The End and Beginning of A Journey: My Time at Fullstack Academy

Hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” always evokes a little bit of tears, but no more so than when you’re the graduate. On Friday afternoon, I heard that song playing in the background as I heard two incredible instructors sing the praises of my class as a whole, and of each student as an individual, as we graduated from Fullstack Academy’s Web Development Fellowship. This was the end of a long journey, and while I know the best days are ahead of me, it’s always hard to let go.

On August 14th, I showed up at Fullstack Academy for the first day of the Web Development Fellowship not really knowing what to expect. Brand-new MacBook Air in hand (/bag), I picked a seat that I thought would be mine for the next 17 weeks (spoiler alert: it wasn’t. It was my favorite seat, but I did move around a bit) and waited for the next phase of my life to begin. I met our two incredible instructors, Corey and Dan, the student experience specialist who would help me survive the program, Mel, and 39 other aspiring software developers.

From the start, I knew that I would be outside my comfort zone. For one thing, I’d only had my MacBook for about a month, and while I have used Macs before, I’ve been a PC user most of my life, so I was still learning to navigate a new OS. (I’ve gotten a lot better with the Mac, but you will still occasionally hear me say “I don’t know how to use this thing!” It’s been a process.) I’ve always been a solo worker, and they told us from day one that there would be a lot of pair programming. I really wasn’t sure how things were going to work out.

Things got a little easier. I learned to use the MacBook a little. I came to enjoy getting to know my classmates by coding together. We even backed off of the pair programming thing a bit and I got some of my alone time back. I somehow accidentally joined our cohort’s social committee (quick tip: never offer to run an election unless you’re prepared to accept the fact that it might turn into a volunteer situation and you might accidentally end up volunteering for the position). By the end of Foundations (our first section of the program), I was even having lunch with a few of the awesome ladies in my cohort.

On September 11th, we started Junior Phase. I knew this was going to be the hardest part of the program for me. Because of my religious calendar, I would be missing six days of class (and leaving early at least once a week), including missing lectures on some very important topics — including PostgreSQL, Promises, Sequelize, Sockets, React, and Redux.

Missing so many days really taught me a lot about myself. I learned that I can’t do everything, and I shouldn’t even try. I learned that it’s important to manage my time and not let myself get bogged down in difficult concepts. I also learned that I’m endlessly amused by the idea of using two computers and a notebook all at once (I was generally watching videos on my PC, coding on my MacBook, and taking notes in my notebook). But most importantly … I learned that, while I preferred to learn the material in class, I can learn and understand new material on my own fairly quickly. My classmates had four days in-class plus two weekends to learn React and Redux, and I did it all over the course of two Sundays (something which I later learned greatly impressed one of my instructors). It wasn’t by any means easy, but I’m incredibly proud of myself for being able to get through the material in such a short period of time.

In addition to everything I learned about myself, I also learned one amazing thing about Fullstack Academy — the support they give their students is incredible. While I know my instructors were not thrilled that I had to miss so many classes, they never treated me any differently than any other student. I had a teaching fellow help me make my schedule before each absence, and when I got back, that teaching fellow sat down with me to make sure I understood all of the material. My classmates were very understanding, and I never received any criticism or resentment — just a lot of wishes for a happy holiday. While I don’t know that I’d recommend a coding bootcamp for someone in a similar situation (it’s a lot of material to be missing), I know that Fullstack can handle the situation well if it comes up again.

By our last week of Junior Phase, I was back to being in class every day … but this was also when I encountered my biggest stumbling block. Our major assignment that week was a Senior Enrichment Project, which we were encouraged to build using React and Redux. I started by building my app in React and using local state, and once I had finished that, I started to try to convert it to using Redux and React-Redux. Emphasis on try. It wasn’t working. I knew that I understood the concepts of Redux, but I was having trouble implementing it in my project. I wound up crying to one of my instructors, and he reminded me that I don’t need to learn everything all at once. There were seven weeks left in the program — I would have time to master Redux. I ended up completing my project using only local state … and when we had our final checkpoint exam the next day, I managed to complete the Redux section with minimal difficulty.

