So You’re About to Attend a Coding Bootcamp…

I have had the pleasure of being a software engineering student for the last three months. Before enrolling, I knew more or less nothing about coding. Here’s my advice to anyone who is about to begin their journey.

  1. Learn to love errors. I chose the Flatiron School because their free coding bootcamp prep included labs that you had to pass before moving on with the course. At the time, this was in line with what I thought made a good software engineer — the ability to pass tests with error-free code. I couldn’t have been more error(neous). Coding is about errors. Errors, errors, ERRORS! If you are afraid of them, it’s time to change your perception. Do not envision an error as some kind of mistake or character flaw — see them as a friend gently guiding you in the right direction. If you are brand new to coding, creating a log of the errors that you encounter is the single best piece of advice I can offer you. Note that you should not expect yourself to fully understand the errors as they occur. Just keep jotting them down. One error after another. And, over time, you will slowly internalize their meaning just a little bit more than you realized was possible.
  2. Also, learn to love to test your code. Binding.pry, byebug, rails c, console.log, breakpoints, debugger. They seem intimidating at first, but they are worth getting to know. If you are starting your journey with Ruby, you may first encounter binding.pry. If its utilization — specifically, its placement — is confusing at first, don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it with practice.
  3. In addition to testing, learn how to create your own files from scratch in your source-code editor (Flatiron had us use Visual Studio Code). This took me much longer than I’d like to admit, and there are likely many useful youtube videos for whatever source-code editor you wind up using.
  4. Also, look up useful extensions for your source-code editor and your web browser. However, you should be selective as a bad extension can be more of a hindrance than a helpful tool. Check-in with your instructor and colleagues regarding what they have uncovered. You’ll be surprised by what your classmates already know. One of mine wrote a blog post about her favorite Visual Studio Code extensions. As of July 29th, 2020, my favorite extensions for Google Chrome are Octotree, JSON Formatter, and React Developer Tools, while my favorite extensions for Visual Studio Code are Bracket Pair Colorizer 2 and Live Share. In addition, there are many tools that will help you plan out your models (for which I use Aww App and Quick DBD) and wireframes (Balsamiq).
  5. When you are attending a lecture, code-along with your instructor as much as you can. Nonetheless, do not worry about keeping up with your instructor’s perfectly functional code. Think of a code-along as a chance to get some repetitions in and better internalize the material.
  6. When you are speaking with an instructor, be very careful with how you choose your words. In coding, the verbiage matters a great deal. {} is called a hash in Ruby and an object literal in Javascript. And that’s just a basic one! Understand that you will be corrected when your vernacular is even slightly off the mark.
  7. That said, ask questions. Ask all the questions. Your instructors have the skills to work in this lucrative field, yet they have chosen to teach you. They won’t hand you the answers (be ready to Google everything first), but your instructors understand that you are learning an entirely new way of thinking and communicating.
  8. Lean on your classmates. In the end, these are the relationships that will last beyond the program. It’s very possible that at least one of them has encountered whatever obstacle may be in front of you. Share as much as you can with them (useful Stack Overflows/blogs/videos, ideas, time — when you have it), and they will return the favor in kind.
  9. You will pair program with your classmates. Sometimes, your partner will know the material incredibly well and, sometimes, your partner will still be in the midst of trying to understand the basics. Try to be as prepared as you can to contribute to the assignment and be scrappy while getting through the deliverables — but understand that the completion of the assignment is not the be-all-end-all. Pair programming is meant to be a learning experience for both of you. Make sure there is some give and take with respect to how you are splitting the responsibilities. Be open to what your partner has to say and keep an eye on how your partner goes about programming — often, the tidbits you learn from watching your partner are more valuable than the coding assignment itself.
  10. Read the entire README. Read every line, every word, and, if there’s a section that you do not understand, read it out loud and follow up with a Google search if necessary. If you have somehow made it to the end of this article, I think you will be in good shape!