Camila can't go back in time but you can benefit from her advice now
Camila isn't going to tell you it’s always going to be easy; but she can (and will) tell you what she learned through experience in the hopes that you don’t have to, so you can spend more time focusing on laying the foundations for your future in what very well may be the first step of a terrifying, but infinitely limitless, exciting new journey...
I’m Camila, a 25-year-old Brazilian who grew up in the southern English town of Bournemouth. I got my first job at 15 when I started working in a fish and chip shop, partly because I could earn a few quid but mostly because I was allowed to take home all the unsold chips. At the end of my first shift, I took a picture of myself in my oil-stained apron proudly holding up the first £1 I’d ever earned, before putting it on Facebook so everyone could see that I was now an independent woman who paid her own way in the world while earning £5 an hour. From that day, hospitality would become all I would know for 10 years.
Over the years, I gradually made the move away from passing food over a counter and ended up working in specialty coffee as a barista and a supervisor, a job I loved hugely which taught me my first real sense of responsibility. However there was something missing; I’d always wanted to see more of the world, and living the way I was meant I was forever having to come back home to re-make the money I’d spent on my trips. I was sick of seeing the runway at Heathrow Airport coming towards me so often, so I decided I wanted to find a way to work while I traveled. Fuelled by minimal research and maximum frustration, I ended up applying for Le Wagon.
But making a change like this didn’t come without the need for adaptation, and brushing the cobwebs off my largely-neglected cerebrum was only the tip of the iceberg. Not only was a day spent sitting in front of a screen largely new to me, but I also felt that anything I struggled with must’ve been because I was one of the only students in the batch that didn’t come from an office-based background. Subsequently, I resolved that I was at least 5 years behind everyone else and I should publicly proclaim my idiocy and allow myself to be pelted with tomatoes until I learned never to attempt a career change again.
[Cue record scratch sound effect]
That was me 6 months ago. Now, I’m a freelance developer and a TA at Le Wagon, having gone from not being able to cite a single substantial reason for wanting to do the bootcamp in my interview to eventually fully falling in love with coding and all its possibilities. Looking back on the challenges I faced at the beginning, I feel that if I’d had the perspective I have now, it would’ve meant that perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the need to use up my entire lunch hour sprinting up and down the street just to run the anxiety out. I can’t go back and tell myself what I know now, but I can tell you, current or future bootcamper! So here it goes:
1. The challenges aren’t supposed to be easy
This seems obvious to me now; going from printing ‘hello world!’ to building a fully functioning web app in only 9 weeks is a huge feat, so your learning has to progress quickly. Not only that, but the world of coding is infinite, and there’s no more a chance that as a developer you’ll know the solution to everything than there is that you’ll develop the ability to cry tears of fresh lemonade. A huge part of being a developer is knowing how to Google the right questions, use online resources well, and work things out as a team.
I didn’t realize this at all at the time and found myself feeling like I had the IQ of a potato when I wasn’t able to immediately do all of the challenges from start to finish with no help. My confidence took many hits and I often felt like I was incompetent and falling behind. Contrary to reality, I assumed everyone else on the bootcamp was acing each challenge without help, which brings me to my next point…
2. Befriend your fellow bootcampers
This one may come naturally to everyone who decides to do the bootcamp in person, but it can be a little harder for those like myself who were - for the most part, anyway - joining remotely. I don’t consider myself to be someone who struggles to talk to people they don’t know - on the contrary, it was one of my favorite things when I used to serve customers - but these weren’t the face-to-face interactions I was accustomed to, and I was bewildered by having to collaborate with people who were just 2D entities on my screen. I became the ominous person who would keep their camera and sound off until directly addressed, and the lack of chats with my peers was exactly what lead me to assume that they were progressing miles ahead of me each day.
This only changed in week 7 when we were put into teams for our AirBnB clones and final project, and being put in a position where I had no choice but to set my Zoom phobia aside made me realize that it only took about half a conversation for me to feel at ease with someone. Not long after the start of AirBnB week, my team and I ended up staying on a call together after hours drinking beer and talking about life and to say that exponentially changed the scope of the final three weeks would be an understatement. I realized that I could genuinely bond with someone without meeting them in person, and my eyes were opened to the fact that their experiences during the bootcamp had been very similar to mine; they too had suffered imposter syndrome, existential dread, the feeling of floating in an empty void of confusion, and so on.
Having this bond with my teammates made our time working together not only a lot of fun, but I believe it also contributed to the success of our projects. It became more important than ever before to be comfortable asking each other for help, giving honest feedback, and supporting each other during stressful times.
3. To avoid getting overwhelmed, take the time to reverse-engineer your code line by line
But just seconds before my will to ever touch a computer again packed its bags and walked out the door, something in me took a U-turn and I decided to take it from the top, line by line, character by character. I wrote down exactly what was happening on each line and at each stage, using human sentences written in English. To my amazement, upon reaching the last line and looking at what was previously just a keyboard-bashed gibberish mess, I was now able to make sense of everything that was happening at each stage and why.
It has to be said that Le Wagon teachers and TAs have the patience of the Buddha himself and will happily explain things as many times and in as many different ways as needed. But as a student, there may be times where you’ll panic yourself into a mental state that has somewhat similar properties to a scrambled egg, and as a result, you’ll struggle to absorb things. Taking the time to reverse-engineer the code, practically to the point of a very detailed pseudo-code, helped me break things down so I could understand all of the functions and concepts within it rather than only what the code as a whole was achieving. It was also helpful as a knowledge-testing activity on the challenges that I felt comfortable with, and then once again when I revisited them as a fresh bootcamp graduate because it helped me remember the logic involved in the exercise.
During the first week of the bootcamp, you’ll feel like you’re about to be in for the longest journey of your life. Then you go to get a coffee, stretch your legs a little, and you come back to your desk to find that somehow 9 weeks have passed and it’s now demo day; you’re now stood in front of a crowd, pitching the web app you’ve worked so hard on over the last two weeks. Your teammates are fighting back the tears and the city manager is polishing the gold key to your new Silicon Valley office.
The ride’s over before you know it, and I’m not going to sugarcoat things and tell you it’s always going to be easy; but I can tell you what I learned through experience in the hopes that you don’t have to, so you can spend more time focusing on laying the foundations for your future in what very well may be the first step of a terrifying, but infinitely limitless, exciting new journey...