How to make your time at a Coding Bootcamp work for you after you’ve left — An honest, yet optimistic guide.
Imagine you’ve decided to make a career change, or enhance your current skills and learn to code. You’ve attended one of the many wonderful bootcamps and now you’re out in the world again, trying to get someone to show you their appreciation for your skill with a paycheck. This might be more challenging than you anticipated, but here are some things to consider.
- Make a burn-down chart, but have a back up plan.
I was unemployed, in debt, and completely desperate. But not desperate enough to give up on my goal. Although I could already argue that quitting my job and attending General Assembly was a good decision for me, I knew it would really be worth it when I could put a dollar sign on it. I was willing to live-for-less in order to free up my time and mental energy for developing my skill and look for work but, after a while, my gusto turned to soggy toast. My initial fire began to temper and I was loosing sight of the road I was on.
Everyone has their own circumstances that will affect their time frame for job hunting after school. This is essentially your burn-down rate, and I suggest knowing your limits. If you were to ask me to tell you the one thing I wish I had known before starting bootcamp, I would tell you to be more prepared for afterwards. If you really want to be successful, you have to expect the unexpected. It’s great to have a plan and money saved to give yourself time to job search, but what are you going to do if you reach the end of your budget and you still don’t have what you’re looking for? If you’ve decided this is what you want to do with your life, then it’s ok to pick up work that’s outside of your field if you need it — just don’t get lost in it. Keep yourself focused on why you started this career in the first place, and don’t get down on yourself. There is no magic time limit, that when you’ve reached it you’ll be hired. But you will be successful if you don’t give up.
2. You have to really want it, you have to really practice.
It’s true. Whatever your reasons for learning to code, if you don’t love it, you won’t do it…and coding on your own is essential. The real gift that you walk away from bootcamps with is an intro to all things code. Sure, you’ve learned skills that can land you an intro job, but where you go from there is where the real opportunity begins. When I started bootcamp, I thought ‘learning to code’ meant learning a script, and knowing that script would make me a coder. But the beautiful thing about coding is that it lives in a free environment that is always growing and changing because of the people that love it and contribute to it. I was surprised to learn about how much free information is available, it’s an anarchist’s dream. What I realized is that I’ve been given a thousand keys to a thousand doors. So much of learning to code and continuing to learn to code, is learning to teach yourself to code. You don’t know how long your job search will take, and you don’t want to be suddenly struggling 4 months later, trying to remember how to set up an Express App. Keep practicing, discovering what you love and what you don’t love, and it will ultimately help you find a job you will get more out of.
3. You are unique
Imagine you’ve just finished your course, and you’re looking at your resume trying to think about what’s going to make you special enough for someone to take a chance on you. Then you start considering how many other graduates have completed a similar course and are out there searching for jobs, and you start to feel not-so-special. You have probably also read articles about why bootcamps are a scam, or give false hope. You’ve probably had people in your life tell you, with a concerned look on their face, that it’s not the same as having a Computer Science degree. Then self-doubt sets in, and not long after, financial stress that doesn’t turn off on the weekends, or ever.
Let’s evaluate. I was prepared for taking 3 or 4 months off from work to give my mind wholly to a new skill. I went in, Hermione’d the shit out of it, and left. Then the real challenge came. The hardest part of bootcamp, for me, was afterwards. This is when you have to become focused and optimistic, no matter what’s happening. I was naive, but I learned quickly. I learned how to set myself apart from the rest. I learned how to visualize my goal and head towards it, not letting other things derail me. I had to learn, because the alternative was to give up.
I came from 16 years of customer service. I managed a coffee shop for a few years, I worked at RadioShack for 4 years, I took a few writing classes in College, I also studied Fashion and Psychology. I didn’t graduate college. In fact, I dropped out 4 times. I went to Cosmetology school and only worked in a salon for 3 months. At a glance, my resume looked like a Monet, but up close — maybe more like a Rorschach. In reality, it was these experiences that made me marketable. When I was interviewing, I was able to draw examples from these experiences and talk confidently about why I would be able to accomplish the job I was applying for. When I first started applying, I was trying to hide my past and just make myself look like a Developer. But in the end, I was showcasing my past and discovering what ‘Total Package Jeanette’ looked like.
4. Apply with purpose
Imagine if there was an algorithm similar to what dating sites use, but instead, matched you to jobs you should be applying to. Well, there isn’t. Regardless, it’s still essential to apply with purpose. What I mean by that is to, first, take time to figure out what it is you want out of job. I like to use a Want, Will, Won’t list. It’s a simple concept that can apply to many aspects of your life; this is where I first heard of it (NSFW). I recommend watching the video, it will help you grasp the idea better than I ever could. However, the general idea is to make three lists. Want are ideal situations, Will is common ground, and Won’t is a no tolerance zone. The idea is to help you zero in on your goal, and not let other things get in the way.
Once you have a goal, it becomes much easier to get to it, eh? When I read the job description for the job I have now, something clicked for me. It lined up with my goals, and I knew I could do it. Granted, there were some things that worried me (like them asking for a four-year degree), but that didn’t stop me. I felt confident throughout the process because I believed in my Monet Resume. I just had to help others step back and see the big picture, too. Applying with purpose also means letting go of things that aren’t inline with your goal. I was no longer wasting time apply for jobs I knew weren’t what I wanted, or in my skill level. This, frankly, just gave me more free time to do more towards my goal.
One more point on this, if you think your goal is just to have a paycheck (meaning you’re applying everywhere hoping someone hires you), it’s going to show to your interviewers. Having a true passion for something will make you stand out, and if you don’t have that it will be obvious.
5. Um, Network
Before I began school, I filled out a survey and I remember being asked to tick off all of the things I would need special help with during my job search. Here’s my list:
Not that I didn’t gladly accept help with things like Resumes, LinkedIn, Portfolios, etc… But ‘networking’ has always sort of felt like a dirty word to me. I imagined myself in a room full of rich people, using words like “schmooze”, and “rub elbows”, and I’d be drinking champagne out of a flute glass (obviously). I felt like if I looked up Networking in the dictionary I would see this:
net·work — ˈnetˌwərk/
don’t be yourself.
don’t be awkward.
you should probably just wear all black, it’s your funeral.
But, actually…it was pretty easy, and pretty fun. (Or at least all of the stuff I’ve done through GA has been pretty awesome). I get to hang out with other nerds, and talk about nerd things. It turns out, the people I’ve met in this field happen to be among some of the best I know. Plus, coding automatically connects you with other coders (I’ve met so many since I started)! Coding itself is a topic of conversation — and there’s usually free food and drinks.
6. Everyone’s journey is different
Don’t compare your timeline to other’s timeline. It’s not yours, because you’re not them. Some people get lucky and have jobs before they are even finished with the course, this is not the norm. Some people get hired within the first month or so, and for some it just takes longer. It took me 4 months, which meant I hadn’t worked a full-time job in almost 8 months when I started. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It’s ok to take longer.
It’s also ok to take a break. It’s rough out there, man. Sometimes you need to take a step back and reevaluate, or just take a breather. That is totally fine, it doesn’t mean you’re quitting. It can be very beneficial to let yourself come out from under the weight of it and return later with a fresh perspective. For me, a break meant moving out of my house and staying with my Mom for a while. I needed the relief from financial pressures, and a chance to walk away from the cave of stress and worry I had imprisoned myself in.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as you do it. Coding bootcamps are worth it if you make it worth it. Although it took longer than I had anticipated, I still ended up where I was hoping to be, and I’m so glad I took the risk.