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2/7 Months In — Working + Doing a Coding Bootcamp (Fullstack Academy)

October 18, 2016 by

Yes, it’ possible. You can keep your full-time job AND join a coding bootcamp.

Hello World — My name is Jen Noborikawa, and I am both:

I am 2 months into my official Fullstack Academy journey, and it has been nothing short of a whirlwind.

APPLICATION PREP:

Before I applied to Fullstack Academy I was a complete programming beginner. I didn’t study computer science in college and had only completedCodecademy’s HTML+CSS and JavaScript courses (most curious coders’ starting point), Fullstack’s Online JavaScript Jumpstart course, and part ofFreecodecamp’s Front End Development Certification.

I knew Fullstack Academy’s Flex Immersive was the right fit for me because I was excited about the idea of learning Javascript for the front and backend. I also simply didn’t want to quit my job. I am passionate about my nonprofit’s vision to “inspire the next generation of diverse tech leaders to learn, build, and collaborate with technology” and want to apply the knowledge I gain at Fullstack to my daily work — training and coaching teachers in computer science who work in underserved communities, writing curriculum, and planning exciting student experiences for diverse students to gain tech industry exposure.

MONTH 1: Fullstack Foundations

*Full Disclosure: After I was accepted to Fullstack Academy, I solidified an exciting partnership between the nonprofit I work for, Code/Interactive, and Fullstack Academy who believes in our mission. Through this collaboration, Fullstack Academy will provide me with software development training so that I can better support our more than 100 middle and high school computer science teachers who will have an impact on over 5,000 diverse students this school year. Regardless, I am writing about my experience with complete honesty.

This Fullstack Foundations prep material wasn’t easy for me. The curriculum covered closure, scope, prototypal inheritance, recursion, jQuery, and Node.js, (don’t worry if that list was just jibberish to you) which was a really heavy lift for a beginner like me. It took about 35 hours of deep concentration every week for me to watch the instructional videos (pausing, rewinding, and rewatching frequently), understand the assignments, complete the assignments, and review everything to grasp the new concepts. The most challenging part of these assignments for me was deciphering what the assignment actually was. We were given a set of tests that were written in code, and it was our job to write code in another file that would satisfy the test cases. (If this doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry.) I’m not afraid to say that I needed a lot of support to trek up this steep learning curve:

  • I checked Fullstack’s student forum consistently in which students posted questions about assignments and fellow students or the instructors chimed in with guidance.
  • I asked one of my instructors for help during weekly office hours through a Fullstack online chat feature and also scheduled a live screen-share session.
  • I attended a great Meetup called Hacker Hours where attendees bring in questions about coding projects they’re working on and professional software engineers provide free help.
  • And because often times I got stuck for long periods of time late at night and was desperate for immediate help, I used the site Codementor as a last resort to pay for instant screen-share help from an expert software engineer.

At the end of Foundations I wasn’t 100% solid in my understanding of the material, but felt a sense of accomplishment. I dedicated all of my time and energy to learning the material and not only survived, but now understood a handful of really cool programming concepts that contained multiple layers of abstraction. Impressive!

MONTH 2: Fullstack Academy (Live Classes)

For the past month I’ve had in-person classes at Fullstack Academy — Tuesday and Thursday classes are 3 hours long after work, and weekend immersive Saturday + Sunday classes are about 10 hours long on both days, but only occur once a month. Wednesdays and non-immersive weekends are at-home review days.

Three of the biggest surprises about my class are that:

1. I am the only female out of 15 students in my class. 

Fullstack Academy is obviously committed to providing opportunities to women in order to help close the gender gap at tech companies. In 2013 they launched Grace Hopper Academy, the first coding school for women with a 100% deferred tuition payment model which removes probably the largest roadblock for women looking to transition to a software engineering tech job. With such an attractive program built specifically for women, it doesn’t surprise me that women applicants have flocked to the Grace Hopper Academy over Fullstack Academy. I just would’ve thought that at least a few other women would be interested in a part-time immersive.

2. Every student in my class is either Caucasian or Asian.

This demographic makeup is on par with the status quo for the tech industry and something that I am personally striving to change in my work atCode/Interactive. This is why it’s incredibly exciting that Fullstack Academy is now a partner and has invested in the work we do.

