Looking Back at Dev Bootcamp

With Dev Bootcamp (DBC) recently graduating its final cohorts and closing its doors for good, I’ve been reflecting on the impact it had on me. I wanted to take some time to look back on how I ended up at the program and highlight some areas where DBC still affects me today.

After working in market research for a few years after college, I never felt like I found the one thing that drove me to want to continuously learn. At the same time, I became fascinated with the tech community, constantly reading blogs about the hottest and newest startups, and dreaming about being part of a team building these apps as well as one day taking the ideas I constantly had and bringing them to life.

The more I dove into this world, and the more my head spun with ideas, the dream of learning to code grew stronger and stronger. With a minor background in programming from a couple of Information System classes I had taken while at the University of Delaware, I knew it was something I enjoyed, and an area I would’ve liked to explore further had I had the time (and money) while I was there. Coupling that with the enjoyment I got out of writing simple macros in Microsoft Excel VBA, I felt that learning to program was something I needed to explore in greater detail.

Fast forward a year to 2013, and I had taken steps to break into the tech community and the world of development in several different ways. At various times throughout the year, I had enrolled and completed a semester of graduate studies at CUNY Baruch towards a Master of Science in Information Systems, applied to SUNY Stony Brook to begin working towards a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and had met with several professors at Nassau Community College to begin taking computer science classes there part-time. During this same time frame, I began taking courses through Code Academy and really loved the challenge and enjoyment I got out of writing lines of code to produce these simple apps on the screen. In one way or another, each one of these paths felt like either a dead end or a road that was going to be extremely long to climb, so I continued looking for other solutions.

I don’t remember exactly what brought me to the program, but when I first stumbled upon DBC, and the new model of schooling it represented, I was convinced that it was a scam and did everything I could to find evidence to prove my point valid. The idea of going from a person with zero to little programming knowledge to one that can get an entry-level position with a company, and get paid for it, seemed like a pipe dream that was too good to be true. Despite this, and with my best efforts to find testimonials against them, I found nothing but positive reviews from students who had kept blogs at the DBC campuses in San Francisco, and the newly opened location in Chicago.

So, after the semester at Baruch felt like I was going down the complete wrong education path, SUNY Stony Brook rejecting my application, Nassau Community College seeming like it would take years to transition into development, my own self-doubt, and confusion being brought on by more advanced online courses, DBC seemed like the absolute best option to make this transition.

After making the decision to go, filling out the application, and making the quirky “teach me something” video to go along with it, I submitted my application and waited…

… and waited…

… and finally…

DBC Email

Got accepted!

The feeling was a combination of excitement, elation, and a bit of angst, knowing the transition into development was not going to be easy, and it would be quite some time until comfort was a normal feeling again.

In March 2014, I began my time onsite at DBC as the first cohort in the New York City office. The energy for those 9 weeks was exhilarating, as our class, along with the instructors, began building the foundation for what the NYC office would become. Because we had no cohort in front of us to set the precedent for what normal hours should be, or what a typical workload was like, days typically began between 8-9am, and ended anywhere from 7-10pm, 6 or 7 days a week. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals for the first time, along with incredible instructors who were experts in this field, made for an environment where every minute seemed precious, and not to be wasted.

So, while I could continue on and on about the teaching curriculum and the nitty-gritty of actually learning how to program applications, I instead want to focus on three areas that DBC implicitly taught, and that still affect me today.

Relearning how to learn

Up until DBC, I had a pretty regiment routine on how I would study, or attempt to learn something new. Throughout college, high school, and as far back as I can remember, I would typically, like most other students, learn material sequentially; listening in class, and reading along in the textbook chapter by chapter. Then when it came time for the exam or paper, I would regurgitate what I had just learned by studying, again sequentially chapter by chapter, for whatever exam or paper was coming up.

And when I got the first course material for DBC, during our 12-week prep period, I again studied the material the same way. The first programming book I cracked open, The Well-Grounded Rubyist, I began reading like I had any textbook in college, or high school, starting at the beginning, one page at a time, chapter by chapter.

Once arriving on site at DBC, I quickly found out that continuing to learn code like this was not going to be beneficial. Rather than use books as step-by-step instructions to learn, they were looked at as supplemental material to refer to when needed. A myriad of resources including online documentation, StackOverflow answers, blog posts, along with varying paragraphs from books became the concoction needed to learn and improve. Partnered with different video tutorials from various sites, and most importantly, actual application through writing code, studying became less about learning material step-by-step, and more about piecing together different areas. It’s like constructing a lego, but rather than going page by page as instructed, the lego is built first with a few pieces on page 4, then with a few more on page 65, and maybe some more on page 23, until finally, all the pieces come together to form a beautiful structure.

In addition to retraining our brains to form new study habits, was the concept of finding comfort amongst confusion. One of the teachers during our time in the program would constantly iterate that, “The step before understanding is confusion.” This statement in and of itself is a very simple expression, and one that doesn’t seem to have much depth, however, when constantly being pushed every day like students are at DBC, it is a mantra to live by.

