This article was written for those who think they do not need this article.
All right, more specifically — this article was written for anyone who is thinking of taking a bootcamp, to help them in the surprisingly difficult task of managing their expectations.
In spite of the growing popularity (not to say cultural and social normalization!) of coding bootcamps, a remarkable number of people sign up for them with unrealistic, inappropriate and sometimes even outlandish expectations.
This article is meant to get you mentally equipped (or at least to get you started on that process). A coding bootcamp may be the fastest way into the world of tech, but it is also not a trivial undertaking. It comes with very real challenges that you should be aware of.
If you read this article, you are already on the right track to preparing yourself. If you think you don’t need to read it — well, we won’t repeat ourselves!
The most important bit: What to expect from yourself
A wise person once said that nobody knows the truth about their character until that character is tested. This is a life lesson you may already have learned elsewhere, naturally — but a coding bootcamp will remind you of it one more time.
The problem is not that people go into a bootcamp thinking it will be easy. Almost nobody makes that mistake.
Instead, the problem is that everyone goes into the bootcamp thinking that they won’t be the one to crack under the pressure. Everyone (or almost everyone) believes that they are going in lucid, aware of the challenge and mentally prepared to face it, and that they will stay disciplined and methodical throughout the program.
This is exactly the mindset that leads to crisis, sometimes as early as within the first couple of weeks. With the exception of upskillers (those who go into a bootcamp with prior knowledge of its topics), nobody can handle the ludicrous amount of new concepts that are thrown at you in a bootcamp without at some point feeling confused and lost.
These feelings are then compounded by a sense of disappointment with yourself. You were so certain you weren’t going to be ‘that’ student who didn’t know what they were getting themselves into and can’t keep up with the material, and now look, here you are.
Now here’s the hard truth: a sense of psychological crisis isn’t a side effect of taking a bootcamp — it’s an integral part of the experience. The variable is not whether a student will experience it, rather how many times they will, with some reporting they had a mini crisis literally every week.
Trying to prevent or avoid a crisis isn’t really the best approach — it’s not realistic, and there isn’t a way to predict what will make you flip. But what you can do is handle your crisis the right way when it does come. Here are 3 things you can always do.
Firstly, keep asking questions during the lessons, even if they seem very basic — don’t fall for the trap of not wanting to look stupid, or feeling like you are holding the class back. You are there to learn, not to look clever with your teammates.
Secondly, reach out to the staff. This means discussing what you’re struggling with not just with your instructor, but also with your Student Experience services. They have probably heard stories like yours before and will be able to help you. Tell your classmates how you are feeling, too. The worst thing you can do when you’re in the middle of a bootcamp crisis is to shut up about it. You won’t be helping yourself, and you will make it impossible for others to help you.
Thirdly, if a problem really feels insurmountable, stop banging your head against the wall, and take a break instead, going out for a walk or grabbing a snack away from the computer monitor. A cool mind works better than an overheated one, and it will be good for you from a psychological point of view as well. The bootcamp is punishing enough — don’t punish yourself on top of it.
What to expect from week to week
Your experience of the bootcamp will change from week to week. Everyone’s personal ups and downs will be different, of course, but here are a few things most people should account for.
Firstly, and especially for those already with some experience, don’t be taken aback if Week 1 feels quite basic. Starting gently is practically mandatory for a program that is open to beginners. The learning material will get complicated soon enough, don’t you worry.
Secondly, there will very probably be at least one or two chapters of the syllabus which will feel especially obscure and inaccessible to you. You will drift through them while scratching your head and feeling like you aren’t learning anything. That’s ok. Just be patient and take notes — you can come back to that particular chapter when the need arises, including after the bootcamp is over.
Thirdly, at some point you may get paired with or placed in a team with a classmate you don’t especially get along with. Be an adult about it, and make the best of the situation. When you start working you’ll have to deal with much bigger compatibility issues than anything you could encounter in a bootcamp, we promise.
What to expect from your instructor
We already stressed the importance of asking questions, even when you’re worried they may be too basic and might make you look stupid, slow down the rest of the class, etc.
But questions aren’t just important to help you — they are also the primary form of feedback that your instructor has to keep a pulse on you, on the class, on which topics need more or less time, and in general on how things are going.
Of course, questions are not the only form of interaction you have. Offering constructive feedback on your instructor’s teaching methods will not be considered impertinent, but helpful. If you feel your instructor speaks too quickly, or if you would like them to go line by line whenever they explain code, then speak up! Raise the topic and let them know!