#diversityintech can be sliced in multiple ways, and I applaud Fullstack Academy’s huge initiative to train women through their Grace Hopper Academy, extend $1,000 scholarships to both women and veterans in their immersive programs, and offer over $500,000 to students interested in their remote programs through partnerships with Women Who Code andOperation Code. As a natural next step, it would be incredible if in the future they extended similar opportunities and support to a wider population including low-income or ethnically underrepresented applicants.

3. Many of the students in my class are not what I’d consider beginner programmers.

These classmates have prior experience in Python, Java, JavaScript, etc. and thus have an existing understanding of the concepts or are able to catch on way more quickly than I am because they have an intuition about how programming works.

So what are the classes really like? They’re designed for pair programming, meaning two students share one computer to complete the day’s workshop, taking turns driving (typing). I personally enjoy pair programming and find it refreshing to talk through my problem solving process or hear my partner’s, which is often times different than mine. I’m constantly picking up little nuggets of knowledge from my partner’s approach to a problem or his strategies for debugging our code. Moreover, it’s a great way to build a culture of community within the group. That being said, my teacher did need to remind our class a few times in the beginning of the program to actually work in pairs. My guess is that many other students are more accustomed to working independently on their own laptops and it takes some getting used to.

The first two weeks of class were very difficult. Most of the time my partner and I weren’t able to finish the assigned workshops before it was time to start the next one, and each workshop introduced multiple tools and concepts, making it challenging for me to understand the big picture of what I was doing and the core concepts I really needed to know. I was feeling overwhelmed and worried that I wouldn’t be able to catch up since I didn’t have any extra time and couldn’t drain myself the way I had for Foundations for 7 straight months.

I met with my teacher before our next class, explaining to him everything that I just shared. He reassured me that everything would be alright, but also made a few helpful changes. In addition to delivering the official Fullstack lectures that precede each workshop and the reviews that followed them, he began walking us through mini live-code demos beforehand that provided a big-picture overview of the concepts in the workshop so we could see how the pieces fit together before we did the granular steps in the workshop. He also recorded supplemental review videos for us that similarly distilled the main concepts in the official video so we could understand what was essential. For non-immersive weekends, my teacher created review assignments for us that focused on the core concepts of the previous workshop, keeping the features we needed to build and the tools we needed to implement to a minimum.

I cannot express how incredibly helpful all of these supports have been lately.

I still struggle with using my class’s group Slack channel (a chat tool) for support. When my classmates ask for help, they usually have one specific question and then they’re good to go after a couple of exchanges. I’m often stuck and don’t really know where to start or feel totally lost in the weeds with the assignment and need someone to look at my code in multiple spots to help me understand the direction I need to move in and start guiding me there step by step. I’m not embarrassed that I’m such a beginner. But it is uncomfortable for me to ask for help in such a public forum, knowing that I’ll need in-depth help, and that this will be a pattern for every assignment we do in the near future: “Hey entire class! I don’t understand A. Could someone help me with this?” … “Great. Thanks for that awesome explanation. I also don’t understand B” … “Ok. That makes sense. Can you also help me with C, D…Z?”

I understand that using a public group Slack channel for help is intended to help build community and teach us to help / rely on each other and not just the instructor which is a great goal. However, I do believe there should be some alternative built into the program for students who are looking for more in-depth, one-on-one help, are uncomfortable with asking for help publicly, or find asking / receiving help through typed messages insufficient. Regular in-person or online office hours that students can sign up for would be my suggestion. These hours could either be held by our instructor or one of the Fullstack Fellows (recent graduates) that always attends our classes to help us with any questions.

Starting this week, I’ll be hosting a few of my classmates for a weekly study group where I can get peer help in a way that fits my needs and learning style. My classmate arranged this group, and I think it would be great if in the future, instructors helped to facilitate this process.

Fullstack Academy’s website claims, “This is probably the hardest program you’ll ever take. But it will change your life.” I agree with this statement. The program is very demanding and there is a lot to learn in a short amount of time. But for the first time in the past few months, I don’t feel like I’m drowning. This glimmer of light is what prompted to me finally start sharing about my experience so far. I still haven’t figured out the right balance for the workload, but I’m getting closer.

Stay tuned for my next post about my experience 4/7 months in.

[Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].]

About Code/Interactive: Code/Interactive is a not-for-profit organization that cultivates the potential of America’s youth by ensuring that all students have access to a high-caliber computer science education, entrepreneurship opportunities, and industry exposure. This year we are serving over 5,000 students in NY, TX, NJ, PA, and CT!

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