Why do a Bootcamp? (or, “Why am I here again?”)

My friend and co-Yarder Bharvi pointed out we’re basically at the end of our first quarter today. We have nine weeks left, which is exciting and a little terrifying at the same time. In nine weeks I’ll be presenting a project I’ve imagined and created to a group of my fellow students, our teachers, local business people and developers.

Today we’re working on a front-end project for our lab, making a website that looks exactly like a .png (picture) file we’ve been given. We’re learning this now so that when we present or even when we create our portfolio sites, we’re able to show them off in the best way as well. In my work life even before the Iron Yard, I’ve learned that it’s important to know what you’re doing, but especially when you’re dealing with people outside of your expertise, it’s really important to look like you know what you’re doing, too.

Today also feels like a natural time to reflect and to remind myself why I’m here and why I chose to do this program. Especially when you leave the manicured path of traditional higher education, it’s easy to ask why do a bootcamp at all? Why not just learn on your own to acquire these skills and build your own portfolio site, etc.?

I definitely tried that path for about a year leading up to this and didn’t get very far. You spend a lot of time blaming yourself for not having the commitment, etc., but at some point you have to really evaluate the methods you’re using as critically as you evaluate yourself. I needed a better tool to accomplish the goal I had set for myself, plain and simple.

Jesse showed us this picture yesterday and it really is the perfect example of what most online tutorials and “learn to code” websites feel like. There’s always seems to be a step (or a thousand steps!) missing and at some point you just need to talk it out with a real live human. You also need some people in the trenches with you because sometimes you don’t even know what question to ask.

You also need the encouragement that comes from a group of like-minded people with the same goals moving in the same direction. Basically, you need to find your tribe. It’s really interesting that most of the people in our Rails class really just want to build things. Our current lab is teaching us to make those things we build look awesome, but the default setting for most of us really seems to be more pragmatic than aesthetic.

It’s just so great to be around people who “get it” and you feel way less nuts for putting your life on hold for three months to create a totally new life. I’m always trying to keep these short, so I’ll keep returning to certain themes, but all I can say is that I wish everyone had the joy of sitting around with a small group of people all facing the same direction who actually want to “do” something. I’ve been a lot of settings where people all face the same direction and want to talk about doing things, or people who want to do things but are all facing different directions. If you can hit this Goldilocks “just right” situation it really is the greatest.

OK, back to my lab/ruby/html/css/bourbon(the program)/bourbon(the drink)!

Hijacked by Blackjack! (and other Yarder stuff)

This weekend was filled with our second lab (with a little time for football Saturday, of course). I kept hacking away at it from so many different angles and still got it to maybe 85% done. My lack of prior coding experience shows up every now and then in these situations where there’s one or two pieces of the puzzle I’m still missing to put it all together.

On the one hand, if I would have given myself too much time to think about completely uprooting my life and striking out in a new direction I probably wouldn’t have done it. With that said, I could probably given myself a couple of extra weeks haha. I’ve used this analogy a couple of times recently, but I feel like I’m in the fourth grade and kindergarten simultaneously. Some times, I’m right on target and can jump right in. Other times… not so much.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 3.27.49 PM

This afternoon/evening I’ll be working on this, my blackjack lab assignment and also building a website. Everybody made one yesterday, so this will give us experience with alternate ways of building. Yep, in the Iron Yard, you learn to just make a website in a few minutes from your terminal using Middleman and with a few different programs like Bourbon. It’s kind of bad-ass. I’m not bad-ass at it, just yet, but the actual process is pretty bad-ass.

BlackJack

The lab for this week is to create a simplified blackjack game. It’s really been helpful this week to write things down in my notebook as well as type them out. I’m just old school (or just old) enough to where I need that tactile interaction for information to lodge itself into my brain.

It’s such an interesting exercise to build on my previous post about the way computers think. Luckily, this will be a very simplified math exercise, but how do you teach your computer to recognize that a king of hearts is worth 10 points? How will it know that closest to 21 is the goal? How do you play against the dealer and how will the computer know when to stop?

