I originally posted this on my Flatiron blog on November 29, 2019. But I wanted to share my experience with others. So here it is:
373 days, that’s how long it’s been since I was accepted to The Flatiron School and began my life long journey of learning to code. At the time, I understood it would change my life, but I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of change. But before I get to my experience of the past year, a little backstory/introduction.
I discovered coding first in college after spending a couple of years searching for what I wanted to pursue. I fell in love with code and graduated with an Associates in Computer Science. After graduating, I found an internship at an IT consulting firm, which unfortunately didn’t involve much coding. Long story short, life has a way of changing our plans, and I ended up spending 7 1/2 years there.
Two kids and a few gray hairs later, I found myself missing coding more than ever. I fell in love with the whole process: creating and debugging code, diving deep to find the real “bug”, and even that headbanging feeling when you just can’t figure out what’s going wrong. Enter ‘The Flatiron School’.
I spent a couple of months researching different boot camps. The on-campus boot camps were either too far away or a bit too late to make it to every week, so I focused on online programs. As I narrowed it down further and further, it began to feel a little like pulling a random name out of a hat. They all seemed terrific, graduates were happy for the most part, and employment rates were relatively high. Ultimately, it was The Flatiron School that won out for me. But it wasn’t until I thought about what I wanted to get out of a program and what I enjoyed doing, that I decided.
The Flatiron School is big on community and support. Of course, every school says the same thing about the importance of both. But Flatiron talks the talk and walks the walk. They not only give you a support group in the form of an educational coach, cohort lead, and a cohort of like-minded learners; they also teach you how to make your own community going forward. Sounds too good to be true, right? Exactly what I thought as I decided to take the plunge. Happily, I discovered it is quite real.
With all the forms of support intertwined, it’s difficult knowing where to start. So let’s begin with the educational coach, the person I didn’t realize I would need as much assistance from as I did. She introduced herself by explaining the difference between an educational coach and a therapist. On your journey, there will be ‘potholes’, an educational coach will help you navigate around them and get you back on the path, while a therapist will stop for a while and help you dive right into the hole. Turns out, when you’re on an accelerated learning path of dealing with complex ideas, this is incredibly useful and precisely what you need.
About halfway through the program, I was finishing up with my second project and decided to venture out to the local tech/coding group meetup. I was terrified. I consider myself a social introvert. I love interacting and working with people, but a roomful of strangers is a little daunting. My coach told me exactly what I needed to hear. Not just the usual ‘You’ll be fine. Push through it. You’re worth it!’ Sort of thing. She gave me specific, actionable advice. She taught me how to manage my anxiety, get my feet wet without throwing myself in the ocean, and how to push past my comfort zone while remaining calm. After I successfully survived the meetup, it was much easier when it came to Codeland 2019 and a couple of other conferences this past year.
Comrades in Arms
Which brings me to the next part of community and support, your classmates. During the Flatiron program, it can feel very intense and overwhelming. While having loved ones to support and assist you through all of this is imperative; no-one understands quite like other Flatironers. My cohort quickly became an immense help in not only the technical support side of things, but making me feel like I wasn’t alone in all of the stress, worry, and of course the dreaded imposter syndrome (Which knocked me down a few times). They’re always there to lend a helping hand when they can, or to remind us all that we’re still very much students and don’t know everything!
So when Codeland Conf 2019 time came around (Which by the way is one of the most amazing experiences, even if you’re not a beginner), I took the plunge into the great unknown of going to a conference by myself gasp . I ended up having the time of my coding life! I met up with other Flatiron students, both past and present. We all seem to unspeakably understand one another’s trials and found a little piece of ourselves in each other. Even after the conference, they were (and are) one of the essential points of coding community and support.
My last major point of community and support was anything but the least. Every cohort is given a cohort lead, which is a little bit deceiving of a title; at least I thought it was. I thought they would be strictly leading the way by lessons, giving pointers here and there. But she was so much more. Flatiron has spent a significant amount of time on both their program material and fostering supportive cohort leads.
Our lead taught us not only extra bits of material each week, she also taught us how to learn, how to dig into the problem and find the solution, how to push through failure, how to believe in ourselves without second-guessing (this one was big for me), and how to enjoy the process without becoming overwhelmed. She was very subtle about it all too. I slowly found myself internalizing all her lessons beyond the technical aspect and found myself becoming a better problem solver, which in turn made me a better coder and code partner. She especially had a talent for asking the right question to make you work your way to the answer, not give you the answer, even in the most ‘stuck’ situations. She’s a big reason I didn’t throw my code out and give up. Instead, she empowered me to keep moving and give my best’ till the end.
I can easily make blog posts for each point I spoke about, and I’m sure other boot camps have similar aspects. But I can only speak of my experience. I feel like I made the right choice in the end and didn’t regret a moment of it. Flatiron is so much more than a school or boot camp, it’s a family. This family takes care of each other; whether they’re separated by years or countries, they’re always there for each other when they can be.
To me, that is what made this experience truly special, successful, and well worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears I gave to it. I’m going to miss every single person who has changed my life so drastically this past year. I can’t thank everyone enough. They have all contributed to the mindset I now have of breaking problems apart, starting with what I know, and solving the problem step by step. Career coaching (via the Flatiron program) and job hunting here I come!