Surviving and Thriving in Boot Camp

Surviving and Thriving in Boot Camp

Why Boot Camp?

Now the words boot camp can cause a multitude of reactions in the tech world. Usually, they are in the "boot camps are a waste of money/ are they worth it?" or "self-taught vs degree vs boot camp" arguments. The answer to these questions lies in each of us and there are so many variables to consider. For myself, I was 45, recently unemployed, and in need of some training in a short amount of time. I had tried the self-taught route using Codecademy, Treehouse and YouTube videos from Brad Traversy, and The Net Ninja to name a few. Now I had made some great progress and I was fully able to build whatever I wanted at that point, but I was missing something inside. I needed some validation, I needed to be anointed as a developer, to receive that piece of paper that said I had completed the program. Why did I need this? I wish I knew. I know all sorts of people who grandly declare themselves to be whatever they wish to be and then go out and do great things. I have always needed that outside validation for better or worse, mostly for worse. So with that in mind and a push from my wife and daughters I was on my my basement for online boot camp.

The Rise

So there I was, ready for my 12 week "zero to hero" makeover! As I had mentioned I had been learning some development. I had a background with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript already so I thought I would be able to ease into things. We had some pre-work to do which was fun and exciting. Now there was some value to having even a basic skill set at the beginning. I was used to working with code editors, I had a basic understanding of some key concepts and I felt engaged and comfortable. This lasted about a week. By day 10 we had blown through everything I had known and we were moving on at about 100 miles an hour. With an average of about 2 projects per week (22 overall including 3 major projects), I was in for the ride of my life. We covered all of the classic projects, Quiz Game, To Do List, and a Weather App to name a few, and we forged onward to learn the entire MERN (MongoDB, Express, React and Node) stack.

The Fall (Almost)

Around week 4 we had just completed our first group project. Throughout the camp, I had been working about 6 hours a day after school either on projects or rewatching parts of, or the entire day's lectures. Weekends meant no new info or projects but it was no break for me. I would go down to my unfinished basement where my desk was, and still is, situated and I would try to catch up to at least be on even ground come Monday. There were soft deadlines for projects with their real due date being the 2nd last day of class. That said, nobody wanted to be the person cramming 10 projects into one or two weeks. By this point, I was able to hand in my first few projects but I still had about 3 partially completed. We had started on Node.js and while I was enjoying it, I felt that there were lingering issues with my understanding of past concepts that were hindering me now. It must be said that I had an amazing group of instructors, classmates, and support staff who were there as much as they could be but the one major disadvantage of an online boot camp for myself was the lack of personal interaction and ability to get answers outside of class time. You log off and sure, we are all in contact via all sorts of media and text, but at times it felt very lonely. It felt like I was the only one who was behind. I was debating quitting the course, I was ready to tap out. I couldn't face my family if I did, I was here, this was an opportunity and it was moving on with or without me.

The Point of No Return

At that point, something shifted within me. I knew that things were mounting and that more work was coming every day but it just didn't matter anymore. I could only do what I could do. I knew that I had to worry about what I could control. I brought my feelings up with my instructor before class and he was there to guide me through and assured me that while it wouldn't make my workload any easier that I was one of many who were behind and stressed out. Oddly, that made me feel better. In our daily group work, we started talking about how things were going and every person had the same feeling as I did. Now instead of feeling alone, I became the cheerleader. It is amazing what we will say to ourselves vs what we will say to others if they're in the same situation. The feeling of being overwhelmed became a feeling of duty and pride. Yes I was in a fight every day, some days I won and others I clearly lost, but I knew I had it in me to move forward and finish this race. Group Project 2 came and went and was my personal favorite and we were barreling towards the finish line. With about a month left I went from feeling excited about getting this monster off my back to really feeling mixed emotions about this whole crazy ride having to end. The promise of my instructors that 'these things will all start to make more sense as we move along" was definitely true. I went from doing things and making things work and not knowing exactly why to being able to repeat these actions later on with little issue and with much more understanding. That last month was, as usual, quite intense as we had yet to learn React and we had our final project due on the last day of class. There was lots to cover and even more to do but it was all coming to a close. How would this all end?

The Last Day...

So here we are, the last day of school. We had spent the last week and a half on our final project working days, nights, and the weekend. Our brains were the consistency of jelly and I probably had more coffee in my system than was humanly safe. As we had the morning to finish up on our presentations we started to chat about what we had learned and looked back on the past 12 weeks. I could still hear the yelling from the Zoom call happening in the basement as our project was deleting itself before our eyes during Project 1 as I made a sandwich upstairs. That was eight weeks before, it felt like a year ago. I remembered working in my bedroom with my little 13" screen as my kids had taken over the basement for a Halloween party during Project 2 with the computer on the bed and me sitting in a folding chair missing out on it all. The work had to be done. What hit me the most was what we had done in the last 10 days. In our final project, we had to create an app using React and we also had to use two things that we had not been taught in class. We had only been using React for about a week and a half so it was pretty new to us and now we were adding new languages or technologies to it. We worked with an actual client and filled their needs to the best of our abilities in those 10 days. To make this all work we actually added five new technologies to our project. Now the project itself worked as it was asked of us. We were able to complete it on time and present it on graduation day with everyone else. What we really learned from this was even more important, how to think through a project and learn and use new tools to complete it. As we broke off into front-end and back-end mini-groups, we took it upon ourselves to learn and teach new things to each other. Using a combination of documentation, walk-through videos, and brainstorming we made it all work. We would not have been able to do this 12 weeks ago. At that point on our final day, I finally felt like the true lesson was revealed. This is what being a developer is all about. Have you used Material-UI before? Nope. We're using it in this project. I will figure it out. It isn't the languages or frameworks or technologies that are important but your ability to work with them and find the right tools for the job. That is what I learned in my time in boot camp. I learned how to work with others, divide, and delegate. Maybe the most important lesson was that regardless of how you feel about the deadlines, you can't always change them and you will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish in these restricted timeframes. Are these types of tight deadlines a recipe for continued success? Of course not but having been through it and surviving shows you that they are possible and forces you into action.

So would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend boot camps to others? Yes, depending on their situation. I can only speak for myself. I would love to have a degree to back me up, to have learned these concepts for 4+ years but I didn't have that opportunity. I also would have loved to have been able to cobble together a path to being self-taught. I mean, how cool does that sound? Both great, and not so great developers come from all of these paths. It is about the individual, not the path they chose. These paths make up their back story but they do not define them in any way. What you do after, now that is your real story.

University of Toronto Boot Camps

  • I am in no way affiliated or was paid to write anything about my experiences