Daniel Donaldson is a front end developer for LifeBlue Media, a digital media agency in Dallas, TX. After years of experience in non-profit project management roles, Daniel made the career jump into the tech field by attending an intensive dev bootcamp. Having a passion for technology, design and human behavior, he felt that the world of web design was a perfect fit for him. You can read more about his experience at his blog or find him on Twitter @Color_Turtle.
The Most Important Thing I Learned From a Three-Month Dev Camp
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.
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 doesn'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.