Monthly Archives: January 2014

Software Craftsmanship Guild Java Bootcamp Week 4

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We are settling into week 4 here in Akron and the pace is still fast but seems more manageable. I’m learning more than I ever thought possible and loving it.

Life at the Lofts is a little different. I’ve gotten to know two of my roommates a little better. One is a very outgoing graduate student in counseling who always asks me how my weekend was, a second is a sophomore in child development who is a bit quiet. Her demeanor contradicts the fact that she is the owner of the beer bong in the kitchen. As far as I know, it hasn’t been used while I’ve lived there, but I go home every weekend so I wouldn’t know for sure. The third roommate sticks to the shadows, darting around corners with her hood pulled over her head like a tiny, female Unabomber. I have never had a conversation with her other than a few words when I moved in. Since then, she ignores me. I can’t figure out if it’s just me she hates, or the entire human race. I’m guessing her major is not communication.

Most of the building is pretty quiet and typical. But my floor is always littered with discarded red Solo cups, shady looking boys with baggy pants loitering around, and hosts the occasional scent of vomit, usually wafting from the stairwell on Sunday morning. I swear everyone on this floor is either a frat boy or a drug dealer.

My room is directly below someone with a penchant for loud music, dropping heavy things on the floor at strangely frequent intervals, and smoking things that aren’t always tobacco and definitely aren’t legal in Ohio. My room usually reeks of smoke, sending me to code in some of the study areas on other floors to escape the possibility of inadvertently obtaining a contact buzz. There is no shortage of nice study rooms at the Lofts, fortunately. I had to seek out one of those last night when a party from upstairs turned ugly and you could hear shrieking and bodies being thrown around. Fortunately, I was able to sleep around midnight thanks to a pair of earplugs.

As far as the workload goes, it’s still intense and requires 60 to 70 hours a week. But I have eased up on myself a bit. As I told one of the others, when you drink from a fire hose, some of the water is bound to fall on the ground. I alternate from feeling like the dumbest person in the universe to joy when I make something I didn’t think I could, and IT WORKS. The key is don’t take it personally, and don’t quit. I do sometimes have to take a walk down the hall, get a drink of water, or just browse the internet for a little when my brain breaks and shuts down. That happens several times a day. The feeling of incompetency is familiar now: a tightness in my chest and an inability to think beyond myself.

We are now moving from learning the basics into advanced Java topics and we have begun our group mastery project. Lately, we have started learning about inheritance, interfaces, polymorphism, etc. The two week rule still applies, but often it doesn’t even take two weeks. Sometimes, all I have to do is revisit code that doesn’t work a few days later and the answer leaps out at me. There are fewer new assignments now that focus is shifting to the larger projects.

I would still recommend this program HIGHLY. I don’t believe this field is for everyone, but there are many people who might not think they are cut out to be programmers who would be amazed at how well the immersion technique works. Both Erics have earned my respect not only for their experience, skill, and knowledge, but for their passion for sharing them. There are several reasons I chose this program and I have not been disappointed:

  • Accessibility: both during the application process and during the cohort, both are easy to reach and always willing to help.
  • Small class size: they keep their classes smaller by design so there’s more interaction with the instructors.
  • Unique subject matter: there aren’t many (if any) boot camps teaching Java and .NET while there are tons that teach Ruby. But a quick internet search tells me that at least in my area (Columbus, Ohio), there are 432 open Java developer openings and 300 .NET job openings. There are 73 Ruby developer positions open. FYI, I am very rooted in Columbus and won’t interview with out-of-area companies.
  • Longer term: most camps run 8-9 weeks, but this one is 12.
  • Guest speakers and visitors: visitors are a regular occurrence to the Guild. We have had graduates who now work for SWCG partner companies, recruiters, experienced developers, and others from the industry talk to us and answer questions.

So in case anyone is interested, here are the statistics on our particular cohorts:

  • Out of the five people in the Java cohort, I am the oldest, at 44, and the only female. The rest are in their twenties and I think one is in his thirties. We do have a sixth man who is from a previous cohort and is currently job-hunting. He’s been given an open invitation to spend as much time with us as possible while he conducts his search. He is local to the area.
  • Of the Java cohort, two of us are seeking jobs in the Columbus area. Two are looking for California, New York, or other similar large cities. Another seems pretty flexible. Previous cohorts have had members who came from big cities, like Chicago, and stayed when they were offered jobs in the area. Ohio is a pretty well-kept secret, especially when you consider the cost of living here as compared with the salaries
  • Two of us are married and commute to see our spouses on the weekends.
  • I am the only one with children. But mine are teens and can care for themselves pretty well. I cannot imagine doing this if my children were much younger.
  • There are about 8 or 9 in the .NET cohort. There is one female. I’m not sure of the ages or marital status or them. Everyone I’ve talked to so far has been single, no kids, except there is one in a committed unmarried relationship.