Even what I’m writing is way too general for my computer to understand. I’m quickly integrating the thought of how stupid my computer is and hopefully I’ll be able to explain a lot of the things it does without resorting straight to, “I don’t know. It’s magic.” I mean, eventually that will explain some of it, but it just won’t be the first thing I say.

A couple of the students weren’t familiar with blackjack, so it was really helpful to me to explain the game to them step by step and in doing so, begin to figure out how to categorize each class and start creating my blocks to put this game together. I think it will still take me a while (apparently we have the weekend to finish it if we need it), so I took a few minutes to grab my old laptop back from the Apple store and check that it was working fine. It seems like it is, so I wiped the hard drive so I can pass it along to the family I’m staying with or sell it if they don’t want it.

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I went to a little pub with free wifi called Onion Creek. It’s still hot, but not Louisiana hot, so I sat outside and read over some ruby resources to help get the bigger picture. I remembered that if you add .to_i to a string with words and numbers, it will turn only the numbers into integers. I know that just sounded like a foreign language and I guess it kind of is, but I was proud to have remembered it and it may turn out to be helpful for my blackjack game, so I’m celebrating!

On the way home I scouted out the local Park and Ride station to see how easy it would be to take the bus down. I may give it a try in the morning. Apparently the bus system for downtown is great, so as long as I don’t miss the last bus back it should turn a pretty brutal commute to an hour or so of reading and making sure I understand the previous day’s/week’s material.

So, I’ll file this post under “all over the place” haha. But this is the time scheduled today to blog so I blogged. Consistency! Discipline! Huzzah! ūüėČ

Day 7: Checking In

It’s day 7 total, and day 2 with our full-time instructor Jesse. He’s moving pretty quickly, but I feel like I’m getting it. He’s also more of a “lecturer” so I find myself taking a lot more physical notes than last week. Last week JB would kind of go step-by-step in the text editor where Jesse seems to be focusing more on us getting the big concepts and he’ll push the code/notes he’s writing up to GitHub online so we can review.

I am getting into a rhythm of lecture/homework/read about ruby and bigger coding concepts. I had a little bit of prep here and there, but it still feels like I came in with zero experience. I read a few former bootcamper blogs before I started the program and a common theme is how you have to relearn how to learn, and really even how to think.

Computers are actually dumb. As the rule goes: “They only do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.” I’m finding probably my biggest issue right now is in making intuitive leaps that my computer can’t follow. I’m also the worst about reading implied instructions in our homework assignments that aren’t really there.

I love a good conversation. I love nuance and clarification and addendum. My computer does not. It just wants me to boil down each step into its most basic component.

My homework also is usually asking me to reflect that I understood the concepts of the day and can restate them. They’re usually not asking me to pull something completely out of my butt and create methods and arrays I would have no way of creating. This is just a good reminder for me to slow down every now and again, even with the frantic pace of the course, and focus on what’s right in front of me. I’m usually more of a “big picture” person, so this is a little against the grain, but why else am I here if not to learn new SKILLS???

Why???

At first this pic was just an example of my weird sense of humor when I was trying to think about a visual representation of “Why???”, but I’m guessing in a few weeks it will pretty closely reflect my emotions about taking this class haha.

I wanted to write about why I decided to take the leap in quitting my job, moving to Houston, and joining¬†The Iron Yard¬†to learn web development. I wish I could say I was drawn to Ruby and webdev out of my sense of pure creativity and “following my bliss.” Now that I’m here, I’m loving the chance to build things and even the smallest satisfaction of making the easiest method work is a totally addicting feeling.

But I had a few thousand reasons to be on the lookout for a new career in the form of my student loans. I stand before you as a cautionary tale for the way contemporary higher education works. My BA is in History and my MA is in Cross-cultural Studies, and although I loved the information and even wisdom I amassed getting those degrees, I was putting myself on an unsustainable path when it came to student loans.