As children, the entire world is confusing, and every day brings on new challenges and questions to be answered and understood. DBC felt a lot like that; where facing new topics was an everyday occurrence, and after finally getting comfortable with a technology or concept, the following day was a whole new set of tools to learn and comprehend. It’s sometimes hard to look back and remember that words like these…

javaScript, ruby, functions, classes, objects, arrays, variables, declarations, hoisting, closure, prototype, object-oriented programming, functional programming, git, version control, branch, commit, stash, terminal, bash, text editor, variable, imports, exports, algorithm, big O notation, time complexity, space complexity, sublime, key bindings, gulp, grunt, bundler, build process, deployment, heroku, github, jQuery, sinatra, rails, node, npm, gems, scripts, regex, etc… … were once perplexing, and brand new, yet after only a few weeks in the program, they began to make sense and applicable to different sets of problems. Confusion became less about being frustrated and more about being a building block in which an entirely new topic was going to make sense. Patience and persistence through the confusion was key to flourishing in this program.

While several years have now passed since DBC, these concepts are ones I continue to apply, as the world of development is one that is constantly evolving. New libraries and frameworks are constantly created to alleviate some sort of a headache, and each one has to be learned to understand the inner workings, and nuances that go along with it. A perfect example of this is through Jose Aguinaga’s satirical, (yet somewhat true), article on How it feels to learn JavaScript in 2016 where he details the overwhelming amount of technologies he must use to build a simple webpage. While this is a slight hyperbole, there is certainly some truth to it and serves as an example of how much an individual may learn while building an app.

While learning new technologies, tools, and libraries will always be challenging, and a truth that is tightly coupled to programming, DBC laid the foundation to be comfortable in this type of environment, and look at these challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, rather than become frustrated and give up. By using the various resources available to continuously learn, and embracing confusion for being a building block to knowledge, DBC helped me rethink what it means to study and learn, and take an antiquated learning process, and reprogram it for this new career.

Writing

One of the earliest tasks we were assigned at DBC before we even got on campus, was to build our own personal site and begin a blog, in order to track our progress throughout the program. While I didn’t consider myself a writer and felt strange publishing lines of text online for others to read, I figured that a lot of the persuasion I had for going to DBC was reading other student’s blogs about their journey through the program, so it felt right to be giving back in that sense. And if no one read it at all, I would at least be able to look back on my time at the school, and reflect on the progress I made from knowing nothing at all to being employed.

Since my very first post first post in March of 2014, I’ve chronicled my experience at DBC, wrote a few technical posts, and summarized new technologies I’ve been learning. I plan on continuing to post online, both on my personal site personal site and here on Linkedin. Since I consume so much of what others write to gain information, learn about new topics, and sharpen skills, it would be nice to get to a point where I’m able to give back like that too on a consistent basis. While my writing wasn’t honed and perfected at DBC, it gave me the spark to get started writing online in the first place and continue to do so today.

Meditation

Meditation is a funny topic, that if someone were to ask me my opinion on it in 2013, I probably would’ve given an answer of confusion and indifference if anything at all. So it was quite the surprise when along with starting a personal blog, DBC wanted us to read the first few chapters of Search Inside Yourself, a book about obtaining success and happiness through empathy, and mindfulness meditation. The goal was to get students introduced to the topic since we would be digging deeper into it onsite, and allow them to continue learning more about it should they find it beneficial to their lives.

Mindfulness as I would quickly come to learn, is about being in the present, fully.

It’s about being aware of feelings, and sensations around you, but not overreacting to them.

About letting thoughts come into your mind, and rather than try to fight them off, just allowing them to pass by. In a world of constant notifications, updates, and alerts, it seemed like a daunting task to tackle.

Early on, I would try to sit for a few minutes at a time and my patience and wandering mind would cause me to give up. However the more I continued to read about meditation, and benefits it had on several people’s lives from Paul McCartney to Arnold Schwarzenegger, I knew I wanted to make it something I took seriously and applied to my daily routine.

Over the years I’ve tried several different apps, and youtube videos, read a few books, took part in a sound bath at MNDFL, and sat at various times of the day to find my perfect blend of when, and how, I should meditate. After finding that meditating at night typically leads to me dozing off, rather than focusing on whatever it was I wanted to be at the time, and some apps were more distracting than others, taking 10 minutes every morning before having breakfast and using the various soundtracks and guided meditations on the Calm app have worked best for me.

While I try to meditate on a (somewhat) regular basis or most weekday mornings, I haven’t found this crazy Zen-like enlightenment I always associated with meditation before I knew nothing about it. Rather it has become a time of my day that I look forward to, to pause, relax, and do absolutely nothing: to just be. It has become a topic I enjoy learning about, and one that I know I will continue to explore in the future. As with writing, DBC didn’t perfect my meditation habits but planted the seed that was needed to peak my interest and allow me to continue learning about this lifelong practice on my own.

Saying Goodbye

When it was first reported that Dev Bootcamp would be closing, there seemed to be polarizing feelings towards the news. While it appeared that some students, past and present, felt that DBC’s closing reflected negatively on the curriculum, and program itself, I like to look at it differently. Despite whatever issues the company faced during its final few months, and whatever causes eventually led to its end, these do not take away from the experience and impact DBC had on thousands of students. The program was a pioneer for others like it, to take students who were eager to learn this new skillset and give them an environment that would nurture it and allow them to explore it in greater detail. DBC gave me a runway to not only learn how to build applications through code, but rewired my brain for learning, gave me the inspiration to begin writing, and introduced me to the idea of mindfulness and meditation. While I always imagined I would one day look back on college, and reflect on the time there that I found my passion, it is Dev Bootcamp that has given me a chance to embrace a career I truly enjoy, and allow me to take my ideas, and turn a white blank screen into a living application.