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Girl on Rails: How coding bootcamp develops more than just applications

“You’d be good at it. Seriously, anyone can learn how to code if they take the time to do it,” my brother said over the phone, the sound of traffic and birds in the background. He was calling me from San Francisco, where he was nestled deeply into the start up scene. After he and one of his buddies from bootcamp in Boston had toiled endlessly to build their business, they had taken the leap to migrate out west and hit the ground running.

A few months after I had quit my corporate job, my brother had started talking to me about learning coding languages and sending me links to Code Academy.

It took months for me to believe what he had said during our phone call and enroll in Tech Talent South’s Code Immersion program. I didn’t think I could do it, and felt like I had a pretty good list of reasons why not: I’m not a “math person,” I have an artist’s brain, I have no experience in coding.

I have always loved technology, but after 6 years in a high-stress and extremely challenging career with a software company after college, I felt burnt out and resentful towards tech. While with the company, I had some exposure to programming with Cobol and Java, but prior to starting bootcamp, I had never built a program in my life.

As 2015 came to a close and a new year was approaching, I established that my resolution was to work through those negative feelings and try new things that encouraged personal growth and development. After all that time thinking about it, I took the leap and applied for the Winter 2016 Code Immersion cohort that began in January 2016.

I came to Tech Talent South with a positive mindset and considered myself a blank slate. I was determined to do well, but I had no idea what a big transformation I had agreed to undergo.

Weeks later, after taking my brother’s advice to enroll in the program, I found myself sitting in my car after class, texting him about how I was crazy for listening to him. Why? Because it takes so much more than just time to learn how to code.

Learning to code is an entire process unto itself; a series of small transformations and lessons that add up and evolve into something big and powerful - something life-changing and expansive.

With only 2 weeks left in the program, I have learned so much more than HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ruby on Rails, and the components of a functional program.

It’s about shedding any fear of speaking up when I need help understanding something - even if it means asking our (super patient) teacher to explain the same concept five different times in five different ways and asking him to draw the whole thing out… five times.

To try something, even when my last 20 attempts were unsuccessful and all it seemed like I could do right was create a new series of errors. To keep trying to figure things out even when I felt like closing my laptop, marching outside, and backing over it with my car.

That it’s ok to get something wrong the first time, or even the first 10 times. In fact, it’s a necessary part of the learning process. Sitting and staring at an error message will not make your website cute, but trying a different line of code just might.

To let go of perfectionism and be resilient, to persevere, and to be vulnerable.

To go with the flow and trust the process. Some days I left class feeling like I could build anything imaginable, only to find myself in frustrated tears hours later while working on homework. Trusting that there really is a reason I am here - in this cohort, with this exact group of people, with this teacher, and with this school.

These things aren’t glitches; they’re part of my journey.

Still, despite those heavy days where I felt like giving up, I woke up the next morning as the sun rose and drove myself downtown for class, ready to try again.

Along the way, gradually things began to click here and there. I made notes to myself when things went right to keep me feeling motivated. While looking back on my notes recently, I found a small message I had left for myself during our lesson about Methods in Ruby:

“Monday 1/25/16 at 8:39am: Week 3, Methods - first time I got a program to work on my own, very first try. It was not the correct code or answer, but still, it worked. That’s a big deal. Keep going!”

That feeling of getting something to work became downright addicting and helped me keep pushing, reading, Googling, and absorbing every new lesson. It was a lot to take in, but I was doing it, and that was a big deal.

On a human level, the bonds formed with classmates in a bootcamp setting are unique. There’s a certain type of intimacy that forms very quickly when you find yourself making mistakes and asking questions in front of people you hardly know… all before 9am.

One of the most fascinating things I witnessed as we all worked together was that even when we were having tough moments, we supported one another with funny gifs, words of encouragement, advice for working through the issue, or just plain listening when we needed to vent. Everyone’s input was considered valuable to the progress of the group. We were all in this together and no one was allowed to be left behind. We came from diverse backgrounds and various career fields, but in class, we had one major thing in common: learning how to speak Ruby on Rails.

Along the way I learned lessons about creating balance, having vision, working in harmony with others, trust, adaptability, cooperation, and faith in transformation. The whole time reminding myself and others that everything will turn out for the best in the long-term.

Weeks after I left myself the little note about my first program, I find myself working on stylizing a functional Twitter app clone like it’s no big deal (well, it kind of is). I admit I still have moments where my laptop may be in jeopardy of me going full monster-truck on it, but I find peace in knowing I have come this far. With the support, direction, and tool kit I have gained, I know I have a solid baseline for continuing my adventure into coding languages long after bootcamp ends.

Growth is a beautiful thing. It isn’t aways easy or even fun at the time, but looking back on where we started and where we are now is nothing short of amazing.

Wherever you are in your life right now, if you are thinking about taking a leap into learning to code: do it. Just go for it. You’ll learn so much more than coding.

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