I plead ignorance mixed with hubris in this case. Last week on one of the NFL pregame shows the comment was made that the three deadliest words for any team to say are, “We Got This!” I don’t know that I had exactly that kind of misguided pride going into my MA degree, but I was certain that higher education would look great on my resume, no matter what I wanted to do.

It doesn’t. My first goal was to teach at the collegiate level. Basically everything about me indicates I should have a tweed jacket and pipe within arm’s reach at all times. But when circumstances intervened and I couldn’t transition immediately from my MA to a PhD, the train broke down. I found myself looking for jobs in “the real world” where it isn’t degrees or “education”, but skills everyone cares about.

I got a job as an accountant at a college-focused apartment complex because I’m good with numbers, but found that the job was mostly arguing with parents trying to put their kids through school in the middle of an economic downturn. This was a bit of shock because when I went to college, my parents would have given me a blank stare or lol’d (that wasn’t a thing in the 90s) if I told them the mean apartment management was demanding I actually pay rent this month.

And in all of this, I was still nowhere near paying off my loans.

I toyed with going back to school, but after doing the actual math of what an English/History/etc professor would make starting out became a little depressed. I was already making more at the apartments. There was a little hazy period following this, but eventually I ended up as an Account Executive at a local Louisiana bank working with companies to extend daily funding based on their receivables. Sounds pretty snazzy, right?

It was a good job and really helped stabilize me financially, but I was still nowhere near paying off my loans.

I will talk a lot in the next few weeks about how much I love what I’m doing. I have only been at this a week, but I love all the learning and problem solving we’re doing. There’s a real “blue collar” ethos to back-end engineering that I really love as well. I want to build things and I want them to work well and be as stable as any physical structure you would set foot in.

I want people who read this to be encouraged and not bummed out, but I also want to share this part of my journey because I know so many people who have (or soon will have) the debt burdens of your average surgeon without the SKILLS to ever actually get out of that hole. I want to tell everyone to “Do what makes you happy,” but I think people misunderstand that phrase all too easily.

I would amend “Do what makes you happy,” to “Find a job you can use as a tool to create happiness and satisfaction in your life.” I’m pretty sure nothing will feel better than the freedom of having no more debt, or even just knowing that I can eventually pay it off. In Web Development, I’ve found a job where I can literally solve puzzles all day. Not only that, I can hone those puzzles over and over until they are the most elegant and pure expression of what I want to express.

This makes me incredibly happy, and that feeling will push me through some valleys to come. But the knowledge that I’m acquiring skills that are transferrable and marketable will push me through even more. So this is what I’m pursuing, not just a new job (I’ve had plenty of those), but a new life. As someone very smart once said, “To find yourself at the very end and finally BEGIN, not just begin again.” (I think that’s loosely from Nietzsche, but it might have been on that NFL pregame show, too.)

But How Will I Know Where the “Ritzy” Neighborhoods Are?

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As if I hadn’t given myself enough to do, a¬†lot of this week has been devoted to finding my way around Houston. It’s actually growing on me. Everyone I’ve met so far has been pretty laid back and helpful. There is definitely a level of wealth here that is a little crazy, though, too. The three-story Restoration Hardware¬†may be a bit much, but hey, who am I to judge?

I’m definitely not putting the cart before the horse, but there don’t seem to be a ton of Ruby-related jobs in Baton Rouge or even New Orleans. I could be wrong, but that’s what some cursory job-hunting has told me. So, I’m thinking long and hard about Houston, not just for the next three months, but possibly the next few years as well. I’m not tied down to any particular region/city, either, so I’ll go wherever I can get a job.

I’ve already found a great coffee shop for when I need a change of scenery and the promise of Torchy’s Tacos made the move to Houston all that more enticing. Who knows where I’ll end up? It’ll be interesting to see what happens for sure, but if I end up in Houston for little while, that’ll be alright with me.

Still in the weeds

Well, I’m less in the weeds, but still in them for sure. It’s about 9:30 pm and I’m about to turn in, which is rare for me. We’re learning classes and setting up methods within those classes, and I am stuck on one last piece of the puzzle. Today was another day of dealing with life-logistics, too.