I do believe these factors are important to consider. The intensity of the program and long hours require a great deal of focus. This is, trust me, exceedingly difficult if you have a life. Each of us has quit a job to make this change. Some have quit jobs making over $100,000 a year to pursue their passion. Some have left families and loved ones. There’s a reason most of the participants are young, single men without attachments. But it can be done if you are otherwise attached. It does take an extremely understanding and supportive partner. The most difficult moment of every week is saying goodbye to my husband on Sunday nights. It takes a great deal of self-discipline to drive away to a lonely apartment several hours away from home. Skyping helps, as does simply staying busy. I love being immersed in this world. I’ve accomplished much more in three weeks than I have in nearly a year of self-teaching. It does take sacrifice and dedication.

Beginning week 2

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After a too short weekend, I’m back for week 2. Going home for the weekend was emotionally charged and I felt drained after saying goodbye to everyone once again. But I spent several hours coding after I got back to my apartment and I feel a lot more focused and ready to go. After struggling a bit with exercises on methods, I solved a complex problem by myself and that helped boost my confidence. Working helps keep my mind from wandering to places it shouldn’t go.

I amazed at how much I’ve learned in just the first week.

Coding bootcamp mind games – end of week 1 recap

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As I flew down the exit ramp off of I-70, I screamed with joy. I almost started crying. My first week of bootcamp is done and I am finally at home for the weekend. Home, but not quite here. Bootcamp has only been in session 5 days. I am already two days behind.

Although I am still in love with this new adventure, it hasn’t been easy. As I told my husband last night, the worst part isn’t the hard work, the feelings of inadequacy, or the lack of sleep, it’s the loneliness and being away from my family.

My days have settled into a sort of routine. Get up at 7, shower, breakfast, grab coffee in the lobby of 401 Lofts. Be at the Guild by 8:40. Start coding as the others come in. Code, code, code all morning. Skip lunch. Everyone else goes out or plays Dominion. I can’t afford to because I’m behind so I eat at my computer.  I try to eat with my left hand so I don’t get crap all over the touchpad. Code all afternoon. Leave between four and five. Code back at my apartment. Eat dinner while coding. Take a break around nine or ten to Skype with my husband and whatever kids are around. Code. Bed between 11:30 and 2, depending on how productive my sleepy brain is. And I am still behind.

Eric is not concerned and says that everyone else will slow down soon as we get so deep into this that even the experienced guys are leaving familiar territory.

There’s a terrible psychological game going on. I am constantly talking myself through every minute. When you are the one who’s different, one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other, the one who is an outlier, it’s a struggle to stay in the game.

I am an outlier because I am female, old enough to be most of these boys’ mom, and because I have a non-technical college degree. It doesn’t matter that I studied engineering for most of those four years because that was about 25 years ago. Even if some of the material I learned back then is still relevant, I’ve probably forgotten it.

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors. I keep thinking of one of the chapters of his book “David and Goliath” that describes the drop out rates from science programs at ivy league universities. To paraphrase, the best and brightest who get into ivy league universities are competing against the best and brightest. But even so, even the best universities must have students who fall at the bottom of the class. The thing is, these students at the bottom of the class begin to think they can’t hack it–even though they are at Harvard or Yale–and even though they are still doing better than an “A” student at a lesser college. Being the least smart student at a prestigious school can make you think you aren’t smart. It messes with your mind in ways that can alter the way you think about yourself. Science majors switch majors thinking they can’t hack it, when the problem is just that they are at the wrong college. If the ivy league struggling science major were attending a state college, she might still be the best-performing student in the class because now she is competing against average college students. Because of this, she might never doubt herself and not change majors into a less-demanding liberal arts major.

It just goes to show how powerful our minds are at changing the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

Thursday night was a rough night for me. I was feeling lost and stupid. Lecture went on well after 4:00, and I had planned to attend a friend’s mom’s funeral viewing, since I couldn’t take time to attend the funeral the next day because it would require missing class. The problem was that the funeral home was back home, a nearly three-hour drive. After class, I walked briskly back to the apartment, changed out of my clothes, and called my husband. Once he was on the phone, I pretty much fell apart. The combination of so many things. Having fallen behind before the first week is up and knowing that if I drive to Columbus and back I fall even further behind. Of having sat through a lecture on concepts I couldn’t even begin to wrap my stuffed brain around, a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror as I was changing and feeling fat, the stress of knowing that the traffic would probably delay me enough that I would be lucky to walk in the funeral home minutes before the end of the viewing. I felt terrible because I had just lost my mom seven years before and I knew what it meant for people to be there for me. And I couldn’t be there for her. Standing there in my cold apartment bedroom, in my underwear, holding my funeral outfit in one hand and the phone in the other, I could feel myself falling apart.

