So you want to become a developer? Some tips on how to maximize the Bootcamp experience

Rui Freitas
Dec 23, 2018 · 9 min read

Learning how to code nearly two years ago turned my life around and changed my career. Whether you’re thinking of joining a coding bootcamp, currently attending one or have recently graduated, here’s my advice for before, during and after.

Last Friday, we wrapped up Batch 205 of Le Wagon’s coding bootcamp here in Lisbon. That’s 205 courses run worldwide for Le Wagon and the 9th batch in Lisbon. That got me thinking about how much I’ve come along since graduating from batch 49, the second batch in Lisbon, nearly two years ago.

With an estimated information technologies jobs gap of 500,000 by 2020 in the European Union alone, bootcamps are rising as an alternative to fill in vacancies in the sector. And many people are changing their careers by enroling in coding bootcamps. With a background in literature and sales, I am one of those people. Since then, I have also helped others do the same as a teacher with Le Wagon. Here’s my advice on maximizing the bootcamp experience.


BEFORE THE BOOTCAMP

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

All our prospective students at Le Wagon are required to complete some prep-work before starting the bootcamp. This includes the free Ruby track at Codecademy, an online interactive platform that offers introductory coding classes. The amount of work you put into this phase will determine how much more advanced you can exit the bootcamp.

If you’re in Lisbon (or another Le Wagon city), attend some of our free introductory workshops. We have workshops covering HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Ruby for beginners. This is a great opportunity for you to find out what I believe to be the most important question you should be able to answer: do I enjoy coding?

Should the answer be yes, apply for a bootcamp and get ready to put in some work before you start. Our coding bootcamps are designed for absolute beginners and we will teach you everything from scratch, but acquiring some strong foundations beforehand will be invaluable in getting you to a much more advanced level at the end of the program.

1. HTML & CSS

Expose yourself as much as possible to HTML and CSS, the building blocks of web pages. Get familiar with HTML syntax, get to know the various tags available and find out how pages can be styled with CSS. Use the browser’s inspector tool to look at the structure of websites you know and see how they use CSS properties to achieve that look.

You can do Codecademy’s HTML & CSS track to get the basics. Then download some free Bootstrap templates and try to modify them to build yourself a personal or business website. Don’t worry if you feel it takes you a long time to do simple changes or if you’re not able to implement exactly what you imagined. You’ll learn that during the bootcamp. The goal here is to get familiar with the syntax and understand the structure of HTML and CSS files. Before the bootcamp, I spent a whole night trying to modify a bootstrap template which I would now be able to do in under 10 minutes!

2. JavaScript

Personally, I knew barely anything about JavaScript before starting the bootcamp. Like a lot of beginners, I thought it was related to the Java programming language, which it is not. Codecademy also has a free JavaScript track, so if you have time you might want to check it out. However, if time is an issue I would focus on Ruby as mentioned in the next paragraph because our bootcamp program starts there during the first 2 weeks and that serves as a foundation for you to learn any other programming language in the future. You can read why we teach Ruby for beginners here.

3. Ruby and Ruby on Rails

As mentioned above, prospective Le Wagon students are required to complete Codecademy’s free Ruby track. There are very few students, if any, that go beyond that, but I personally would recommend doing so. I feel that having covered some of the concepts in advance of the bootcamp gave me a good head start at the beginning and allowed me to explore more advanced concepts during the 9-week program.

Programming involves abstraction at a high level. We will teach and prepare your mind to perform that type of abstract thinking during the first two weeks. As such, learning the basic concepts of programming languages in advance will ready your mind for those first two challenging weeks. Learn about variables, what they are and how they are used (variable declaration); methods or functions to reuse chunks of code; looping structures to repeat instructions and conditional structures to control the flow of a program (if clauses).

I also recommend doing some basic Ruby on Rails tutorials —the framework built on top of Ruby we teach during the last month of the bootcamp. Before I started my batch as a student, I played with it a little bit, albeit without understanding much, and that gave me a sense of perspective to where the bootcamp program was headed.

But don’t worry if you don’t have time to do all of the above or if you don’t understand every concept. As I said, we teach everything from the ground up. The majority of our students don’t go so much in-depth during the prep-work phase and they still complete the program at a level good enough to start working in the industry.


DURING THE BOOTCAMP

Bootcamps are often intense and you will learn a lot about a variety of topics. There will be times you may feel discouraged, but this is normal. You may be comparing yourself to other students who are more advanced and think you don’t have what it takes. DON’T! The bootcamp is not a race nor is it a competition to see who comes first. Not everyone starts at the same level and has the same background, so it’s normal that some students start stronger than others. I know that I could run a half-marathon if I wanted, but if I’m out of shape it’s only natural that it would take me a lot longer than someone who is already running 10k two or three times a week. Learning how to code is the same: you make small gains each day, and tomorrow you know more than you did today.