After surviving Junior Phase, we were given one week to review the material before starting Senior Phase. Like many of my classmates, I spent most of Review Week in the classroom, going over some concepts I was unsure about (including more Redux). In hindsight, I probably should have done Review Week a little differently. I probably should have reviewed all of the concepts from Junior Phase and just spent more time on the concepts I struggled with, but … hindsight is 20/20. And at the end of the day, I can still go back and review those less difficult (but still important) concepts any time I want.

On October 29th, I ran my second 10K, which was one of my best races ever. It was also the first of three races I had scheduled for senior phase (this after doing one race during Foundations and no races during Junior Phase). I showed up on October 30th excited about my race, but nervous about Senior Phase. I knew that Senior Phase included two group projects (in addition to one solo project), and I’ve never been great at group projects.

The first group project we worked on was an ecommerce site called Grace Shopper (there are a lot of puns at Fullstack …). I was assigned to work in a group with one person I had worked with before and two people that I had never worked with, but somewhat knew. I was completely upfront with them about the fact that I would have to leave early Friday (turns out, one of my fellow group members also had to leave early the same day) and wouldn’t be able to work on Saturday. They were fine with it. We did some work in pairs and some work alone. I spent a decent chunk of my solo time doing styling, which, while it’s not my favorite thing to do, is something I’m pretty good at (I did have a CSS background going into this program). Our site wasn’t perfect, but I think we made some great progress, and overall, we were a great team and worked well together.

It was while working on this project that I realized that I need to be better about figuring out what my expectations were for myself and for my team. I started to feel very overwhelmed, so I made an appointment with our student experience specialist, Mel, who helped me manage my expectations and reminded me that it’s okay to not be perfect. I was starting to feel a little bit of burnout, but Mel reminded me that everyone reaches that point eventually, and because my performance in the program to that point had been excellent, people knew what I was capable of and would cut me a little slack if I wasn’t performing at 100%. I took this knowledge and conversation with me into my next project … Stackathon.

Stackathon is the Fullstack Academy hackathon. We have 5 days to build an app. Stackathon started on November 8th and ended on November 13th … and I had my second race of Senior Phase on November 12th. With that race and the conversation I had just had with Mel in mind, I decided that I had two goals for my Stackathon project: 1 — Build something that I could have a working version done in 2 days, and 2 — Test my app at my race. With the common internet adage “pics or it didn’t happen” in mind, I set out to build an app that would help you find the perfect setting for your post-race medal pictures. It may sound silly (especially to a non-runner or non-Instagrammer), but it was something I knew was achievable (although I did have my struggles) and something I thought would be fun. It actually ended up being a really educational experience, as I finally started to master Redux and React-Redux, and I learned how to use APIs and fetch data from an external source (and yes, I did test it out after my race on Sunday morning … this after making small changes and redeploying it three times before the race).

Once Stackathon was over, it was time to get to work on our Capstone projects, the final project we would do during our time at Fullstack. We were asked to fill out a survey about who we were comfortable working with and what our areas of interest were for the project. I was placed in a group with one person I had enjoyed working with in the past and two people who I had never worked with before. We were given a default project idea of creating a Data Visualization tool, but we came up with several ideas of our own which we debated before finally settling on an idea — a nutrition app that allowed users to take pictures of their food and returned some nutritional data. We ran into some trouble, especially because we were using some new libraries and tools that we had to learn (including React Native, Firebase, Expo, and Victory Charts). We put in a lot of hard work, and I’m very proud of the product we created.

Over the course of Senior Phase, we also did some work related to Career Success. This is probably the part of the program that scares me the most. I can handle learning new things. I can even handle group projects (better than I thought I could, actually). But I’ve never been great at the real world. I know that I am capable of writing fantastic code and building great apps … but it’s hard for me to remember that these qualities will make me a great asset to any company. Like any other part of my time at Fullstack, this is something I need to learn to excel at. I can be a great developer. I just need to find the right company that will give me that opportunity (thankfully, Fullstack has a great Career Success department to help me with that, and I’m excited to continue to work with our Career Success counselor, William).

Over the past 17 weeks, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned new libraries. I’ve learned how to work well with others. I’ve even learned a lot about myself. Graduating from Fullstack Academy feels like the end, but I know that it’s just the beginning. This is the beginning of my life as a developer, and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.

Software Developer. Graduate from the first ever NYC Web Development Fellowship at Fullstack Academy of Code. Writes about the human side of coding.

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