My MacBook Air has been freezing for a while and after a visit to the Apple Store it turns out there’s something actually wrong with it. They’ll fix it for free, but it will be gone for a week, which is not really an option. But it’s also not an option to have a machine that keeps freezing. So, I dipped into my emergency fund and got a new laptop.

Most of my afternoon/evening was spent resetting everything up in Git and making sure everything was downloaded to the new computer and any personal information was off of the old computer. I got confused with some wording on the homework and just figured out I was working on the wrong issue. I think I’m going to talk to my pillow about this and go in early tomorrow to grind this out.

Wax On Wax Off pt1

I named this post “pt1” because I think I’ll come back to this concept a LOT. JB gave us the illustration on the first day and I definitely feel like tiny Ralph Macchio discovering the power was in his ability to slavishly do what he was told all along. Kind of like magic things started clicking together in my brain today. I know I made this point yesterday, but time really does feel accelerated and Monday seems like a distant memory.

Our homework tonight was basically to repeat last night’s homework, but without referring to previous work, notating almost every line to illustrate we understand what we’re doing, and also pushing it out to¬†Git¬†from the command line. A few days ago, I would have felt like that’s something I would have to do carefully for fear of completely destroying my computer in the process. For people without hacking backgrounds, the terminal can feel like you’re off the edge of the map, expecting to see that “Here There Be Dragons” sign at any moment.

I definitely had to look in my notes from the past two days for tonight’s homework, but mainly because I didn’t completely get it last night. I finally had to just pack it up last night so I could go back to Cypress (where I’m staying for the next few months and NOT close to downtown Houston) so I could make a WalMart run and just take care of the logistics of moving your life one state over with 2 1/2 weeks’ notice. Maybe Saturday I’ll talk more about the move and the why behind it all.

But for tonight, it was wax on, wax off. Repetition is breeding recognition and comprehension is slowly creeping in as well. Again, I say “slowly” but it’s only day THREE! I guess that’s just how I feel right now, like I’ve been slogging through these concepts for a while, when in reality I’ve just dipped my pinky toe in the ruby water.

puts Hello World

Just wanted to do a quick recap of the first day (yesterday). First of all, “yesterday” definitely feels more like “last week.” I usually skip to the part where people are talking about job hunting towards the end of their webdev bootcamp/cohort/squadron/etc. experience, so I’m not sure if this is common or not. And it probably has more to do with what we went over today than it does what we covered yesterday.

Yesterday was a little grueling. My coding muscles are being shocked into response this week already. I’ve spent the last few weeks focused on making sure I would have funding to come and a place to stay once I moved here to Houston from Baton Rouge. After a great talk about the importance of blogging (Meta!) and setting the paths for ourselves before someone else does it for us, we jumped straight in to Ruby. And I won’t lie, to begin with I was a little lost.

Luckily my neighbors and JB, our rock-star first week instructor, were willing to jump in when I had questions. But it had been so long since I’d even opened the terminal in my computer that I had to start at, “OK, so it’s cd ruby, then mkdir, right? I just closed my terminal, how do I run the code I’m putting in Atom again?” I didn’t really have time to jump on the prework I got last week and I think it showed day one for sure.

Although I’ve done some online coding classes, it was always hit or miss trying to complete projects without feeling like I just kind of in a void out by myself. There are always online coaching options and forums, but nothing beats having the ability to ¬†raise your hand and say, “Wait, why did you do that?” or even just, “Help!” Which is 100% why I chose to do the Iron Yard over those online-only classes and honestly why I chose them over some other boot camps.

Maybe it’s because we’re in the South? Maybe it’s just a group of really awesome people all found each other, but I left that first day feeling a little lost and lot encouraged. I came in this morning and ironed out what I had done wrong on the homework from yesterday and then jumped right into another three hours of intermittently getting it and being lost in the weeds. Tonight I’m going back through some of the prewor, as well as hitting up¬†Try Ruby¬†as a great intro JB recommended before finishing up the last bit of my homework for tonight. I think it will help to see a little bit of Ruby from the high dive before I leap back in.