Halfway There: Reflections After 9 Months with Launch School

I’ve recently completed the Programming & Back-End Development coursework at Launch School and wanted to take the time to pause and reflect on the experience, as well as consider the road ahead. The past 9 months at Launch School have been an incredible experience in my growth as a software engineer and student, and I think it’s important to reflect on the past to improve the future.

The Difference in Launch School

Right before I started studying at Launch School in April 2017, I had just completed a 6-month online boot camp in web development. The boot camp had seemed to offer a solid program on the surface with one-on-one mentorship, a diverse set of technologies to learn and a group project to highlight on our resumes. However, the majority of the 6 months was spent creating projects with Ruby on Rails after only 1–2 weeks of Ruby fundamentals and speed through JavaScript and databases in less than a month. By the end, I felt a clear discomfort in my skills when I couldn’t understand how these technologies worked beneath the surface and failed to fix a lot of bugs in my projects after some tinkering. In fact, I felt that my knowledge was so lacking that I couldn’t even put JavaScript and Rails on my resume.

This discomfort led me to reconsider applying for jobs as I didn’t feel like a strong candidate with a firm command of the fundamentals. And while the boot camp instructors stated that we would learn a lot more while on the job, I didn’t feel like a competitive candidate. And even if I was hired, I felt like I would be a weak team member who would play catch-up instead of learning other areas of software development for my job.

With these concerns, I found Launch School and decided to humble myself. I would disregard the feeling of sunken-cost (a common fallacy) from my 6-months spent with the boot camp and start over from the ground up with Launch School. And that has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as I’ve now learned an unbelievable amount about Ruby, OOP, SQL, and web development and feel incredibly more confident as a programmer.

The difference was crystal-clear after the 101 Programming Foundations course that broke Ruby down completely and elevated my abilities to problem solve with Ruby. I spent about 3 months finishing the 101 course and I can say that the 1–2 weeks of Ruby training from my boot camp was utterly insignificant and lacking. Launch School is simply on another level that actually trains its students to be strong programmers due to its mastery-based learning model.

Point of Acceleration

Fast forwarding to the start of this year, I was almost through the 180 SQL & Relational Databases when Chris Lee posted about a Capstone Info Session webinar. This piqued my interest as I had been eyeing the Capstone Program since I found Launch School and was determined to get accepted into it from the start.

This desire was because I knew Capstone would be instrumental in molding me into the best software engineer that I could be for my job hunt and propel my career. And what really drew my attention was that the next Capstone cohort would start on May 14th. After some digging around, I found that the applications for Capstone were usually due about a month before the start date, so April 1st.

This lit a fire in me as I wanted to be in that cohort. I had already been studying for 9 months and felt confident in my abilities as a student to reach the April 16th deadline, especially since I had studied HTML & CSS before Launch School. And so I decided that I would increase my daily study hours and do my best to complete the entire Front-End Development coursework within 3 months, which gave me about 2.8 weeks to finish each course and assessment.

And that is a prime example of hubris and allowing emotion to cloud judgment.

Avoiding the Inevitable Crash

It didn’t take long for me to seriously question my new plan as the 201 HTML & CSS course revealed itself to be a monster. Just like how the 101 course showed how weak my Ruby fundamentals were, the 201 course was quickly making it clear that I really didn’t know HTML & CSS as deeply as I thought. The sheer amount of readings and content to learn was shocking and I began to doubt that I could absorb it all and show a mastery of the material while on my aggressive timeline.

At this point, I had to do something that has always been a bit painful but ultimately very beneficial for me: I had to detach myself from the situation and assess myself against the cold truth. I could not realistically expect myself to learn all of this material to the point of mastery in just 2.8 weeks, and then repeat this feat with the 210, 225, & 230 courses. Additionally, I had to make a plan to refresh and maintain my knowledge of the Back-End coursework lest I become rusty in these skills for Capstone.

The truth was that I wanted so badly to be in Capstone and start my job hunt that I was making decisions which would harm my mastery of the courses and abilities as a programmer. Even if I could go through all the coursework within 2 weeks, would I do well-enough on the assessments? By putting my self-imposed deadline before mastery-based learning, I could end up bombing an assessment and thus tank my standing as a candidate for Capstone. And if I solely focused on the Front-End for the next 3 months and didn’t review the Back-End, would I end up as a weak Capstone student?

These questions felt oddly similar to the ones I asked myself after my boot camp experience and showed that my judgment had been clouded.

My Current Path

In the end, I made the decision to slow down and focus on the here and now, which is learning the current course as best as I can for as long as it needs to take. This approach has been the reason that I’ve succeeded on the assessments thus far and if the method isn’t broken then I shouldn’t change it. Additionally, I need to build an effective review method for the material of the previous courses to remain a strong back-end programmer. I need to trust the process that has been successful so far and move forward with it.

I chose Launch School to rebuild my abilities and become a strong software engineer, and I can’t allow myself to become impatient. I know that a brighter future and career lies ahead at the end of the road so long as stay consistent and humble in my learning. My eye is now on applying for the Capstone cohort in the fall of this year and I can already tell that this choice feels correct.

I want to wish everyone studying at Launch School good luck on their courses and I hope you enjoyed reading this reflection. Remember that as much as we all want to improve quickly, mastery does not accept deadlines. It in fact breaks them as useless constructs. Stay strong and get after those courses!