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Coping with Time-Related Stress at Launch School

Like many other students, Launch School’s self-paced curriculum was one of the reasons I decided to start studying there. After finally earning a bachelor’s degree and landing a full-time job, I assumed that Launch School would be the perfect way for me to settle down and learn the core principles of Software Development in a stress-free environment. Besides, I can study at whatever pace I want, right? With few other obligations I can grind away for the next few years, no problem! I thought that with time removed from the equation, I could actually take part in mastery-based learning. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Though it may be true that a life without deadlines or time limits would be blissfully stress-free, it would also be horribly unproductive. We could get into the philosophical details of why that is, but it’s sufficient enough to say that time, along with being our most valuable resource, is also our greatest motivator. Take for example, a young musician. How well could they learn musical principles without an assessment or performance? They might do okay, but the deadline acts as an accelerant for their skills. In other words, a healthy amount of time-induced stress creates a successful learning environment.

Despite its motivational power, time can be a source of great stress. I can still remember the weight of a 16-credit hour work load at university, induced by dozens of due dates and short-notice assignments. I could rarely enjoy a moment to myself without thinking about an assignment that was almost due. I may have learned a thing or two about my area of study, but mostly, I learned to pander to a deadline.

What I’m trying to demonstrate here is that time constraints have an effect on how you learn, no matter how tight or loose they are. This is no different at Launch School. Whether you’re looking to learn software development as fast as possible or take your sweet, sweet time to “do it right”, the stress will come. To help myself cope with time-related stressors of Launch School, I’ve broken down the problem into three sections: completing Launch School, studying, and understanding a topic/solving a problem. Though not a comprehensive guide to time-related stress you may have felt, I hope that at least one of my thoughts will help you during your time at Launch School.

“Who can say where the road goes?
Where the day flows? Only time.” Photo by Mike from Pexels

Completing Launch School

Completing the Launch School curriculum is the end goal of all of this, isn’t it? Wrong. The goal is to become an enduring software developer who has a deep understanding of programming fundamentals. Keeping this in mind is the answer to the following stress-inducing questions:

Will I complete Launch School in time?

It’s possible that long-term, self-imposed deadlines will creep into how you view Launch School. I did not think this would be a problem of mine, seeing that I had given myself many years to complete the program. Sure enough, I eventually started telling myself things like: “Maybe if I study faster I’ll get into the next Capstone Cohort” and “I need to be done with this course by the end of the month.”

These kinds of thoughts are potentially dangerous. If it doesn’t get in the way of the overall goal of mastery they can be used to motivate you to increase weekly study hours. Otherwise, try to remove these thoughts by reminding yourself of the overall goal of mastery and ultimately your long-term life goals.

Am I going too slow?

Unfortunately, it is possible to move too slowly through course material. In fact, it’s suggested that you spend at least 15 hours per week studying. Though the 15-hour benchmark can be a helpful metric when starting out, I suggest that you take some time to consider the quality of those hours. One hour of studying for one person may be drastically different from someone else’s one hour.

Here are some suggestions to help address this concern:

  • Review material you’ve already learned. If it’s difficult to relearn old topics within a short period of time there may be too much time between now and when you last visited that topic.
  • Know when it’s time to move on to the next topic. You don’t need to write a text book about JavaScript data types before learning about looping mechanisms. Moving on will help you solidify previous material.
  • After you establish how quickly you learn, set an hours-per-week study goal and commit to it.

See Josh Crane’s post to see an LS graduate’s take on the ‘slow path to proficiency’.

Why can’t this go faster?

If you haven’t figured out already, learning software development is hard and by extension takes a really long time. Just look at James’ article describing how the first course took him two years to complete.

At the top of Launch School’s “courses” page it states in large letters: The Slow Path to Proficiency. This mantra overshadows the entire core curriculum, so embrace it sooner than later. Just take your time and enjoy the ride.

Me, looking for a bug in my code.

Studying

At the highest level I tend to worry about the time it takes to complete an assignment, course, or even the entire curriculum. At a lower level I start to wonder about the time I take to study during the week. The following questions zoom in a bit from the previous section to explore the time-related stressors of studying.

Do I have time to study?

Life can be incredibly busy. You may work a full-time job, have familial obligations, or maybe you have a time-consuming hobby. Whatever it is, making time for studying can be tough. Unfortunately, there is no secret study technique that creates more time. Time machines don’t exist and the groundhog’s day “loop” is fictional (I’m sorry).