Your instructor is not a mind reader, and when teaching remotely through a computer monitor it will be especially hard for them to gauge whether their lessons are effective or not. Keep an open, transparent line of communication with them, and do not be shy.
Don’t just sit there quietly and wait for your instructor to come forward. If you need help, help your instructor provide it.
What to expect from the contents of the bootcamp
Imagine taking a crash course called ‘How To Make A Living By Playing Music’. What sort of things would you study there?
Realistically, you’d learn to play one instrument, delve deep into one genre or two, and pick up a few tricks of the trade to get you started. But only a fool would expect to emerge having mastered music in its infinite forms, possibilities and complexities.
The field of tech may not be as old as that of music, but it is almost as broad. Your bootcamp will have a specialisation, like Web Development or Data Science, but understand that this is the equivalent of saying ‘Jazz music’ or ‘rock music’ — we are talking about deep, expansive categories with very many ‘instruments’ and subgenres, in which even the greatest professionals work within their own set of competences and not as ‘universal masters’.
With this in mind, the contents of a bootcamp will be designed to give you the broadest possible set of tools out of those with the highest potential for immediate professional application(s). The syllabus is therefore a selection, and there will remain very much out there for you to explore when the bootcamp is over.
Understand, too, that even what you do get taught will always act as a springboard, as a starting point — never as a closed chapter or as the end of the line. If you learn about recommender systems, for example, you’ll find out what these are and how to build one. But once you find a job and your company asks you to build a recommender system according to their specifications, you will inevitably have some more learning to do.
This isn’t a limit of the bootcamp format in particular, it’s simply how this field works. A professional guitar player is someone who can work within their range, and not someone who writes music in every musical genre and can play every new song someone throws at them without practice. Exactly the same holds true for a professional software developer.
What to expect if you have a family
If you have a family, it’s really important that you communicate and make appropriate arrangements with them before the bootcamp kicks off. Make it clear to your children that you will not be available during study time (it won’t be obvious them if you’re just sitting at the computer), and to your partner that you will need their support, as this will be a challenging time for you.
If you have a child, your partner may have to do more care-work than usual (depending on how the bootcamp changes your routine), so try and compensate for that in some other way. Make sure that they are ok with all this before you sign up for a bootcamp, and remind them periodically how much you appreciate their support.
For students in part-time programs, who will be due to study when children are typically at home, this may be a good time to call on grandparents for help with childcare (if this is an option).
A bootcamp is an intense, challenging experience. You will need your family’s support, so absolutely make sure you have that.
What to expect after the bootcamp
Make use of your bootcamp’s career services.
This is so important that I am going to say it one more time.
Make use of your bootcamp’s career services!
We occasionally have graduates who get in touch with us and complain that they can’t find a job. Almost every time this happens, we take a look at their CV and it is a complete catastrophe.
You may feel during the bootcamp like you are overwhelmed with things to learn, and that your job application documents are something you can worry about once you’re done learning to code. When it comes to finding a job though, your coding skills will be literally irrelevant if you cannot display them in your application.
Our career services are there to prevent exactly that type of problem, but they can’t offer you unlimited sessions, nor can they keep helping you forever after the bootcamp is over.
So, find the time necessary to draft a cover letter and a CV while the bootcamp is ongoing, present yourself to career services with those documents ready, and take their feedback seriously. This can make the difference between finding a job before the bootcamp is even over, or spending 6 months reading rejection letters.
As for salary expectations, those depend on whether you are a career changer or someone upskilling. For the latter, the bootcamp will be a bonus to your skills, and you should be in a position to negotiate pay that is slightly above average for the industry.
For career changers, as a total newcomer to the tech world with no professional experience, accept that your first job may see you earning slightly below the industry average. Accept it temporarily. That number will go up the moment you move to your second job. It really doesn’t take long to stop being a newcomer.
Conclusion: Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
It should be clear by now that a bootcamp is not a challenging experience simply because of the workload and the complicated contents, but also because of the unpredictable ways that your mind and your personality will react to them.
There are some things you can do to mitigate the difficulties in advance. Make sure you complete the primer before you start, remember the golden rule of always asking questions, and organise a dedicated working space in your home (this video on dealing with pandemic lockdowns also happens to contain probably the best tips on setting up a working station that you will ever find).
But most importantly, accept. Feeling lost, confused, demoralized, inadequate — these are not signs that you made a mistake in taking a bootcamp, they are part of what it means to take a bootcamp. There is another part, of course, which is the reward — the learning, the building, the growing. But you cannot have that one part without the other.
Do not lose your courage, and always reach out when you’re in trouble — to those close to you, to your fellow students, to us. It’s a long road, but you don’t have to walk it alone.