Dev Bootcamp Weeks 1-4

When I was working toward Hackbright I spent  time hunting down blog posts written about the experience. It was very helpful to read about the experiences of others as I worked toward admission, in part because I still had reservations about whether this was the right choice for me. It was those blog posts that helped me feel confident about my path toward a coding bootcamp, and now that I’ve waded into Phase 0 of Dev Bootcamp I’d like to do the same for others who are asking the same questions of themselves and their program of choice.

The City Club, San Francisco
Portra 800, Pentax 645 with an adapted Zeiss 2.0. Taken in the library of The City Club of San Francisco.

In The Why and How on Dev Bootcamp I covered the switch from Hackbright to Dev Bootcamp as my coding-bootcamp-of-choice, but I didn’t talk much about what Dev Bootcamp actually is and what parts of their particular approach are appealing to me. Dev Bootcamp (which I will refer to as DBC for brevity’s sake) claims the title of the first short-term immersive coding bootcamp program. There are hundreds of these bootcamps across the United States now, and as you dive into reviews and anecdotes about them you’ll find a wide range of opinions about their worth and efficacy.  A lot of people think that these bootcamps exist as part of a tech-industry bubble and that this boom of quick-fix “Make $100,000/year With Three Months of Training!” opportunities will pop, and I don’t disagree with them. I made the decision to attend based on two factors though – (A) I’m betting that the bubble doesn’t pop before I graduate and land a job and (B) this $13,000 I just spent will get my foot in the door to companies that would never consider me otherwise. The $500 scholarship I got from DBC just for being a woman is another indication that the market is uber-hot right now for females like me. If I enjoy coding (and I do) I would be a fool to pass this moment up.

I got a bit distracted from my talk about DBC. It’s 9-weeks working from home, the remote portion they refer to as Phase 0, and then 9-weeks of working onsite at a campus in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. Currently DBC provides a basic foundation in HTML and CSS and then focuses on Ruby and JavaScript. The homework for the remote portion is made up of a variety of coding challenges, some done solo and some done with another student via video chat. The program has a very holistic approach, focusing as much on the engineer as it does about the engineering. One month in and we’ve watched videos and written reflections about emotional intelligence, growth mindset, diversity issues in the tech landscape, receiving feedback about our work, giving feedback to others about their homework, giving feedback to others about their personalities/interpersonal skills, giving feedback on the feedback other people gave about a person’s personalities/interpersonal skills. It often feels like we are spending as much time learning how to give and receive feedback as we are learning about coding itself. I see this as DBC’s way of addressing a fundamental problem with it the 12-week bootcamp model – it’s not enough time to actually learn how to be a stellar junior software engineer (at least not compared to someone with a CS degree or a decade of personal exploration) but it is enough time to teach someone how to learn and how to be a stellar employee in the arena of soft skills.

One of the things I’m pushing really hard to get better at is non-defensive reflection on the feedback I receive. Blogging for almost a decade now has given me plenty of opportunities for subjective feedback from a variety of sources, but the comments I’m receiving from my fellow Bobolinks (that’s our cohort name) are largely free of any personal agenda on the part of the provider and have been incredibly helpful thus far. To give you an example of how the DBC feedback loop works:

First, we peer pair on an assignment. This involves calling someone up on Google Hangout and working through a coding problem together. Once the call is finished I personally reflect on what I did for the assignment. Then I give feedback on person I paired with and my experience with them. When I’m on the Feedbackinator site giving feedback to the peer I paired with I also look over four submissions of feedback that other people gave to their peer pairs to make sure that the feedback they gave is Actionable Specific and Kind. And then at the beginning of every week I’m assigned the task of giving feedback on the reflections that other did right after they did their peer pairing (sentence three of this paragraph references me doing my own personal reflection).

I take that back, that’s not a feedback loop. It’s a feedback maze! If I didn’t have automatic reminders coming through telling me what is due each week I don’t know that I could keep up. And there are many days where this feedback feels tedious and frustrating. But I believe in the principle behind it and so I keep reading and writing and rating, looking forward to the day when my ability to give and receive feedback is something my superiors cite as a strong asset that makes me a crucial part of their team.