During the bootcamp you should also embrace the culture. There is a big sharing culture in the programming world. People build free open source software and libraries for others to use, dedicate time to write free tutorials and share resources. You should do the same and help your colleagues if you’re ahead, or ask them questions if you’re behind. There’s a learning opportunity for both sides.

Also be on time for lectures and try not skipping any day. You might not use all of the concepts you learn in the final projects, but they are taught for a reason and you will need that knowledge after the bootcamp. Also, the main argument for attending classes is that you can ask questions to teachers. After all, that’s why you chose an in-person bootcamp instead of online, right? Also, by being in class you’ll also hear answers to your colleagues’ questions and teachers often share insights and go beyond the scope of the lecture.

Work hard, but know your limits. While we generally don’t recommend coding after hours, I feel this is a very personal question. You need to know yourself and evaluate whether or not you’re too tired to code at home or during the weekend. Without due rest, your brain will be unable to retain the knowledge acquired throughout the day. So if you feel too tired at the end of the day, it’s better not to code and rest.


AFTER THE BOOTCAMP

Get a job. No, really, get a job! I see a lot of students wanting to transition directly to freelancing. While this is not impossible, it is a much harder path and may potentially slow down your development progress. After the bootcamp, you are at the level of a junior developer and you need to be exposed to more mature code. Add your newly acquired skills to Linkedin and change the heading to Ruby on Rails Full-stack developer (or whatever position you’re looking for) and consultancy recruiters will find you. If you cannot afford to be without a job for too long, any coding job is better than none, so take it.

If you can afford to be picky, wait for an opportunity to work with someone that will bring your game up. Money is not the most important thing at this stage, professional growth is. In interviews, ask who you will be working with and what is their policy in terms of working with junior developers. If possible, try to meet the senior or lead developer who will be responsible for you.

After the bootcamp, some students may feel that they are not good enough to work in the field and think they have to go through all the bootcamp material again. Don’t! The question you need to ask yourself is: Do I love coding? If you do, skill is only a matter of experience. So instead of going over the bootcamp challenges again, start building stuff, on your own or with your fellow graduates. It doesn’t have to be a real product. If you don’t have an idea, try building something that is already out there: build a stripped-down version of Instagram, Medium, Airbnb, etc. The most important thing is that you keep coding. 90% of my growth as a developer after the bootcamp came from doing things… not from books, exercises, or theory.

Resources

After graduating from Le Wagon’s batch 49 in Lisbon, I became a Teacher myself and I have worked as a freelance web developer for domestic and international clients. Looking back, it seems unbelievable how much I have picked up and improved as a developer in only 2 years. The following are the main resources that helped me navigate that path:

  1. Gorails: My number one Rails resource. I have learned immensely from Chris. What I like about it is that the episodes are structured in features, so you don’t have to follow every episode. You can take the parts you need and incorporate them in whatever app you’re working on straight away.
  2. DriftingRuby: I haven’t really used DriftingRuby, but the structure and approach are very similar to Gorails’. You have episodes which cover features, from beginner to more advanced, which can be immediately used in your own apps.
  3. The Complete JavaScript Course 2018: Build Real Projects!: This Udemy course by Jonas Schmedtmann changed my view on JavaScript and not only improved my JS skills but also made me appreciate and enjoy programming in it. This course covers JS thoroughly and there is a very good balance between practice and theory.

Final Word

First, I would like to thank my bootcamp teachers for their patience, wisdom and knowledge and other senior developers who I have been fortunate to meet and who have not hesitated to answer my questions and share their advice. Then, I would like to thank my batch 49 fellow students, some of which have accompanied me in this teaching journey, for providing the perfect atmosphere for learning in a fun way and for being such a cool group. Finally, I would like to thank Le Wagon, namely Shannon and Carlos for bringing the program to Lisbon and believing in me after the bootcamp.

Last but not least, I dedicate this article and all my other tutorials to my students, who challenge me to become a better teacher and without whom I would not be able to learn as much as I have.

Light the Fuse and Run

Web development in Ruby on Rails, React, Vue.js and Elixir

Rui Freitas

Written by

Lead Teacher @ Le Wagon | Web Developer @ Light the Fuse and Run: http://lightthefuse.run/ | Photographer @ Rod Loboz: https://blog.rodloboz.com/

Light the Fuse and Run

Web development in Ruby on Rails, React, Vue.js and Elixir

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