 (Friday-Sunday):

We are given a challenge to work on over the weekend, that is closely based on one of the exercises we worked on during the week. I am able to get my head around it for the most part and am excited to be able to support some of my peers using slack/screenhero over the weekend.

I’m also enthused to see that people are embracing peer code reviews, this can frequently be a tricky point as it’s common for people to feel attached to the code they produce.

I remember publishing some code to a problem that was posted despite not being entirely happy with my solution. A fellow student then published a much more elegant solution which incorporated one of my ideas. I was then able to apply his ideas back to my own submission, thereby completeing the cycle of peer-learning awesomeness. (And by the way, I only figured out after that the original code was buggy, but had I not posted early this magic would never have happened).

After 12 years working in tech in everything in and around software development projects (except the actual coding!) I am grateful that many of the ideas explained this week (30–40%? are already familiar to me which gave me a little breathing room to get my head around some of the new concepts. I’m also aware that in the weeks ahead there will be a LOT of new material to work though.

Lessons this week

  • After years wanting to learn how to code, I finally feel like I’m starting to understand some of the simpler building blocks. I once thought that my brain was incorrectly wired to be able to develop software. I now see that what’s actually required is dedication, repetition and patience. We’ll frequently spend hours writing a new piece of code only to delete it and start again, this is where I personally have the “aha” moment I start to remember. A valuable lesson for the future, as I know see a whole world of learning other skills I’ve been putting off open up before me.
  • I believe that almost everyone in my cohort has felt completely out of their depth at some point this week. I constantly try to remind myself of this when I feel this way. It’s by design, it’s why we’re here. The sooner I can overcome my fears and speak up when there’s something I don’t understand the better. I need to stop feeding energy to any negative thoughts and focus instead LEARNING and most importantly of ENJOYING this process.
  • I am really enjoying studying the complex human dynamics at play in this boiler room of humanity and technology. The patterns I’m seeing are comparable to common life situations, just in here EVERYTHING is much more accelerated. This is the first structured environment I’ve been in since I began my travels over a year ago and I’m pleased to note that a lot of my learnings are applicable to this crazy experience.