Photo from WOCinTech chat Flickr (and yes, I’m aware that’s not actually JavaScript! ^)

Full-Stack JavaScript in Six Weeks: A Curriculum Guide

What I Learned in Coding Bootcamp, Part 1

I’m currently a student at one of New York’s top coding bootcamps — Fullstack’s Grace Hopper Program. I just completed the first six weeks, otherwise known as “Junior Phase”. This is the “straight-up learning portion”, full of lectures and workshops, in which students learn all of the concepts that we’ll go on to apply in longer projects in Senior Phase.

I can already hear senior developers screaming at me through my screen: “You can’t possibly learn full-stack JavaScript in six weeks! Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near an expert, and I’ve spent a LOT of hours at my bootcamp every week to learn these concepts. But the curriculum has been top-notch, and after six weeks following it, I feel like I have a solid grasp of the different parts of the stack and how they fit together.

Because my bootcamp has been highly successful in placing grads into jobs all around the stack, I figured it might be helpful to outline exactly what we learned in this first phase — the concepts our founders and hiring partners deem necessary to be a successful full-stack developer. Basically, if you’re trying to go the “self-taught” route, this is a curriculum that’s been success-tested.

Note: There will obviously be disagreement about what concepts, frameworks, and libraries are most important to learn, and everyone has an opinion. This is just one bootcamp’s take on a curriculum. That said, Fullstack has a reputation for constantly reworking its curriculum to stay up to date with best practices and skills most in-demand from employers, so I think it’s a pretty good starting point!

Photo courtesy of Fullstack Academy

What We Learned

1. Foundations: Programming Fundamentals

First thing’s first: Before we even arrived on campus, we all were required to complete four weeks of part-time work online, covering basic JavaScript concepts that had to be second-nature by the time we started digging into the more complex stuff. This included:

  • basic object-oriented JavaScript; constructor and factory functions, and prototypal inheritance
  • basic functional JavaScript; higher-order functions, closure, recursion
  • how to read Jasmine test specs
  • the bare basics of HTML, CSS, and jQuery

2. Git & Terminal Fluency

Git is definitely a necessity for software developers today, as is comfort using the terminal, so we learned to use these tools early. Basic skills included: creating and moving files around in directories, initializing and committing updates to git, and setting up remote directories on Github.

3. CS Basics: Data structures & algorithms

Our first full week of bootcamp was dedicated to understanding the history and fundamental concepts of computer science. We learned to implement basic data structures — linked lists, queues, stacks, binary search trees, and hash tables — and implemented several different types of sorting algorithms. We also talked in depth about Big O notation, and its implications for the efficiency of different code implementations.

4. Node.js

Ten years ago, JavaScript was used strictly for front-end scripting. Now, however, thanks to Node.js, it can be used for the full-stack (which is one of the reasons it’s such an appealing choice to learn as a first programming language!) Node is simply a run-time environment for JavaScript on the server side, so learning to use Node didn’t require much additional syntax. We learned to import and export files and modularize our code, installed and used npm libraries, and acclimated ourselves to using the terminal as a console, all the while building our own clone of the bash Unix shell to practice these concepts.

5. Servers, HTTP, and Express.js

After learning to use Node, the next step to understanding back-end development is to understand servers and routing. We began with an introduction to ports and protocols, with a focus on HTTP — its “verbs”, its filepath, its headers, its payload, its response statuses. We then learned to use Express, a Node library for request handling. We practiced modular RESTful routing, learning to handle GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE requests.

Github’s brilliant 404 page, which is returned when you hit a route that doesn’t exist.

6. Asynchronous JavaScript

Asynchronicity is one of the hallmark qualities of JavaScript, creating division among developers everywhere — some love it, some hate it. But as budding JavaScript developers, one thing’s certain: We must understand it inside and out. We initially focused on understanding the call stack and Event Loop and tracing callback functions; then, we took a deep dive into Promises, understanding their purpose and how to use them, and even building our own Promise library to understand how they work. Promises and asynchronicity in general were some of the toughest concepts in the curriculum to get an intellectual grasp on, but they’re also some of the most important.

7. Databases, Schemas, Models, & ORMs

Databases are a crucial component of web apps — If you have data to load or want your app to be able to persist beyond refreshing the page, you’re going to need to connect to a database. We first began by talking about different types of databases (relational vs. non-relational), and discussing possible associations between data (one-to-many, many-to-many, etc.) and the ramifications of those associations (foreign ids, join tables). We learned to use SQL to access and manipulate databases, but then replaced those long SQL commands with the Sequelize ORM, which converts data from JavaScript object models to formats used by SQL database managers. We used Postgres to run our database, though there are many other options as well. Finally, we integrated our Sequelize code with our Express routes to create a (very basic) persistent full-stack web application.

8. HTML5, CSS3, & Sass

It’s crucial for any developer to have a handle on the basic language of the DOM — HTML — and to be able to style it with CSS. This was definitely the weakest part of the curriculum, which is ok — it isn’t a design bootcamp, it’s a coding bootcamp — but we did learn the basics. We also learned Sass — “Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets” — which allowed us to use loops and other time-savers to organize our CSS and make it a little more “code-like”. To practice, we recreated a basic version of the Bootstrap library and styled a single-page web app.

How I felt about CSS most of the time…

9. jQuery & DOM manipulation

After building out front-ends in HTML and CSS, we learned to use event emitters and jQuery to manipulate the DOM. We worked on selecting, updating, deleting, and restyling DOM events, and learned about the concept of “event delegation”. Many argue that jQuery is dying, as front-end frameworks like Angular and React replace much of its functionality, but because so many current applications make use of jQuery, it’s important to know at least the basics. And, anyway, I would argue it’s not always necessary to use a large hammer like React for smaller apps; sometimes, a little lightweight jQuery is all you need.

