A Time To Celebrate

Serious dog, serious balloons

Last Friday night I was walking down the Walmart wine aisle (classy, right?) looking for the perfect $6 bottle of red wine to go with my sharp cheddar. This is my go to ‘celebration’ tradition… also my ‘had a hard day’ tradition and my ‘hadn’t done this in a while’ tradition. I don’t have a lot of variety with my traditions, but on this particular occasion I had a reason to celebrate. I had just finished my first week as a front-end developer.

You may be asking, ‘But weren’t you already a front-end developer?’ To which I answer, ‘No’. I was a junior front-end developer. Now, two weeks in, I am a lead front-end developer on my own team. And let me tell you, the first week was no walk in the park. Our inaugural project needed to have a completed prototype to the client by Friday (rapid prototyping here we come). It wasn’t easy, but the whole process went surprisingly smooth so that Friday morning we had something to show that we could be proud of. There were a lot of things that went right, but here are the top three that really added to our success:

A familiar framework: we use a flexible front-end framework called Motif that was developed in house by an amazingly smart frond-end guy. Go check it out.

We had all the copy up front: we of course revised some of it and applied our principles of content strategy, but having all the copy up front was a huge win.

Clear expectations and communication: we knew who was doing what and leveraged GitHubs versioning control to keep us from stepping on each other’s toes.

While I’m going to miss working with my old team, I’m really excited to be a lead. I’m doing the same stuff, but there’s a difference in expectations when you know you are ‘the guy’ and not ‘the guy who helps the guy.’ It means a lot that my coworkers/supervisors trust me which in turn makes me want to work all the harder to show that I’m worthy of the trust.

Anyway, I had to share my milestone. Because I’m ecstatic about it.

Photo courtesy of wsilver.

4 Most Important Things I Learned From a Three Month Code School

The Iron Yard Workroom

This is a post I was asked to write by Matrix. I thought I would republish as it’s a pretty good summary of my experience:

Attending a three-month-long dev bootcamp isn’t for everyone. I wasn’t really sure if it was for me, even after I made the commitment to attend a small code academy in South Carolina called The Iron Yard this past year. I didn’t have much coding experience to speak of and I was about to take a three-month dive into javascript programming. The stakes were high for me. I was leaving my family in Texas and draining our savings to make this happen. Failure, while completely terrifying, just couldn’t be an option. I had to make it work.

Attending this school was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The pace of the course was intense and the workload often daunting. Every weekday the lecture portion of the course would begin at 9am and last until noon. After lunch we would all work on our homework which was due the following morning. I don’t remember a day that I went to bed before 1am (I took an hour break each night to eat dinner and FaceTime with my family). Weekends were spent on longer homework assignments. It was intense work, but exciting. I came to this program because I was convinced that through it my life would change for the better. As each week passed, that conviction became more of a reality.

Looking back I am amazed at how much we were able to cram into such a short time. The track I attended focused on front end development, in particular javascript/jQuery/backbone, but the gains I made were beyond just programmatic syntax. I took away some really life-altering things from this program.

I Learned to Hustle
Every day we had homework that went beyond what we learned in lecture. Our instructor gave us a push in the right direction, but we had to do the hard work of figuring out how to accomplish the assignment. It felt kind of like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. As time went on I got better at identifying which parts of the assignments were going to be the most challenging. I would start with those and focus my daylight hours on them so that if I got stuck the TA or instructor would be available for questions. Get the coding working during the day, get it working well at night. It didn’t always work out that way, but it was the race I had to run. With practice, I could tell I was getting better at the mental sprinting.

I Learned How To Learn
You learn a lot about yourself when you need to aggressively learn something that you have little to no prior experience dealing with. At some point you are going to come up against something that is beyond your ability. I’ve heard marathon runners describe something similar to this. At some point in the race they hit a mental wall when their own physical capabilities feel lacking. Whether or not they will continue to run becomes a sheer act of persevering willpower. That is what I felt week after week (sometimes even daily). After a while, you begin to expect it and it does’t feel quite so overwhelming. You learn to push through it. As time passes you eventually see what things help you get through that wall faster. For me, it was cramming/researching like crazy and then taking a walk. That gave my brain time to stew on what I had read and find perspective.

I Learned How To Think Like a Problem Solver
Not too long ago I made a list of the top five people who had most influenced my life. I included my instructor from The Iron Yard on this list because he essentially taught me how to think. Yes, he taught me how to think like a programmer, but really the change in my brain feels too profound to define it by a profession. With each new program or framework we learned, he took great care to teach us the problem that that particular language was trying to solve. He wasn’t just teaching programming, he was teaching the philosophy behind programming. Over time, I began thinking like a serial problem solver. The way I was learning to look at programming challenges was changing the way I looked at everything: parenting, design, relationships, etc. I returned to Texas with a newfound perspective.

I Learned That People Can Be Pretty Awesome
I would be doing a disservice not to mention that getting to know my fellow classmates, fellow coding comrades, was as significant to me as any other part of the program. We were in the trenches together, all of us willing our minds to understand the unfamiliar. My skills in programming and design were richly impacted by the people I was learning alongside. Watching them learn, hearing them explain their solutions and sharing with them solutions of my own were all sharpening my own ability to problem solve. Sometimes when you have stared at the same problem for hours a fresh set of eyes is what you need most and an encouraging word can go a long way.

Was Attending A Dev Bootcamp Worth It?
I decided to attend this program because I felt that it would change my life for the better. In terms of my career, I would say that it had a definite impact. After completing the program at The Iron Yard, it took about three months of job searching before I received offers for four different positions. I accepted a junior developer role with an amazing web shop in Allen, TX. I work with some pretty brilliant team members building websites and web applications for really interesting clients. It’s a small team so I get to be a part of both the design and development process which was important to me. While there is still a lot of room for improvement, I’m able to make significant contributions to the team I’m working on. I absolutely love it.

But my affinity for my time at hack school is not due solely to the career benefits I’m enjoying as a result. I know it sounds like I’ve taken a sip of the coder camp Kool Aid, but it really was a life-altering experience. What I gained most was confidence. I didn’t just learn about coding, I was writing code. I had proof that I could do this, I could become a hacker because for three months I was hacking. That proof was of utmost importance, because the person who needed it most was me.