“If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough”
-Chris Dixon, partner at Andreessen Horowitz and serial entrepreneur
Welp, it happened. I crashed and burned on a Launch School assessment and I received my first “Not Yet” score, specifically on the RB129 interview assessment. For context, Launch School, very smartly and helpfully, doesn’t label a “not passing” assessment as having the grade of “Failed”, but instead as being “Not Yet”.
To be honest, learning software engineering through Launch School is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. Launch School is designed around Mastery-Based Learning, which is incredibly difficult by design. It’s not possible for a student to learn “just enough to get by” in order to pass each course. You cannot wing it and expect to have learned the material to mastery. You will not pass the assessments if you’re “fuzzy” and not 100% clear on any of the concepts or material. No more doing what many college kids do and ignore the material for three months, then try to cram it all in the night before the final. Learning to mastery is an entirely different ballgame.
After receiving the “Not Yet” score, I had to reframe my mindset to tell myself that “Not Yet” doesn’t mean that I failed the exam or that I’m personally a failure. It also doesn’t mean “never” (i.e. that I’ll never be able to learn the material). It simply means “I’m not ready yet” or “I haven’t reached mastery of the material yet”. The “yet” is the single most important part of “Not Yet”.
Separate Your Ego From Your Code
I also had to tell myself that a score of “Not Yet” is not a reflection of who I am personally, nor of who I am at the moment as a programmer. And most importantly, it is not a reflection of my potential to become a professional software developer in the future. It simply means I was not ready yet for the next step, which is to continue on to the next course in the program. Deep down, I knew that I understood the material and would one day pass the assessment, even if that day was not the day I would pass. I told myself that I will pass this assessment even if it takes me multiple attempts.
Doing anything in life that is incredibly ambitious will be stressful because it requires a superhuman level of patience, discipline, dedication, hard work, and sacrifice. Because of that, it can feel absolutely soul-crushing to receive a “Not Yet” on an assessment. It’s easy to feel as if the countless hours spent studying and being stressed out and anxious weren’t worth it. But, I have to remind myself that the time spent wasn’t wasted. “Not Yet” just means I needed to spend some more time with the material and to really make sure I’ve truly mastered the concepts.
Be Proud of Your Progress So Far
It’s easy to get lost down in the weeds of the day-to-day grind, but I had to take a step back and remind myself that I’ve been trying to learn to code during a global pandemic. Not to mention trying to string together 15 hours per week studying while working a full-time job at a fast-paced startup in Silicon Valley. Not to mention being on a team of three at work and having my other two teammates quit a year ago, within a few weeks of each other. Then, having to not only cover their work but interview over two dozen potential replacement candidates.
Not to mention dealing with the threat of a (yet another) hurricane barreling down on my hometown of Houston last September, forcing us to take time to prepare and stock up on supplies. (Thankfully it narrowly missed us). Not to mention the massive snow and ice storm that hit Houston in February, knocking out our power and water for a week and preventing me from being able to study. Hard to focus on code when it’s 30 degrees (F) inside your apartment and you’re simply trying not to freeze to death.
It’s been incredibly stressful trying to keep it all together; to not abandon all hope about the state of the universe. But, I try to keep my head down, staying focused on my long-term goals. Launch School has been a welcome distraction.
But in spite of everything going on, since starting Launch School in early 2020 I’ve made more progress learning to code than I had ever previously thought possible. I have to remind myself of all of the incredible progress I’ve made to date, and of all of the new concepts I’ve now learned that I had no idea about before starting the program.
Fight Like Hell
This is the point where the old me would’ve given up. This is the point, before Launch School, where I would get frustrated at any small setback when trying to learn to program using other resources and quit. I would’ve given up and went off to try out some other learn-to-code resource, fully ensuring that I would be continuously trapped in an endless circle of tutorial hell, never progressing past the beginner stage.
But my mindset has changed. I’m not going to quit. Launch School has helped change my mentality from not believing I could ever learn computer programming, to building my confidence enough that I now know that I will absolutely 100% become a software engineer in the future.
Don’t let anyone or anything stop you or get in your way. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it. No matter how long it takes and no matter how many roadblocks or bumps in the road you come across.
Coding is a Humbling Experience
The feedback I received after receiving the “Not Yet” score from the two TAs was extremely helpful for understanding specifically where I made mistakes. It was incredibly detailed and well thought out. Even though I knew immediately during the exam several places I had messed up, the detailed write-up from the TAs helped point out other errors and mistakes I hadn’t caught.
I was completely caught off guard with the 129 Interview, because the 129 Written Assessment I received two A+ scores, and was my best assessment overall score of the three I had taken up to that point. I think I got a little cocky and overconfident and assumed my string of good scores would continue. I assumed I was destined for greatness, and had forgotten how much actual work I had spent in the lead-up to preparing to pass those first three assessments
I was looking ahead, daydreaming about performance-based goals such as doing the LS capstone and getting an awesome job afterward. When I should’ve been focused on mastery-based goals of mastering the material and not worrying about a timeline.
Before receiving my “Not Yet” score, I had attended five study sessions, including official sessions, The Spot sessions, and private 1:1 sessions. After receiving “Not Yet”, I attended an additional nine study sessions, again including official, The Spot, and private sessions.
Since every student at Launch School is on a different schedule and is learning at a different pace, and especially since there is no physical classroom, it is extremely important that you de-isolate your studying and study with other students. Be very active about reaching out to other students and seeing if they would like to study with you and work on practice problems.
I finally retook the Interview Assessment a second time seventeen days after the first attempt and received a “Conditional Pass”. I had to submit two assignments before officially passing the course, but eventually, I did pass.
I wasn’t going to write a blog post and get this personal, but eventually, I decided to write this article in case it may help any future students of Launch School who may have hit a bump along the road towards mastery. If it helps just one student, then it was worth hitting ‘publish’. Okay, enough writing for now, RB130 awaits. And remember:
You can bullshit yourself. And you can bullshit other people. But you can’t bullshit the Launch School TAs during a live coding interview. Now get to work!
Originally published on my personal blog where I write more frequently: https://www.westonludeke.com on April 6, 2021.