What I Learned About Grit and Success at DevPoint Labs

We talk to many individuals who want to learn to code and start a career in web development or UX design. These conversations typically follow a pattern. We talk about our curriculum, the learning format, our activities, what students can build, and what career services we offer. The bottom line: do we provide our students with what they will need to succeed? Some students define success as learning how to become a competent and productive web developer. This is what leads to a happy and fulfilling career. However, during these conversations we try to guide them into discussions about grit and their willingness to work hard and succeed.

So, what is grit? Merriam-Webster defines grit as; firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. In the context of a coding bootcamp like DevPoint Labs, we would define grit as; an unparalleled work ethic with focus on long term goals paired with an eternal passion of learning and curiosity.

Grit is the great equalizer that levels the playing field for all. Grit is the underdog that throws the game winning touchdown. We would love to believe that we have some “secret sauce” for success, but I think we only provide half of the ingredients for said sauce. The real secret to succeeding at DevPoint Labs is all about grit. It is the vital ingredient our students need to bring to the table, so we can make that secret sauce together as a team and community. I would argue it’s the single most important indicator for success in our course.

We have personally observed the success of many of our students who have exemplified grit and what it embodies. It’s not about who is the most talented in class, or who came in with the most coding experience. It’s not the best note-taker, fastest learner, the person who types the fastest, or talks the most. I think you get my point.

More often than not the student with the most experience and most talent rarely end up being the top student in the class. Every so often we run into these experienced know-it-all students who come in with bad coding habits and are not humble enough to grow where they need it most. The students who will do whatever it takes end up being the top performers. These individuals stay late and come early. They go to meet-ups and finish our extra credit assignments. They typically have little to no prior experience, but what they do have is grit. They can even be slow to pick things up and struggle until graduation, but through perseverance and hard work, they have all succeeded in landing that web development job. To be candid (and I’m ashamed to have thought this) I’ve had my doubts about a couple of these students, and wrongly assumed they wouldn’t be successful in this field. Boy, was I wrong and I’m happy to admit it! They showed me an unwavering desire to keep pushing through and constantly try harder. They refuse to quit, and they become great examples that anyone can do this if they want it bad enough.

To be clear, we don’t ever give up on a student! We will stay late with them and use everything in our tool belt to help them succeed. It’s our responsibility and part of what we have to offer, but the student’s attitude and motivation is the most important key to success.

Grit is Contagious

In the four years of educating we have seen a wide variety of individual personalities and classroom politics. This makes every cohort different and special with quirks and kinks, for better or worse. There have been a few special occasions where an entire cohort has grit. It’s very remarkable to see this happen and something I’m grateful to have been part of. This occurs when the majority of students are humble, hungry, and feel a responsibility to look after their fellow peers. Suddenly, everyone in the class wants to work hard and help each other. When we all stay late, nobody wants to be the one to leave class first, and we as educators catch the grit bug and grind through those after-office hours to go the extra mile and pursue success.

The Struggle is Real

The reality is — not everyone has it. Whether the grit debate is nature or nurture we do our best to nurture each cohort of students to have grit. So, what do we focus on to embrace it? First, having empathy and letting your guard down opens the door for other characteristics to flourish. By leaving your ego at the door, it allows you to be receptive to what we teach and care for not only yourself, but your peers. If someone is struggling with a concept, but you understand it, why not share your knowledge? Teaching someone else forces you to truly understand something and reveals any gaps in what you think you know. This is why teaching yields some of the most fruitful progression in learning.

Next, we try to embrace the struggle. Better yet, stop beating yourself up for failing. We have a poster in class that says. “Coding is hard. You’re not stupid. Move Forward.”

You’re likely going to fail 50 times in a day between errors, merge conflicts, or bugs. Know that continually being frustrated and confused is part of the process, so the only logical thing to do is accept it, do your best to learn from it and move on.

Showing up is half of the battle day in and day out, because “It’s the daily grind that sharpens the axe. (Jocko Willinks)”

Don’t give up. Persevere until the end. Stay late to build and rebuild the same project with deliberate practice. Constant learning is asking why things work the way they do to understand what you’re practicing. I believe a focus on the macro and micro level here is important when you’re in the trenches. On the macro level, you need to remind yourself what your goals are. Why are you working toward it? What is your end goal and why is it worth it?Your mindset here should be a marathon and not a sprint. On the micro level, we need to create small attainable goals daily, and celebrate those small achievements. By the end of the day, you can allow your mind to be at ease with what you have accomplished despite your daily failures.

Powering Through Low Moments

Grit can be a roller coaster with emotional highs and lows. As educators, it’s our job to create the confidence and optimism needed to succeed and learn. Without fail by week three and four the students confidence have essentially been beaten out of them. At times students may experience moderate to extreme self-doubt. This is where we rally the troops to give that needed pep talk. Many times we invite alumni as guest speakers to share their experience, and how they endured until the end.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of blowing off some steam with your fellow peers. One of our favorite DPL activities is the Bowling Classic. It’s staff versus students and if the students win we throw a big pizza party. If the staff wins we threaten them by scrubbing the classroom floor, but we’re all bark and no bite and sometimes throw a pizza party anyways.

Other low moments that we see in class is envy and impostor syndrome. This kind of thinking can poison the mind and sap any motivation that’s left in the tank. This is a topic that I want to focus on in a follow-up post, but what I will mention is we can use these feeling as tools to achieve our long-term goals. We all have our own unique experiences and challenges. Not everyone learns the same way or has the same context for a given lesson and theory. Stop comparing yourself to others so we can focus your energy on what makes you productive.

Lastly, by keeping a close eye on each student. We know when to step in and coach them through these low moments to keep a focus on what matters most. Having graduated many cohorts, we’re confident in our processes and encourage students to have faith in the process, too.

What I have learned about grit is it can be a powerful tool to create your version of success and a happy life. Use it wisely and know that you don’t always have to blaze the trail alone. Stay humble, hungry for knowledge, and remember to have some fun.