After struggling with this myself at times, my only advice is that you’re going to have to make sacrifices. Many Launch School students even quit their full-time jobs so that they have more time to study. But, if you’re like me and it’s a necessity to work full-time, you’re going to have to give up a lot of your spare time. You might even have to become an early riser or cancel your weekly D&D session. Consider coding your new hobby and commit to working on it every single day even if it’s for just a few minutes.

Am I studying Enough?

Most of my answer to this question can be found under the section “Am I going too slow”, but I’d like to add one more suggestion:

Become familiar with other students’ experiences. The How long will it take Forum has been a huge help to me when estimating times of certain courses. Just remember that your experience will differ (sometimes by a lot) from the students that post there.

Am I studying too much/fast?

This will vary greatly amongst Launch School students. Personally, I become exhausted if I study the same topic for more than four hours a day. I’ve also found that I need to sleep on important concepts to let them sink in a bit more. Even many full-time students say that they can’t put in a full 40 hours/week because of the mental strain.

Similar to the “Am I going too slow” section, make sure to review previous material frequently to make sure you still understand it. Most programming concepts take time to learn properly, so it’s likely that reading through an assignment one time won’t be enough. Other than that though, if you’re doing well on assessments there’s no reason not to move along at a fast pace.

Callie’s thoughts on this topic have been particularly helpful to me.

When will I be ready for the assessment?

Though this is an incredibly common question amongst newer Launch School students, I continue to ask myself this. I’ve always viewed the time between completing a course and finally taking the assessment as “study purgatory”. If I study too much it can seem like a waste of time but if I study too little I risk a possible “not yet”. Here are some suggestions/how I find a middle ground:

  • Create a checklist of items that need to be completed before the assessment (i.e. Writing practice questions, working on more exercises, rereading material). When the list is done take the assessment.
  • Set a specific date when you’ll take the assessment. This self-imposed deadline will motivate you to be ready at a specific time.
  • When you get bored/tired of studying the material, just take the assessment. You’re probably ready.
“Time is a ruler to measure the day
It doesn’t go backwards, only one way”

Understanding a Topic/Solving a problem

Finally, if we zoom in even further we reach a place where we can measure time in minutes. At this level we may be working through a small coding challenge or taking an assessment. It’s at these times when the following questions start to creep up on us.

Will I ever understand this topic/solve this problem?

During your first few months in the Launch School curriculum, it’s highly likely that you’ll encounter some topics or problems that seem to take forever to complete. I can still remember being incredibly frustrated when I failed to solve an exercise labeled as “easy” after working on it for well over an hour. At this point you may be tempted to throw in the towel and simply proclaim “I guess I’m not cut out for software development!”.

I cannot emphasize enough how important these experiences are. What you do at these critical junctions will sculpt the answer to all the questions I’ve listed here and ultimately decide whether you become an enduring software developer. Am I being a little dramatic? Maybe. But you should understand: the ability to patiently work through very difficult problems may be the most important skill you can develop as an aspiring engineer.

Here are some suggestions on how to handle this situation:

  • If a problem or topic is becoming overly frustrating/time-consuming, go ahead and skip it. When you revisit the problem later you’ll either be in a better headspace or you’ll have developed the skills to solve it.
  • Look at the answer. It’s okay to peek at the solution as long as you commit to understanding it and revisiting the problem later.
  • Ask for help. Posting in an LS forum, reaching out to a TA, or even just googling it can help you move past a tough topic/problem.

Can I complete the assessment in time?

Possibly the most stressful moments during your time at Launch School are the ones spent taking an assessment. The time constraints of both the written and interview assessments are an intimidating but necessary tool to test our abilities. Without them, we would have little to no proof of mastery. Here’s my thoughts on how to mitigate stressors of assessment time limits:

  • Recognize that assessments are battle tested, and many other students have taken and passed them. This is proof that you can also complete an assessment in time.
  • During a written assessment make sure you can describe everything on the study guide and know exactly where to find the information. Spend as little time as possible searching for answers by knowing your resources/documentation well.
  • Channel your stress into studying to get correct answers versus answering questions quickly. This will naturally cut down on the time it takes for you to complete the assessment. The main take away here is to study a lot.

Check out Jon’s excellent article on this very subject.

Becoming an enduring software engineer takes time. This fact will naturally generate some concerns, doubts, and even unnecessary self-imposed deadlines. Learn to redirect this stress to motivate your progress and to stay on the slow path to proficiency. Embrace the mastery approach and be assured that even the smallest step forward is still a step closer to the end goal.

Hopefully some of my thoughts help you identify some strategies to cope with any time-related stress you’ve experienced at Launch School. Many of the sections I’ve listed deserve an entire article so I encourage you to explore these topics further if you’re interested.

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Caleb R Smith

Caleb R Smith

GIS Analyst, Launch School Student

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