It wasn’t easy, and the master’s is still in progress, but in the end, it was totally worth it and surprisingly fun! Here’s the story of why I started learning to code while pursuing a postgraduate degree, and my impressions of these two very different educational experiences.
Doing it all at once: how it happened
Not too long ago, I moved to Canada from Brazil and started living and working in the French-speaking province of Quebec.
"Realizing my French needed some improvement, I decided to enroll in a French-language master’s program in Communications, my field. While working on my thesis, I stumbled upon a coding bootcamp called Le Wagon and fell in love with its mission."
One thing led to another and I soon started working Le Wagon part-time. While I didn’t know how to code, it was something I had always wanted to learn. Working at the bootcamp was always interesting, and soon, we’d be launching a new part-time coding program in Montréal. That’s when I saw an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Luckily, my team fully supported me — thank you, team! — and before long, I was learning to code while working at Le Wagon and also doing my master’s. It’s not what I had planned, but I took the chance and I’m glad I did. I finished the bootcamp in April and I’m currently adding the finishing touches to my thesis. To be honest, the social distancing measures we’ve had to follow because of the COVID pandemic actually helped me deliver more in both programs.
While doing my master’s, I learned to be critical of everything. Understanding each author’s work demanded extensive research about his or her influences and standpoints. I found myself going back and forth through bodies of work just to quote a single person. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how important and valuable this work is, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn a lot from it, but it also takes a lot of time. Sometimes, the process was so time consuming that I worried my thesis topic would get old before I could finish. It didn’t, and today, I’m proud to see the results of my patience and attention to detail.
Meanwhile, at the coding bootcamp, it was a different story altogether. The goal there is to accelerate tech education with hands-on practice and an emphasis on finding creative solutions to problems. This makes a lot of sense for launching tech products. The bootcamp gave us access to all the resources and tools we could ask for, and guided us through challenges that were built to expose us to new concepts every day. You couldn’t get bored, there just wasn’t enough time! In the end, I was impressed that we were able to create an entire web application in just 3 weeks working part-time, two nights a week and Saturdays. I’ve never felt so satisfied and like I learned so much in such a short period of time!
My coding bootcamp experience was a collaborative one. Collaboration might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine a group of people coding, but at Le Wagon, it is. