Author Archives: wildv

About wildv

I am a web developer, designer, and writer. On the side, I teach art to children and adults at an art studio that is housed in a historic building that is rumored to be haunted (I've never seen the ghost). I love Jesus, being outdoors, traveling, exploring new (to me) cultures, hiking, minimalism, and cooking gourmet food. An introvert and an INFP, I love people, but need solitude, preferably in the wilderness, to recharge.

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Recap: After graduating from Software Craftsmanship Guild’s java bootcamp apprenticeship, I started working as a junior developer for a major educational publisher last April. It’s now eight months later and I am getting ready to look for another job.

Naturally, hindsight is 20-20. If I could do this over again I would not have accepted the position where I did. This company was not set up to mentor juniors and completely lacks a teaching/learning culture. It’s a great place to go if you are a senior dev. But this is a company with lots of seniors who don’t want any juniors hanging around.

I thought when I started it would be great to get paid to learn. I did get paid well for a junior dev, but I got about 30 minutes a week of help on my tasks. It would take 1-2 days of waiting to get 15 or 20 minutes of a senior dev’s help. I actually started asking for help before I needed it because I knew it would be at least a day before anyone had time to look at my code. Liz the developer describes the ideal situation where a senior spends 8 hours a week with a new junior in the first month of employment and 5-6 hours per week for the next couple months.

Since I had no mentor, I don’t feel I have progressed as quickly as I would have if I were in a corporate culture that valued mentoring. I constantly felt like the pesky little sister always asking for help, for direction, for someone to look at my code or tell me if my approach was right. I later found out that I was the only junior developer hired by the company. Everyone else was a mid- to senior-level developer. No wonder I felt like the village idiot.

So I stopped asking so many questions. Gradually, my tasks went from actual java coding to html and css fixes because others could do the more complex jobs more quickly. I haven’t written a line of java in at least 6 weeks. Before that, it was probably another month since I’d last touched java. In order to continue growing as a developer, it’s time to move on.

For my next job position, I have two goals: find a company that is a little closer to home so I don’t have to drive 90 miles round trip, and find a company that values learning and grooming new developers. I’ve got a company in mind; I’ll let you know if I get the job.

My advice to new developers looking for the right company fit:

  • Don’t undervalue yourself. If you are a woman, you are especially vulnerable to imposter syndrome. If you made it through bootcamp you have what it takes to be a world-class beginner, provided you maintain a learner’s mindset. Please don’t allow a bad interview experience or a misinformed recruiter to steal your sense of self worth.
  • Ask questions about a company’s culture and attitude toward junior developers. Some good questions:
    • Why are you interested in hiring a junior-level developer?
    • How many senior developers will be available if I need guidance?
    • What is your attitude toward mentoring?
    • What types of tasks will I be expected to do in the first month? The next six months?
  • Above all else, if a job is a poor fit you will know within the first week. Trust your instincts, assess the corporate culture, and move on if the company doesn’t want to grow you. There are plenty of great companies out there who love to groom new developers.
  • If you get the feeling the company just wants to hire a cheap developer and has no plans to grow you, that’s another reason to move on.
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Coding/Programming Bootcamp FAQ

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Since graduating from the Software Craftsmanship Guild’s Java cohort in March, I have been receiving lots of emails with questions about the bootcamp experience and asking for job hunting tips. Since I’ve become quite the fire-breathing evangelist for coding bootcamps, I love answering these questions and welcome them, but I thought it would be nice to compile the questions I’ve already received into an FAQ page. Here’s the first round of questions:

How do you feel about the quality of instruction and the teaching styles of the instructors?

I am very happy with the quality of instruction I received, as well as the projects and exercises. I came into the program without any programming background at all. It is common for those of us with little to no programming experience to feel overwhelmed at times, but that is because the program is scalable to account for differing background and abilities. Our group consisted of three people with no programming experience and non-technical backgrounds and two with some programming experience who had just left engineering jobs. There was enough to keep them busy and challenged. The others of us just did what we could, but it was still plenty to give us the experience and skills to bring to our first jobs. I can’t say I was especially surprised by anything within the program. I had pretty realistic expectations because I had done my homework beforehand. Perhaps the only surprise was that I did as well as I did and got hired as quickly as I did. I was extremely happy with both instructors, as well as their teaching styles. Both Eric Wise (the owner and .NET instructor) and Eric Ward (Java instructor) are committed, passionate, and accessible.

What personal qualities and practices does it take to be successful in the program?

To be successful in the program, it definitely takes passion. You eat, sleep, and breathe programming for twelve weeks. You have to be OK with feeling overwhelmed and out of your comfort zone, but that’s part of the learning process. It really is immersive. There is a lot of info, but if you remember the two-week rule (it takes about two weeks for new concepts to fully sink in) then it will “click” and make sense. Two other tips I used when I was in the program were “look for the pattern” and “repeat-repeat-repeat.” If something didn’t immediately make sense to me, I kept going over it and looked for commonalities with other concepts we had already covered.

