Everything Was Ridiculous: Reflections A Year Past DBC
A year ago I graduated the Dev Bootcamp Localhost program - a pilot version brought to my city to test an asynchronous, remote approach to their bootcamp experience. It was a non-traditional course by a non-traditional education program meant for non-traditional students, and as ridiculous as that description is, the reality was even more so. Here is my best attempt to reflect on that experience and the year following.
Bootcamps Are Ridiculous
Dev Bootcamp is very different from traditional education courses. They pioneered short-term immersive web development bootcamps where the idea is that anyone can be taught to program in under months. They have a fairly decent description of the phases and what happens in the Daily Life of a DBC student.
- 9 weeks self-study at 25-30 hours/week
- Then, quit your job and move to Chicago
- 9 weeks on-site at 8-12 hours/**day**
- Even weekends, because projects
- Partnered with different classmates every day
- Umpteen assignments every day
- Assessments every 3 weeks so see if you continue on
- Engineering Empathy once a week, which is an amazing program teaching the basics of self-knowledge and empathy
- Final projects
- 8 days to design, code, and launch a novel application
- Presented to your cohort and teachers
- Presented to hiring managers of local tech companies (screams)
- 1 week career search guidance. which is the best career advice you'll ever get, ever
- Typical bootcamp tuitions cost in the $12,000-$15,000 range
- Whole Self
- Basically, your complete attention; no social networks, no cellphones, no friend or family time, no weekends or holidays (except one or two)
- Be a decent person
- on time
- asking for help
- giving feedback
- responding to others for help
- completing every assignment*
- "Kindness does not mean 'nice'"
- Nice: kind, polite, and friendly
- Kind: wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others
- It's the same thing. But starting with a K gives them a nice acronym to follow for giving feedback: ASK
- What they actually mean is honest feedback in a kind manner, which is sometimes hard for people to do (and ASHK isn't as catchy).
- Whole Self
I Am Ridiculous
Ask anyone, really. As a social ambivert (ridiculous term), I adore the stimulation of getting involved and interacting with people. I also then hate people and need at least a week to recover the energy they stole from me.
As a woman who has lived through some ridiculous shit, I also get to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, among a potluck of other related head things. Sometimes, I would have anxiety attacks. They started a decade ago at this job I did with the science research and the biological hazards. No more than 20-30 minutes, some shaky baking and rough breathing. But, present.
- Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
- Worrying about excessively worrying
- Muscle tension/aches
- Being easily startled
- Trouble sleeping
Worrying about excessively worrying My favorite symptom of anxiety
So, why do it?
Many people thought I was making a ridiculous move. Most DBC students come from a non-programming background with little-to-no dev experience. I already had a well-paying front-end development position; it didn’t have great job security or benefits, but I was on a good team and my work was highly visible.
- I felt stagnant in my skillset
- I wanted to learn a "real" programming language
- Not those fake languages like HTML, CSS, JS (sarcasm)
- Coming at development by going through design first, rather than computer science, I always felt that I was missing key concepts (I was right)
- Many good friends are Ruby developers, and I was curious
- Learning a back-end language could greatly increase my employability and salary
- I was really tired of contracting and the life that goes with it: always being treated as separate, never benefitting from the company perks when my peers did, never having the certainty my contract would be renewed
- A great-sounding program came along with the right goals and the right timing and the right price
TL;DR: Apparently I do ridiculous things to push myself to be better.
DBC Localhost Was Ridiculous
Dev Bootcamp was piloting a program aimed towards providing a lower-cost, primarily online experience to a wider student base.
- Exact same curriculum and schedule as on-site
- Technical instruction delivered mostly online from remote DBC teachers
- Syncronous (In-person) elements including
- In-person class days 2 times a week, for Yoga, Engineering Empathy, and co-working
- Local class instructor to provide support and community building
- Google Hangout sessions with teachers and students for pairing
- Required hours for pairing in person drastically reduced
I was ridiculously excited about this program for a few reasons.
- It would be right here in Columbus
- It would be taught by some of the coolest experts in Ruby
- It would be only $500
- It used words like "asynchronous" and "remote"
- Basically sounded like the AJAX version of programming bootcamp
This program, I thought, would let me somewhat manage my pace
- to avoid exhaustion (see: fatigue under GAD)
- to control or lower distractions in my environment (see: I didn’t mention ADHD before but I have that)
- to keep up my energy levels by balancing extraversion/introversion interactions
And I was just plain excited about a program that could increase the diversity of people learning to program. People like introverts, like parents, like the physically handicapped, like the mentally disordered. People who could be really great engineers if they could only be given some sort of accommodation and the chance to learn.
