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The Boot Camp Diaries Weeks 7, 8, & 9: You Know More Than You Think You Do and Other Things I’m Tired of Hearing

These three weeks at Learn Academy absolutely flew by. I feel like I put my head down to code and when I looked up, 21 days had passed. Week 7, coming off of professional development week, is especially fuzzy. It’s like when your parents ask what you learned in school and you shrug and say “stuff” because nothing really stood out, you know you absorbed things, but you also have a million other things on your mind.

Week 8 was the infamous Cat Tinder project. I was really looking forward to building Tinder for cats, but what we actually built was very pared down: as a user you could submit a form with your cat’s name, age, and bio, and it would appear on another page listing all the cats. The important takeaway was being able to connect a React front end to a Rails back end. I insisted on figuring out how to include pictures, which spawned a series of lectures on Active Storage and S3. I wanted to do more with it, but before I knew it week 9 was beginning.

Week 9 kicked off with the Apartment App – basically just Cat Tinder but with React inside of Rails. The theme of the last three weeks can be characterized by these five words, which I have repeated aloud and in my head so many times they haunt my nightmares (literally): “Wait, I still don’t understand…” There’s no “no child left behind” in coding boot camp. If you fall behind, you stay behind, because every new concept builds on what you still don’t understand from before.

Voicing my concerns to my instructors I was usually met with “You understand more than you think you do.” That’s a difficult sentiment to appreciate when you’ve read five different articles about passing props in React and still don’t understand how to pass props in React. Sometimes I would think I understood, only to turn around a moment later to find out that everything I believed was wrong.

At the end of week 8 I took out a pad of paper and a pen and I went through every file we had touched. I wrote down every file name, identified the methods and variables, and wrote what they were doing and what they connected with in each other file. Then I transferred my notes to comments in the code files themselves, and at the end of the day I sat down with our head instructor and talked through the project to make sure my notes were correct and I understood what I thought I understood. I finished week 8 on an incredible high, feeling like I finally understood, like I knew what I was doing, like I was succeeding. Then, as I knew it would, week 9 started and smacked me back down to earth. I limped into the weekend with my head in my hands and my heart on the floor.

Learning to code is a humbling experience. It reminds me of the time my beginning bandmates and I accidentally boarded the bus to advanced band practice, and our teacher decided the least inconvenient way to deal with us was to stick us in with the advanced band students, hand us the sheet music, and tell us to try to keep up. There were notes in front of me that I had never seen before – or wait, were those even notes? I still vividly remember being nine years old, white-knuckling my clarinet and looking at my friends in bewilderment while all around us the auditorium swelled with the sound “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. The past two weeks have been rife with that same sense of being in so far over my head that I don’t even know which direction to kick that will eventually let me break the surface.

I know what you’re thinking – or maybe I’m the only one thinking this because I have a vested interest in not being broke: aren’t you worried about writing about your struggles where potential employers could read it? Honestly, yes, a little bit. However, the more important mission, for me, is to paint a realistic picture of a coding boot camp experience for those considering getting into one, or who are in one now and wondering if what they’re going through is normal.

Voluntarily putting yourself in a situation where you will often be confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, and utterly lost is not for everyone. It takes a toll on your psyche. You can probably handle it better if you’re prepared for it, so here I am, trying to prepare you. Maybe you’re in a coding boot camp right now and you’re thinking that I must be really stupid because it’s been all rainbows and butterflies for you. That’s fantastic! I’m thrilled for you, and jealous, obviously. But if you’re struggling, if learning to code is challenging for you, just know that’s okay too.

Here is one truly important distinction I want to make clear: In the early days of coding boot camp, the struggle looked different than it does now. Back then, the questions I asked myself were “Can I hack it?” and “Am I any good at this?” and “What if it’s too hard?” The questions I ask myself now are “Will I be able to debug this code before I’m eighty?” and “Why is this documentation so useless?” and “Why is this taking me so long to understand?” I’ve learned that there is no such thing as being “good” or “bad” at coding. It’s not about how much you know or how much you can do. The only thing that matters is whether or not you love it, and I do. If you love it enough, nothing will stop you from figuring it out eventually – it’s only a matter of time.

Eventually, I will be a prop-passing master. I will be able to connect rails routes in my sleep. I won’t need to refer to my notes every five minutes when I set up a new database migration. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even on my last day of boot camp, but eventually, I know I will get all this stuff down. If you truly love coding, if you enjoy building programs and naming variables and calling functions and checking the console for bugs and then hunting them down like a detective, then you will get this stuff down, too. It may sound cliche, but truly the only way to fail at coding is to stop coding, so just keep on keeping in and you’ll be A-Okay.

</ XOXO >

[Photo credit: Adi Goldstein via Unsplash]

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