10. Chrome Dev Tools

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also learned to use Chrome Dev Tools for all of our front-end work. This included using the Inspect tool to examine the styling of DOM components, as well as the console, of course, to debug. Chrome Dev Tools also includes more nifty tabs, like the Network tab, which was extremely useful for testing our backend routes. In general, Dev Tools is just profoundly useful for novice web developers and experts alike.

11. AJAX

If you ever want to create an app that doesn’t refresh the page every time it sends or receives information to/from the database, you’ll need to understand AJAX, or “asynchronous JavaScript and XML”. Basically, AJAX sends background asynchronous HTTP requests, whose responses trigger only a partial re-rendering of the view. There are a few different implementations of AJAX requests across browsers; we used jQuery’s “.ajax” method, which takes care of a lot of cross-browser considerations under the hood, and later transitioned to the Axios client when we began using React.

Not THIS kind of AJAX….

12. Test-Driven Development

We paused for a couple of days to focus on the important concept of Test-driven Development, a.k.a. the idea that a developer should first write an initially-failing test, then write the minimum amount of code to pass it, then refactor to acceptable standards, then reiterate to cover all of the functionality desired of the app.

We had worked with Jasmine and Mocha/Chai before, simply passing tests written for us by our instructors. But now, we became the drivers and wrote our own tests. Most of us found this dull and rather unpleasant, but it’s important in order to cover as many edge cases as possible and ultimately produce less buggy code.

13. WebSockets

We only got a high-level look at web sockets, but they are highly useful, so I recommend looking into them. We learned about the WebSocket protocol, which provides back-and-forth communication channel over a TCP connection (as compared to HTTP, which is one-to-one and requires that a request be made from a client before a singular response is sent from the server.) This makes apps like realtime chatrooms possible without both computers sitting there constantly sending GET requests for new data.

We used the Socket.IO library to actually implement this protocol, though there are other options as well.

14. ES6, Babel, & Webpack

JavaScript is a rapidly changing language, and ES6 (a.k.a. ES2015) changed the game quite a bit, syntactically and functionally. Heck, apparently proposals for ES2017 are in the works, and the language will soon be changing even more! To be an up-to-date and employable JS developer, it’s important to know and be able to use these new features.

But with a changing language comes a problem: cross-browser compatibility issues. What’s a JS developer to do?

Enter Babel, a JavaScript compiler that allows you to write in ES6 (and, soon, beyond) without worrying about compatibility, because it compiles it all to ES5. Babel can even compile JSX/React components for you, making it an essential part of the modern developer workflow.

It was at this point that we were also introduced to Webpack, a build tool that puts all of your assets, including Javascript, images, fonts, and CSS, in a dependency graph. Webpack isn’t always necessary for small applications, but as we head into React-land, building large apps with many components and non-code static assets, it’s a critically useful tool.

15. React

At the beginning of week 5, we finally arrived at a topic many of us were eager to tackle — React! To understand how it worked, we built a clone of Spotify piece by piece, covering the virtual DOM and the component lifecycle; stateful and stateless components, and when to use each; passing props from component to component; creating forms in React; and front-end routing with React Router. Throughout the workshops, we slowly gained a solid grasp on not only how to work with React, but why working with React is useful, and when to use it.

16. Redux

After learning React, we quickly refactored our Spotify clone to use predictable state container Redux — and then the react-redux library to make it all a little cleaner. We learned about action types (definitions and labels for a type of action, which we defined in a ‘constants’ file); action creators, functions that can take information and return objects formatted to be sent to the Redux state; reducers, which usually a switch statement that describes a different update depending on the action's type; and the store, where the object representing the Redux state is kept.

Because the pretend app we were building wasn’t large enough to actually warrant the use of Redux, it was difficult to see the point of all the extra upfront code, but I do imagine that having a singular organized state and modularized code proves useful for very large apps, or apps that rely on real-time updating of the state from multiple users, like multiplayer games.

17. Authentication, sessions, & cookies

Our second-to-last curriculum topic covered a topic I’ve been curious about for a long time: how does an app accommodate users, who log in and out and have certain privileges depending on who they are?

We started by learning about sessions and cookies, small text files created by a server handling an HTTP request, and passed on to the browser to keep track of a user’s identity. Then, we ensured that those sessions persisted using the express-session library, and used it to connect login and logout pages to user models in the database, setting authorization privileges based on user identity.

18. Web security

Finally, we touched on a topic that’s becoming a critically important consideration for anyone looking to develop an app: security. We took a high-level look at different types of web security threats, alternating between “attacking” (i.e. understanding the vulnerability from the attacker’s point of view, and how a hacker might inflict damage) and then “defending” (fixing and protecting our code to prevent the attack. In particular, we covered the topics of uncovering API secrets, improper route access, data injection, XSS, and data theft.


Photo from WOCinTech chat Flickr

Beyond the curriculum and stellar lectures, what truly made Junior Phase so effective was the workshops, in which we actually practiced each of the concepts, cumulatively adding them together and ultimately creating clones of actual apps, like Twitter (to learn Express.js), Wikipedia (to learn databases and Sequelize), a trip planning app (to learn Sass, jQuery, and AJAX requests), and Spotify (to learn React).

Starting this week, I’ll be in Senior Phase, in which we’ll be building bigger projects from scratch, including an eCommerce site, a personal hackathon project, and a 21-day Capstone project. We’ll also practice whiteboard interview questions daily, give a “tech talk” about a topic of our choice, learn about deployment and build systems, and attend a Hiring Day with employers.

I personally can’t wait to put all of these skills into practice in the coming weeks and in the career that awaits me. Best of luck to you on this journey we’re on!

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GitHub and my other projects at http://www.sophiaciocca.me.