People who could be really great engineers if they could only be given some sort of accommodation Me, I am wise
Reality Fails Expectation: Hilarity Ensues
I cannot possibly write about the actual experience my cohort and I had in a way that would convey the reality with justice.
- There was a significant disconnect between the program description and the program expectations. From Day 1 of the intensive, the program attempted to shift back to traditional DBC, tossing out the asynchronous and self-directed remote bits.
- There were massive technical issues with Hangouts, conference calls, video chat, shared collaboration spaces, and even GitHub itself going down. This cost us hours of lost time under an unchanging schedule.
- The instructors didn’t have the tools and support needed to adjust.
- we were expected to be in-person full-time, just like real DBC students, losing any chance at managing environment, pace, or exposure
- we were asked to leave the co-working space we had reserved for being too disruptive (natural when they expected some of us some of the time, and got all of us all of the time)
- we held class sessions in our living rooms until we could find a new co-working space (generously provided by CoverMyMeds)
- the second pilot to follow ours was pulled, leaving us with no option to repeat phases, and leaving local students who had already enrolled without a program to attend
- we had no Yoga to help balance anything (such upsetting)
- we bought our Sea Lion mascot a shopping cart to honor our days of homelessness
- we called ourselves the Sea Lionos to inject some humor and fun into it all
- they wrote a blog post about us
We gave feedback, and some allowances were made. We ran into new roadblocks. We made each other laugh to chase away the stress, and we broke the rules when we needed so that we could keep going.
These adventures pushed my peers, my teachers, and myself further and further beyond what we could have ever planned for. The physical and emotional toll on everyone involved exceeded many of our capacities to cope. Some of us were alright; mostly the men who were young and single and well-adjusted. But not everyone had the tools to meet their needs. Not everyone held up okay. Not everyone moved on.
It Was Entirely Ridiculous
The thing about saying you had a ridiculous experience at Dev Bootcamp is that bootcamps in general are ridiculous. Everyone already says things like “It pushed us past our limits” and “We got through because of persistence.” And they’re right. But I don’t have the language to convey that our experience was
ridiculous^3 and not have people disbelieve. There isn’t a simple way to say, “Yes, Dev Bootcamp is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and Localhost made it harder than that.”
By the last two weeks of the program, my new friend Panic Disorder joined the head party. My anxiety attacks took on brand-new and terrifying aspects, which left me in a shuddery puddle in the corner of our couch. I was so far into my panic zone that it entered me.
- I kept hoping that with some time off over the summer it would get better.
- I kept hoping that after the holidays, it would get better.
- I kept hoping that my doctor would have a magical solution and it would get better.
- We tried several things, and the hard part about things like anxiety disorders is that each thing you try takes weeks or months to see if it works.
- There is no magic.
So what do you do? Throw up your hands in a shrug and set about your job search. Struggle to explain why you would quit your development job to attend a development course. Job hunting on it’s own is hard, and I was both shy and having panic attacks. I wasn’t “selling myself” properly, and it took a ridiculous number of interviews to get it right.
People asked things like “Well if she had experience, why did she go to bootcamp?” and “How experienced could she be if she went to bootcamp?” and “We would likely offer you an entry-level position with our college grads at a salary much less than you made a decade ago.”
Was It Worth It?
Eventually, I found that perfect job fit. The culture, position, team, and industry just all fell together. I was the last one of my cohort to find a job after graduation, per interview fails on my end. Once I began talking about DBC as a continuing-education move, not a just-getting-into-the-game move, interviewers began responding more positively and with more confidence in my skills. I found a great place to work that matched up all of my newly identified wants in a good position fit. And that was good.
Eventually, my doctor and I found something that helped the panic attacks, and I’m on a slow path out of the panic zone. I think that in the future, when my anxiety is fully managed and my career and life are only benefiting from this experience, it will have been worth it. I now think of myself as a programmer, as an engineer. I am immeasurably better at my job thanks to a deeper understanding of the workings behind it.
I think that out of this ridiculous time in my life, I have learned confidence in my coping abilities, my perseverance, my ability to adapt. And I sure as hell learned to program, and I sure as hell plan to make beautiful and meaningful things.