I often get queries from people who are in the early stages of Launch School and want to make use of what they are learning, or have already learned, straight away. Their problem boils down to this: How can I make Launch School work for me right now?
It’s an understandable enough dilemma. Most people need jobs. They have bills to pay, and themselves, family, and pets to feed. Even after completing just one or two courses of our Core Curriculum it feels like you’ve learned a lot, and you have! A common reaction to this newly acquired knowledge is ‘how can I use this right away to get a better job or make more money?’. In other words, what’s the weird trick to getting the most out of Launch School in the short-term?
This predictably leads to a lot of confusion, because you’re trying to use a long-term plan to meet a short-term goal. Our program isn’t intended to facilitate these kinds of short-term goals, it’s designed to help build the foundations for a long-term career.
The mirage of the one magic trick
We’ve noticed that this type of confusion largely stems from the prevalent idea that there has to be some magic trick, hack, or key to unlocking success. If you can only discover this key then everything will just ‘magically happen’ for you. For example, five or ten years ago it was common advice to “just build something” to showcase your talents and get your foot in the door, and then ‘learn on the job’. People still give out this advice because it maybe worked for them at the start of their career. What they don’t realize is that the landscape has changed drastically since then. The bar has been raised, and competition for jobs, or at least the good jobs, is fierce.
Many people still search for that one “trick” that they hope will unlock their career. A lot of coding bootcamps use the emotional pull of this idea as part of their marketing strategy, and actively feed into it. The kind of ‘zero to hero programmer in 12 weeks!!’ slogans they use perpetuate the myth that there’s some short-cut or trick.
The problem is that as strategies like these get employed by more and more people, they lose any effectiveness they may have initially had. Coding bootcamps have boomed over the past few years, and the lower end of the market is now saturated with bootcamp grads who understand some of the basics and know how to use a framework or two, but who lack the more fundamental programming knowledge and software engineering skills that the best employers are really looking for. Imagine being a hiring manager sifting through hundreds of similar candidates with the same basic bootcamp knowledge and who all followed the advice to ‘just build something’ by sending in a link to their GitHub repo for a React-based Todo app.
Keeping sight of your goal
The way to see through the ‘one weird trick’ mirage is to keep a strong focus on your goal. At Launch School we have a very specific goal: developing the fundamental knowledge and skills that will allow you to compete for the best jobs and launch a long-lasting career in software engineering.
This is unquestionably a long-term goal, and reaching it is not an overnight process: it is slow, deliberate, and structured, with a focus on establishing a deep understanding of programming concepts and practices. Our work at Launch School is informed by this long-term perspective, and it’s what underpins our pedagogy and curriculum.
If you’re reading this, you’ve either made a commitment to studying at Launch School, or you’re actively considering it. You’re probably also feeling a lot of outside pressures, like the need for a regular income. In an ideal world money wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe you’ve saved enough to cover your bills while you dedicate yourself to full-time study, or you have an external source of income that doesn’t require you to work. For most people though that’s not a realistic scenario.
If you do need a job in the short term, the key is to treat that as a short-term goal, and keep it strictly separate from the long-term goal you’re working towards with Launch School. My advice is to approach your job search like you would any short-term goal — identify the skills you need and work to acquire them quickly within the limited time-frame that you have.
Whilst doing that though, it’s important to also keep a focus on the long-term. Will working towards your short-term goal help or hinder your longer term objective? It might even be necessary to make sacrifices at this point, perhaps opting for a job that doesn’t necessarily inspire you but does provide you with the time and mental energy outside of work that you can then put towards your studies and the achievement of your long-term target.
Compare this to an alternative scenario of aiming for an interesting but challenging job in the short term, one that puts a lot of demands on your time and mental energy. Ask yourself whether such job would still allow you the physical and mental space needed to study for the minimum recommended 15–20 hours a week at Launch School.
Some people might be able to manage both things at once, but a really demanding schedule like this is incredibly difficult to sustain over many months or even years. I’m not suggesting that you should aim for a terrible short-term job that you’ll hate, but the point is that you need to prioritize the long-term over the short-term and keep the two things separate. Don’t try to “kill two birds with one stone” and try to make learning at Launch School fit into short-term goals; from extensive experience, I can promise you that it won’t work.
A lack of separation between short-term and long-term goals can lead to confusion about exactly what you’re meant to focus on, and generally results in a very frustrating experience where you never quite feel like your goals, or the plans to achieve them, are working out. It’s this type of frustration that ultimately leads people to look for a short-cut or hack.
The real ‘key’ is you
The reality is that the “trick” to unlocking success isn’t really a trick at all. It’s you, and your commitment to the long-term. At Launch School, achieving that long-term goal involves putting in place strong foundations:
- Building solid programming fundamentals through depth of study and repetitive practice
- Developing a structured problem approach that you can scale to tackle any size of problem
- Acquiring effective learning techniques to quickly ramp up on advanced topics
- Establishing strong fundamentals to unlock just-in-time learning capabilities for quickly mastering integrated concepts and knowledge
- Improving the clarity and precision of your technical communication
The true measure of success on these terms is when you can look at any scale of software engineering problem without being daunted by it. You realize that you have the skills and understanding to break down the problem into its constituent parts, research and develop a solution, and communicate that solution clearly and succinctly with your team or manager.
Those are the kinds of foundational skills and understanding we aim to provide to our students at Launch School. In our view, the path to long-term success is through a structured focus on developing these skills, not hacking together a portfolio project that might seem impressive on the surface but that doesn’t necessarily improve you as a developer or engineer.
To put it simply: instead of trying to develop some flashy-looking app, focus on developing yourself. Ultimately it’s this that will make you stand out as a candidate in the job market. It’s the best trick of all and it’ll endure for an entire career.