So I excused myself from the phone call, accepted that I wasn’t going to go, and gave myself permission to take an hour to lose it. I changed into my yoga pants and sweatshirt, climbed into bed under my electric blanket, and hugged a box of tissues. About an hour later, I felt ready to start coding again, so I started back to work.

If I would have had this experience twenty years ago, I might have quit that night. When you are in the bad, ugly moment, it’s hard to feel like you aren’t a failure and hard to see that this feeling won’t last forever. That in an hour, things really will look brighter. But I’ve been in that ugly place so many times, that I know it will end and that eventually, I won’t feel like a failure anymore. Eventually I will do something or say something amazing again and make a difference in someone’s life. Or someone will make a difference in mine.

 

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I remember a few months ago when I was so hungry to know what this bootcamp experience would be like. I gobbled up articles, reviews, blog postings, and whatever I could find about how people handled it, and most importantly, if I could find someone like me who did it and made it through in one piece. Of course, there were, and this is why I am writing about my experience.

Coding Bootcamp: 1st Day Done!

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It’s the end of my first day at Software Craftsmanship Guild’s Java bootcamp and I am excited and drained.

December was preparation month: long days of working my two jobs, managing parenting responsibilities, planning art lessons, getting ready for Christmas, and doing homework–lots of homework–to get ready for bootcamp.

Typically, coding bootcamps require quite some preliminary homework to try to get everyone to the same starting level when we formally begin. SWC Guild is no exception. The material wasn’t hard–HTML, CSS, Javascript, and JQuery–but it WAS time-consuming and it came during my busiest time of the year. My body breaks down under stress so I ended up with bronchitis and a plethora of fun maladies that I’m still trying to get over. I’ll spare you the details. You’re welcome.

The last few days before I left were much better because I had wrapped up all loose ends, put away the Christmas tree, and packed. I quit the job I love.  Sunday, I drove to Akron to move into my apartment for the next three months. I got there a little early so the leasing office wasn’t quite open. This was a hard time for me. As I waited, I realized this was a crucial moment that held a lot of power. I could turn around now and lose nothing except my tuition deposit. Or I could walk into a new opportunity that would cost me the next 12 weeks of time away from my current life but pay off big time when it’s over. So I walked in.

And soon I was knocking on the door of my new apartment for the next 12 weeks. One of my roommates answered. She is a student at the University of Akron, as are about 70% of the residents there. She seemed nice, but the first thing I saw as I walked in was a beer bong lying on the kitchen counter and the empty liquor bottles lined up on top of the kitchen cabinets. So apparently I got the party group.

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In the 24 hours since I decided to go for it, loneliness has been my biggest enemy. I thought it would be self-doubt. But it’s missing my family that is hardest.

My first day in class helped a lot with the loneliness. Meeting the other cohorts was great. I am the only girl in the Java cohort, and I’m definitely the oldest, but I figured on that. Everyone was really, really nice. And helpful. The first day was pretty light. We did some things none of us had before, but we moved slowly. Eric Ward was super-patient and stopped to help whenever any of us had problems. I wasn’t the only one who had issues, and for that I was thankful.

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Many people have a preconceived idea that programming is something that only certain types of people are good at. Or that only certain types of people would enjoy it. It’s assumed that coders are young, single, men, introverted, and nerdy. They guzzle coffee and work into the deep hours of the night. They lack social skills. While all these may be true in some cases, I’m finding that programmers come in all flavors. They tend to be extremely accepting and supportive. They want others to succeed. And many people who thought they wouldn’t or couldn’t have a knack for coding have found, to their surprise, that they can learn this. Some might need more time or guidance. But they can do it.

I have always been attracted to this profession. Yet, for a long time, I believed I wasn’t the right “type.” I thought I was too artsy and creative. But I’m finding that this is right for me. And a surprising number of the other apprentices have creative backgrounds similar to mine.Today I met future coders who are engineers, journalists, teachers, restaurant-workers, biomedical researchers. Although I didn’t meet him, I heard that one of the previous apprentices was a rabbi. I know that Dev Bootcamp had a guy who was a chimney sweep.