How to Survive the Challenge of a Programming Boot Camp

6 hacks from someone who did it.

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

I was incredibly frustrated as I walked out of the school door that day. We had learned document handling in Java and, for some reason, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t complete one single exercise and the whole day felt like a sign from the universe telling me to quit. I couldn’t handle feeling stupid anymore.

If I wanted to keep up with my class, I needed to spend the evening studying. Except, I couldn’t because I had a friend visiting. As I finished the boot camp that day, I went to meet her. We had a glass of wine while I vented my frustration. Then we went to the thermal bath here in Budapest and enjoyed the hot springs for two hours. In the end, all my stress was gone. The next day I still didn’t know anything about document handling but I was ready to keep going.

This happened in 2018. That summer, I had decided to put 10 years of work in journalism behind me and enrolled in a programming boot camp. It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but also one of the most rewarding ones. Now I work in IT, I’m happy at my job, and I can clearly see that all the hardship was worth it.

It’s easy to have this perspective in hindsight, but while you are going through it, a programming boot camp can be a soul-sucking experience and leave you drained and on the verge of quitting. To overcome this, you can make small adjustments that will help you cope. These are some lessons I learned that can make or break a boot camp experience.


1. Work Hard

You made a commitment to changing your career and this comes at a cost. Unfortunately, hard work is the only thing that will take you to the other side of your dreams. A programming boot camp is a highly demanding experience. You can follow all the other tips on this list, but if you fail to work hard, you will fall short in the end.

This doesn’t mean you need to work 24/7 or spend every waking minute programming. You need some boundaries and a clear distinction between working hours and personal time. But during your working hours, you need to work as hard as possible. No one ever said this was going to be easy.

2. Connect With Your Peers

You are going through a challenging time. But guess what… so are all the other people in the room with you. You are not alone in this. Teamwork is the foundation of a successful boot camp. You will learn from one another and support each other emotionally in ways that other people can’t. Nurture these relationships, and give as much as you take. It’s not a competition, and you will all win if you develop some team spirit. Plus, you can talk about your experiences with friends and family but nobody will understand it quite as well as your colleagues as you are all in the same boat. During the boot camp, my class used to go to the bar together on Friday evenings. We were all exhausted, but we all deserved a drink to celebrate our hard work together during that week.

3. Don’t Neglect Your Health

The oldest guy in my boot camp was in his 40s and woke up at 6 am every other day to go for a run. In the first weeks, I thought he was crazy. All I wanted to do was enjoy one more minute of sleep, to give some rest to my tortured brain. But if all you do is sit on your butt all day staring at a screen while attempting to solve problems, your body will complain. Instead of making the most of your learning time, you will feel tired, sleepy, and sluggish. If you want to be productive during your learning hours, take care of your body and mind during the rest of the time. Do some sports, take up yoga, meditate daily. It will make a hell of a difference!

4. Invest in Your Relationships

It’s tempting to spend all your time focusing on your boot camp and keeping separate from your regular daily habits and relationships. Don’t do this. Completing a programming boot camp is an exhausting experience, both mentally and emotionally. You will need all the support you can get so don’t cut off your friends, family, or partner. Instead, deliberately make room for them.

In my case, I started a new relationship when I started the boot camp. You know how new relationships go, you just can’t get enough of each other. In the beginning, I was worried that the relationship would get in the way of my study. But in hindsight, I see that it was the most important thing helping me to keep going. It pushed me to not procrastinate in my study times, just so I could finish early and enjoy the time with my loved one. Plus, our romantic programs were the balloons of fresh air that I needed to take my mind of programming every now and then.

5. Indulge in Some Work Porn

You are doing a programming boot camp because you want to work in IT. Most likely, this area of work attracts you because most positions come with wonderful perks: high salaries, innovative companies, cool offices, and nice benefits. All that is on the other side of this journey. Once you finish your boot camp and finally get your first job in IT, you will gain access to this wonderful world.

On the days when it gets harder during your journey, indulge in a bit of work porn. Check the stats for the salaries in your area and dream of those big numbers. Browse through the job listings and fantasize about the day when you will qualify for them. This will remind you of why you made this decision, and help you keep your motivation when the days get harder.

6. Don’t Question Your Choices

Stick to them. When things get hard, you will start wondering why on Earth you decided to punish yourself this much. “What were you thinking, you bloody idiot?” Your old, monotonous job was so easy! It never gave you a headache or made you feel like the dumbest person alive. Yet, not one day goes by without the boot camp doing precisely that. After getting beaten day after day for a while, you will want to quit. Don’t.

You made your choice, now there is no going back. If you give up, you will throw away all the sweat and tears that you already shed. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. It’s one day after the other and, before you know it, it will be over. Just keep going.

Takeaway

If you are considering doing a programming boot camp, don’t get discouraged by the hard times it might bring. Nothing worth having comes easily. It is a demanding experience, but it is also a fantastic one! You will learn so many new things in such a short period of time that you will amaze yourself. You will constantly surpass new challenges and realize that you can do anything you set your mind to. And you will grow mentally and emotionally while making an important contribution to advance your career.

It is about the mindset. If you believe you can do it, then you can. Push yourself but never to the point of breaking. If you keep going slowly but steadily, you will land on the moon. Or maybe land a great job in IT, with a big paycheck and awesome perks. It is up to you.

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