That said, if you are solely motivated by finding a high-paying job, this is not the program for you. You must love it or you will not make it through. They have rejected applicants who didn’t have the right motivations, or who appeared to be in it only for the money.

Several of my fellow apprentices left six-figure incomes to follow their dream of becoming a developer. Passion matters. I was told after I was hired that my company was impressed with my degree of commitment. I had left comfortable life, my husband, and family for twelve weeks to dedicate myself to making this career change. They liked that.

I’ve heard about how intense these programs are and that they are frequently described as “drinking out of a fire house” Will I get overwhelmed?

It wasn’t that the material was too difficult or anything, it was more the quantity. Due to different experience levels and aptitudes, the course load needs to meet the needs of all of us at the same time. Eric provided enough to keep the guys with more experience from getting bored, but it’s more than the ones with less experience can keep up with. There are hundreds of assignments, drills, and exercises to reinforce the concepts we learn. It’s great material, but I don’t think any of us completed everything. That’s where the “overwhelmed” feeling comes in. We had two guys with previous programming experience. One of them had been programming since he was five. I do not think they ever felt overwhelmed, but I got to a point where I realized I had to prioritize the assignments to make sure I got sufficient practice in the important concepts. It was still more than enough. We covered an incredible amount of material. More than we could assimilate in such a short of time, but after three months on the job, I’m still having concepts I didn’t fully understand click into place suddenly.

Bootcamp has been described as “drinking from a fire hose.” This is certainly true. I got to a point where I set a schedule and decided anything that didn’t get done just didn’t get done. I would leave the guild offices each day around 4:30, grab dinner, chat with my roommates, and maybe work out. Then I would code, either alone or with the other apprentices, until 11 pm. Then I just didn’t sweat anything I couldn’t complete. I have a family that I would go home to see every weekend. I would spend 6-8 hours per day coding on the weekends, too, but there were several weekends I didn’t get anything done.

How was the job-hunting process overall?

The job-hunting process went smoothly. All five of us in the winter Java cohort had job offers within 1 week of the cohort’s end. Three of us had multiple offers. We all got nice offers that were actually a little higher than the range Eric told us we could expect. Three of us are in Columbus and got the jobs on our own. The other two got jobs in Cleveland through their hiring network. The hiring network is a nice touch, but you can still get a job without it. Columbus pays just slightly higher than companies in Cleveland, and the cost of living is basically the same.

What challenges did you face marketing yourself to potential employers unfamiliar with the bootcamp concept?

For context, I have a bachelor’s in art history, although I did study mechanical engineering for the first three years of college. I had no programming background prior to the Guild. Most employers hiring junior devs are receiving applications from recent computer science graduates. That is your competition.

Marketing myself to employers who weren’t familiar with the bootcamp concept required a different approach and probably caused a few to overlook my resume, but it wasn’t nearly as much of an obstacle as I had thought it might be. The technical interviews were geared toward recent computer science graduates and asked theoretical questions or questions related to deprecated technology rather than concentrating on practical, hands-on skills relevant to today’s employer needs. Some employers got it right away and were intrigued with the concept. I applied with eleven companies in Columbus, was interviewed by four and received two job offers in week eleven. These stats are pretty typical of the other apprentices, too. I work for a consulting company as a front-end Java developer contracted to a major educational publisher. The offer was more than I was told I could expect in this market.

The important thing is to stress to potential employers that you have practical experience building actual web apps that use the same technology as today’s businesses use on the job every day. Your average CS grad usually has little to no practical experience; just a lot of theoretical book knowledge.

How did the bootcamp prepare you for the technical interviews?

As far as technical interviews go, I blew the first one because he asked lots of computer science questions. Fortunately, he believed in the program enough to give me some resources to study and scheduled a second interview for two weeks later. I eventually passed a second and third technical interview, a “get-to-know-you interview” with the owner, and was offered a job, which I declined because I got a better offer.

What’s the best way to prepare for technical interviews?

As far as preparing for the tech interviews, review lists of common Java interview questions that are all over the web. Both Erics have lists of questions as well. Be familiar with the concepts in this book–the 3rd edition is a free PDF download. With your technical skills learned in the program and the concepts here, and if you practice interviewing, you will have multiple offers in any of the major metropolitan areas.

Is there anything you would do differently if you had to do the program over again?

Personally, I started looking for a job too early. It distracted me from the last three weeks of the program. Once you put your resume out there, you are bombarded with phone calls, emails, and interviewing. I took several days off to drive to Columbus for interviews. If I could do it differently, I would have waited so I could have a week or two off before jumping into employment. I had to start my new job Tuesday following the end of the cohort and they were unwavering on the start date. Coupled with moving and being generally exhausted after the pace of the last 12 weeks, it was too soon.

What is the job market like in the midwest/Ohio?

In Cleveland, the usual starting salary for a junior dev is in the $40,000 range; in Columbus, it’s in the $50,000 range. Indy is probably similar, while Chicago will be a lot higher due to cost of living. Several cohort grads who had ambitions of moving to Chicago or California stayed in Cleveland and Columbus because they were impressed by the low cost of living and the culture.