Do I like it? The coding and the pairing and the reading and the watching and the sometimes-feels-like-busyworking? Yes. Yes! I like it enough that I think that yes needed an exclamation point. The learning and trying and the stressing I’ve been doing has been pushing me outside of my comfort zone and showing me how much potential I have. That makes it worth all the nights where I’m watching videos about Ruby on my laptop while making pbj sandwiches and applauding something the kids have done and unloading the dishwasher all at the same time.

I think a lot of readers who find this post are going to be women, mothers, who are curious if they should look into something similar. DBC cites the workload as something better 20-25 hours, but I talked to alumni who said it was more like 30 hours. And when I say 30 hours, I mean 30 hours of your hands on the keyboard and your neck arching toward your screen. I’ve declared weekly massages a necessity during this course because of the pain I consistently deal with in my neck and upper back. I couldn’t figure out why 30-hours felt so intense and stressful, after all, that’s considered part-time work hours. And then I realized that a lot of people who are at work for 30 hours are not “working” for 30 hours. They’re chatting with their coworkers and sitting through presentations and taking lunch breaks and other such things (not everyone works this way, but some do – see here, here, here, here, and here (if you have a sense of humor)). 20-30 hours hunched over a computer each week is a lot, and I gave myself permission to feel a bit of shock at the transition from my past life. As a self-employed person I could push off and move around deadlines as needed which is something that isn’t an option with a program like DBC. Each week a new round of work is released at 10am on Monday morning. The rest of the week feels like a sprint to get everything done as quickly as possible so I can focus on other areas of my life and be prepared for the next batch at 10am the following Monday. I quickly realized that I hadn’t outsourced enough for the remote portion of the program (which lasts until mid-October) and I’ve both relaxed my standards for cleanliness and organization in the household and turned the cleaning and laundry over to someone else. Getting the kids out the door in the morning and caring for them after school/care in the evenings uses up about five hours of my day, and this half-time remote portion of the program has helped me see that I’ll need to outsource absolutely everything once the program starts asking for 80 hours/week onsite in mid-October.

Sleep is one area where I won’t compromise, and I find that focusing so intently throughout the day has me needing more sleep than ever before. Eight hours plus some coffee in the morning usually isn’t enough, and I’ve been using an app called Sleep Cycle Power Nap to give myself 20 or 45 minute breaks in the afternoon to let my brain reset. The ultimate combination is drinking an espresso shot, laying down for a 20-minute nap, and waking up with the brain reset and the caffeine jolt all at the same time. I once heard a sleep expert refer to that as a Nap au Latte. DBC has nap stations onsite, something I plan on utilizing every day once I’m there.

I have five more weeks of remote work before the onsite portion begins. So far we’ve done four weeks. Week 1 was focused on learning how to navigate the terminal, Week 2 dealt with HTML, Week 3 had us manipulating the way our HTML content looks on the page using CSS, and Week 4 was our introduction to Ruby. I’ve never done any Ruby before but, as I was assured before I began programming, once you pick up one language it isn’t too hard to learn another. The foundation I have in Python and JavaScript has been enough to help me quickly catch on to writing variables, hashes, and arrays in Ruby.

I was hoping to write one post per week for the duration of the program, but at this rate I can assume that I’ll get to one more long post at the end of Phase 0 (the remote portion) and then 2-3 short recaps once the onsite 80+ hours/week section begins. That’s when I suspect you’ll hear me talking about how I’m so tired all the time, but the good kind of tired that comes from personal growth and hard work. And voicing out loud reminders that this part of my life only lasts for 9-weeks, and then 2016 rolls around and I have a yet another new exciting stage of life to look forward to.

12 thoughts on “Dev Bootcamp Weeks 1-4

  1. My husband has been a software engineer for over 20 years so I enjoyed reading this very much. You’re right in that coding work is different than other jobs in that it’s constant work, constant mental work! I highly recommend that you get a stand up desk and vertical keyboard. My husband had been having wrist and back problems and they are completely gone when he uses this set up. He always negotiates this in contracts as well. Sounds like you’re off to a good start. Love that there is another woman in this field. In all the time we’ve been together I’ve seen him work with less than 5 women.

    Jenna Reply:

    Oh my, we need more women than that! I’m prepping myself mentally for this: http://fortune.com/2014/10/02/women-leave-tech-culture/

    And I hope DBC has stand up desk options once we’re onsite! That would be really helpful.

    Thanks for the supprot, btw. It is really nice of you to take the time.

