Here Is What It Is Really Like In An Online Coding Bootcamp

6 minute read

Insights and answering the question “is it worth it?”

To kick off, I want to first discuss what it is like learning web development today.

There is a lot of material out there. A lot.

The review site, class-central.com, lists 161 courses in Web Development alone. If you expand to courses in Programming and Computer Science that lists grows to 1,771.

This plethora of material is amazing for those of us wanting to learn web development. There is a course, or tutorial, or blog post, or stack overflow answer for everything you want to know. 

But this cornucopia of knowledge presents its own challenges.

Where do you start? Which tech stack do I learn? What projects should I do? Do I need a GitHub account? When did I shower last? (okay… maybe that last one is just me).

And this is where I found myself. Stuck in what I call “tutorial purgatory”.

“Tutorial Purgatory” and the search for a better way

Around 18 months ago, I wanted to stop my messy career path and decided to become a web developer.

And as discussed above I found more than enough courses to whet my appetite and get me started.

So I would complete a tutorial and feel pretty damn good. I got this! Then I would go and find another one. And another one. And another one…

I call this cycle “tutorial purgatory”. Sure, I was “doing” something, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I would repeat the same material, just in a different format. I would always say “just one more…”. I was a code junkie!

I realised that I could not continue doing this cycle. I needed structure

I also needed someone who was in the industry - writing real code - to tell me whether I was writing good code or not. But where would I find both the structure and mentorship I needed?

The obvious answer was to do a bootcamp. The catch? Give up the appeal of continuing with free courses and put down some serious money.

In the end I decided that spending the money would give me the structure and mentorship I needed. Plus, putting down money provided the incentive I need to focus on becoming a developer.

So I enrolled in Bloc.io’s Web Developer track and I am currently a month into the program. Here’s what it’s been like so far.

What the material lacks, the structure makes up for

Coming from doing dozens of tutorials and courses, I had a fairly large set of exisiting knowledge. As such I found the intitial material lacking in comprehensive detail. There seemed to be a lot of context missing from the guides. That meant having to look to outside sources for more information.

The fact is though, you have to do that with any course you take. The beauty of this field is that you can dive deep into a topic. Sometimes it takes me a few hours of reading many articles until an idea finally “clicks”.

What is more important is having a clear direction about where you’re going. 

The bootcamp lays out a roadmap for you and each thing builds on the previous one. They have done the heavy lifting of figuring out what path you need to take to go from newbie to job ready.

Upcoming projects will bring together the various elements. And it is there - when you’re actually building something - that you figure out where you need to dive deeper.

You’re too nice - the power of outside assessment

The fact is when you’re learning you are not the best judge of what you understand (or more to the point, what you don’t understand).

Having an outside party review your work means you can’t bullshit yourself.

As part of each “checkpoint” you have to answer questions about the topic. A technical team checks your answers to ensure you fully understand the topic.

If you don’t answer correctly or in fill in enough detail, they will ask you for a re-submission. No skipping ahead buddy. 

To move on, you have to get everything right. Meaning you can’t move over the parts you don’t like or don’t understand.

It forces you to reflect on each question and make sure you understand what it’s asking.

It gets you comfortable with being uncomfortable. A feeling you will have to get use to if you want to make it in the real world of development. A place where there is never a right answer, but certainly wrong ones.

A Mentor is like a real-life cheat code

Every student is assigned a one-on-one mentor for the entire program. You “meet” (virtually) once a week to review what you have done and go over any questions that have come up.

It is definitely the best part of the whole program.

It is amazing to discuss questions that you’ve struggled with and have them walk you through it. It means no more hours wasted trying to interpret forums and still not getting it.

But it also provides that extra pressure to get work done. You now have to answer to someone else (that dreaded accountability). It will be a super awkward meeting discussing why you haven’t finished any work.

Finally it just feels good to talk to someone who is supportive. It’s not you on your own anymore. I have someone who understands what I’m going through and it is his job to make sure I succeed.

How cool is that?!

You’re in the club now kid

When you join a bootcamp it is not you alone anymore. You become part of a community of other students, alumni, and supportive staff.

Got a technical question? A technical coach will walk you through it on Slack.

Want to know what it’s like in the industry? Former students hold group sessions talking about how they got the job, and working on real code.

Need help on the job hunt? The Career team will review your resume, help you craft questions to ask, or point you in the right direction.

Struggling? Success team provides a (virtual) shoulder to cry on.

There are even job postings directly from companies looking for new developers.

Basically, you create an instant network. A network full of other students in the same exact situation as you. A network full of people working the field wanting to support your success. It feels really good when you have that kind of support.

Is it right for you?

Now this may have seemed like a bootcamp love-fest, so I want to provide some counter-points to balance it out.

At a recent meetup I attended, speaker John Potts talked about his experience. He went from zero coding knowledge to a job in 5 months, learning all by himself. 5 months!

He spoke about bootcamps and how he felt they weren’t always necessary. He said you need to ask yourself:

  • Do I have the discipline to stay focused and move forward every day?
  • Can I find my own mentors and community to connect with and move me forward?
  • Am I prepared for the job search and having to build my own network?

Doing a bootcamp doesn’t mean you lack any of the qualities above, but it makes the process a lot easier. It also provide that commitment you need to move from wannabe-developer to an actual developer.

I found I needed to make a formal commitment and decided a bootcamp was the best option for me. It might not be for you. 

The important thing is that you find a process that moves you forward each day. That excites you. Then never stop.

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