Within 3-4 years, you should be moving into a middle-level role. The salary grows significantly at that point. In the Ohio market, salaries jump to $70,000 to $90,000 for mid-levels, from what I have been told.

The Guild does have a nice hiring network. You really won’t need it but it’s nice as backup. I’ll tell you something they won’t though. There is a company in Cleveland that is part of the hiring network and pays the tuition of those they hire. The starting salary is really low, probably to offset the cost of them paying your tuition if they hire you. It’s not a bad deal, but other companies that don’t reimburse tuition tend to pay more, so you’re really not coming out ahead, at least if you stay at least a year.

What if I want to work somewhere besides Ohio after I graduate?

You will be prepared to find a job in any major market, although you will face quite a bit of competition if you are headed to Silicone Valley. Please don’t discount Ohio’s major cities. Cleveland and Columbus are bulging with technical opportunities and growing every day. Many of the men and women who have come to Akron with the intention of finding jobs in Chicago or California stayed once they realized that Columbus and Cleveland offer lots of cultural opportunities, an active night life, beautiful natural parks and attractions, and a lower cost of living that will have you living quite well on a beginning developer’s salary. Some of my fellow grads found apartments with a view of Lake Erie within walking distance of their jobs. Personally, I am partial to Columbus for many of the same reasons (minus the lake view), but particularly because it’s close to the Hocking Hills region, with its caves, waterfalls, and incredible hiking and recreational opportunities, like ziplining and rappelling.

What about issues of race, age, and gender in the hiring process?

I had these concerns when I started. I am in my mid-40’s and I am female. Another apprentice in the .NET cohort is an African-American female. We talked about this a lot during the process, and I think we kind of bonded because there are so few women in this profession. It turned out to be a non-issue when hiring came up. It probably does exist to some extent, but I don’t think these issues matter nearly as much as we’ve been led to believe.

I also talked with Jennie (one of the partners and a business owner) about age-ism in particular when she conducted my mock interview. She said that presentation wins. If I was a fuddy-duddy, middle-aged looking, dowdy woman, it might be an issue during the interview process. But I look and act younger than I actually am, I physically take care of myself, I try to dress stylishly, and have a young-ish attitude. I’m definitely not saying be immature, but embrace the positive qualities of the younger generation: flexibility, enthusiasm, passion. Employers definitely like these qualities, which is why they are attracted to younger applicants. Show them during the interview that you have these, as well. Don’t be jaded or negative.

On an interesting side note, my current job is on a team of five developers, and four of us are women!

12 weeks to a changed life

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Week 12. I have a job. As a web application developer for an educational publisher. I will start Tuesday.

It’s been a long time since I’ve published a post. Partly because there’s only so much to say about this program before it begins to sound either self-serving or whiny, also because there’s not been much new to report. 

Around week 7, some of the other apprentices began submitting resumes and fielding calls from recruiters. I joined them by putting my resume out there because I was worried I would have a harder time than the others at finding a job. I had given myself a six month time frame after the end of the cohort before giving up and moving into another area.

But here I am, after fielding two separate job offers in week 11, with my first dev job beginning soon. Honestly, I don’t think my age has hurt anything. It may have helped that I have more life experience. Presenting well during interviews has also helped.

What has been the most important factor for me is what this has done to my self-esteem. Please forgive me for focusing all on myself for a moment. I did this myself. I made up my mind to change my life. Then I did it. I did the hard things that needed to be done. And I got a job. Not using a hiring network or personal connections. I found this job on my own. I got it on my own.

Halfway through week 5

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Woohoo! The Unabomber roommate has moved out. Apparently it wasn’t just me who had issues with her. She was rude to everyone. She even moved out suddenly one day without a word to anyone. Just took her stuff and left.

We are halfway through week 5. We’ve pretty much wrapped up learning Java. This week we’ve been learning MySQL and database basics. Once again, tough stuff, but involved the same thought processes as programming. It was great to learn together with the .NET cohort as a unified group and get to know them a little better.  SQL commands are similar between platforms, but not exact. Eric was teaching to the .NET guys because that was what he was familiar with. We had to hustle a bit and google when a command wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do. Typically, it was just a minor change, like order of commands or a different keyword somewhere.  We learned enough to really help us develop our individual projects.

I’ve chosen to incorporate my old life into my capstone by developing a site that acts as an online marketplace and gallery for the artwork of developmentally disabled artists. Most of these organizations are so poorly-funded that they don’t have very nice websites and rely on local exposure to market their artists’ work. These artists use their art to make their living so I thought it would be helpful to consolidate all the artwork into one place and provide more exposure by appealing to a global audience. Once I finish this, I’m going to continue to maintain it and get as many organizations as possible to participate and hopefully increase art sales for these individuals who work so hard to create work that brings enjoyment to others.

So that’s what I’m working on tonight for the next hour or so, then my cohortees and I are going to get Chinese for dinner. Then more data modeling until it’s time for bed.

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.