  2. sounds like it’s going well and you’re enjoying it which is great. I guess I do have meetings as well, but I would say 30 hours a week at the computer non stop sounds like a normal working week (and I don’t work in software) – we have standing desks which I try and use as much as possible and a big screen so not using the tiny laptop screen. I also do emails on my phone on my commute / I recommend having your eyes tested too :)

    You will get used to doing childcare, household work and your actual work. You’d be amazed what there is time to fit into the week! How is TH doing with the new normal?

    Jenna Reply:

    I think I can anticipate even more computer time than I have no once I start working full time. I think the tough transition for me was that this is sold as very part-time work! A decent amount of people with full-time jobs end up repeating weeks because it’s so hard to keep up. I think any mom who keeps their full-time work, does the program part-time, and has kids in the house all at the same time deserves some sort of medal! I outsourced most of the other things I have on my plate for this remote portion, but not all of it, and it’s wearing on me to feel like I’m destroying the reputation I’ve built up for Jenna Cole when it comes to returning photos in a timely manner. People have been very generous though.

    TH is adjusting. Very supportive of me, but getting his eyes opened to how much work it takes to manage kids and run a household (which I handled entirely before). The cost for me to work while the kids are young is so high, all of my salary left over after taxes will go to me paying other people to do what I was doing before!

    Rachel Reply:

    It does sound hard work but worth it – one of the things I’ve learnt as a working mum is how much you can get done in a few hours during the day whilst the kid(s) are at pre-school. I’ve actually been amazed at how much more productive I can be since having Pip. You know that phrase “if you want something done, ask a busy person” – I think that really does apply to working parents.

    TH will get used to it – but he may have to flex some more :) I think the only way that my husband and I make 2 full time jobs work is both committing to shared parenting, taking it in turns to prioritise work events/late working, splitting the school run (I drop off, he picks up, unless he has an event/late meeting, in which case we swap) and paying for extra childcare when needed. Also, I realised early on, I had to let him do things his way if I wanted him to properly participate. If I micro-manage, I may as well do it myself. So, sometimes Pip doesn’t have all the things I would send her with, or might be wearing a combination of clothes I wouldn’t choose, or not be weather-appropriate, but it’s been fine, and it was a good lesson in letting go and letting us both be jointly responsible.

  3. PS – I wish I had time for a weekly massage and 8 hours sleep a night. I think I gave up that amount of sleep when Pip came along :)

    Jenna Reply:

    Do you have any Chinese foot spas around you? I discovered them about two years ago and my love for them is intense. They’re usually open until very late at night, sometimes until 11pm, and so I can go after the kids are in bed and pay half the cost of a regular back massage for a full-body massage.

    As far as sleep, I wish I knew how to get the kids down without a lot of stern talk/yelling, which is the only method I know of to get them to actually sleep instead of constantly asking for stuff or playing together. They know that when mommy approaches the cutoff for her eight hours of sleep it’s a Red Zone they don’t want to stay in for very long!

    Rachel Reply:

    Not sure about those spas, but maybe they have something at my gym.

    Regarding sleep, we(I) found this quite a battle so I went to some classes to learn better techniques. I am in a parents network for parents that work in city jobs, and they put on parenting classes and workshops which I attend at lunchtime sometimes (it’s good networking, so I go maybe every other month – definitely don’t have a lunchbreak every day!) and I went to a couple on sleep techniques, which I found to be very useful.

    I didn’t love all the advice, personally, but for me, the involving the child in the process (i.e. after you’re in your pyjamas, teeth cleaned etc etc, we are going to have one story, and two songs, and then you’re going to go to sleep. If you get up, I will simply put you back in bed) and making the room and landing/hallway completely dark, were key. I went from having to sit there to keep her in bed til she went to sleep (frustrating and time consuming) to the routine above, and mostly, she goes to sleep now.

    I am sure it is much harder with 2 in the same room though – can you stagger their bedtimes?

    anyway, the tl;dr version is – I found it worth investing the time working out a solution to the sleep battle :) more time for me in the evening, and we are all less stressed and upset.

    Laura Reply:

    I saw this article about “bedtime passes.” T2 may be too young but you could try it for T1!

    http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/09/18/441492810/the-bedtime-pass-helps-parents-and-kids-skip-the-sleep-struggles

    Kim Reply:

    I’ve got nothing much to say about coding but try this for bedtime, it worked at my house. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/outreach/occyshn/training-education/upload/Bedtime-Pass.pdf

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