6 Things Your Coding Bootcamp Instructors (Secretly) Want You to Know

Deciding to give up your career and attend an in-person coding bootcamp is a huge life choice. From personal experience as a student, I know all about the budget estimates you’ll make, as well as the risk-reward calculations that play out in in your head before you actually hold your breath, take the leap of faith, and enroll.

Now that I’ve had professional experience as both a developer and instructor at Flatiron School, I think there are a few things every incoming student should know. As part of the in-person immersive program, you’ll be challenged every day to go beyond your comfort zone and meet some of the smartest, nicest people you’ll ever encounter. You’ll learn to code, of course, but more importantly you’ll experience the joy of building and learning how to learn. As a bootcamp instructor, I’m honored to be a part of that vibrant educational community every day, and I’m happy to share these insider insights about life during bootcamp.

1. We expect your best work every day.

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Each day you’ll receive more assignments than you can possibly finish, and that’s okay! The point isn’t to simply finish the assignments — it’s to challenge yourself to learn more than you thought possible. Fifteen weeks goes by quickly. In reality, it’s a very short period of time to change your life. And although the process works (just see our jobs report!), you’ll also need to be present and engaged. Often that means you’ll need to spend lots of time outside of class, nights and weekends, doing homework or reviewing. You’ll have to sacrifice a lot of your hobbies and at least cut down on socializing. That said, make sure to take breaks, especially if you’re stuck on something. Taking a walk or getting a snack just to step away from the problem can usually offer up some clarity.

2. Students come in with different levels of experience. What separates you is not inability, but knowledge and familiarity with a topic.

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A wise mentor once said that when it comes to learning how to code, we shouldn’t call any subject “difficult” or “easy” because assigning a value to it can make other people feel bad about their level of comprehension, which isn’t useful at all.

The truth is that students come in with varying levels of experience, and that’s all that makes the difference. The best way to come into a bootcamp and hit the ground running is to get as much exposure to programming concepts before you start. That means exhausting free resources like Codecademy, edX, or the Intro to JavaScript, Intro to Ruby, or Bootcamp Prep tracks on Learn.co. Also, once you’ve enrolled, be sure to complete all the pre-work. As an instructor, I’ve seen the difference it makes in student performance throughout the semester. Just work your hardest and keep bringing it every day after that, and eventually, you’ll get it.

3. We expect you to be a kind community member.

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Attending a coding bootcamp will be one of the toughest 3-month stretches of your life. You might as well make it fun. At the Flatiron School, we emphasize a culture of collaboration and pairing, believing that you’ll learn the most when you’re working together. No matter what people may tell you, coding is a very collaborative process. As much as you may think that you can just plug into the Matrix and churn out code, at some point, you’ll need to interact with the other developers on your team, so learning these essential soft skills will be invaluable to you in your career.

Also, it helps to recognize that many of the people in your cohort are probably experiencing the same level of exhaustion and anxiety about learning how to code. If you can go out of your way to do something nice for them, those good vibes go pretty far.

4. Don’t blame the tests.

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We deliver a lot of our curriculum to students in the form of test-driven labs on Learn.co, and a lot of times, we get complaints about the tests being wrong. In about 98% of cases, the tests aren’t wrong—you just don’t know how to read them yet, or your code’s got a syntax error.

If you run into a problem with the tests, take a deep breath, step back, and then read the test and really digest it. Read the description as well as the code. What is the test actually looking for? What is the data that it provided, and what does it expect? Where exactly did the test go wrong? Try throwing a debugger or a pry into the test or your code. Usually that will shed some light on the test. If there’s still an issue, and you’ve approached an instructor, then and only then can you even begin to blame the tests. Again, this is rare.

5. As instructors, we’re not just here to give you the answers.

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Knowing things doesn’t make you a good programmer. Knowing how to figure out what you don’t know does. Often when I’m helping a student debug an issue, my goal is to teach the student how to approach the problem in the future, not just to fix the issue immediately. I’ll guide him or her through the process of debugging, asking leading questions along the way. Sometimes this can be frustrating for students. When you’re a student, there’s an impetus to get the labs done as quickly as possible. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to actually learn how to learn, not just to finish. It can be hard to remember, but please bear that in mind as you embark on the student journey.

6. We’re human, too.

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Even if it seems like we’ve become part-machine, we don’t know everything about everything; we still have human needs, like grabbing coffee, taking lunch breaks, and sleeping normal hours. As much as we’d love to help you debug late into the night or over the weekends, it’s just not sustainable.

In addition, when we encounter a problem or concept we haven’t seen before, we too need to Google for the answer. When we tell you to “Google” a problem when you hit a snag in a lab, we’re teaching you how to find what you don’t know…because we also might not know. On the job, that’s probably what you’ll end up doing, too. Programming is a challenge, and the more experience you get tackling tough problems, the better you’ll get.

Want to get ready to attend a coding bootcamp? Try out Flatiron’s free Bootcamp Prep course! And if you liked this post, click the ❤ below so other Medium readers will see it. :)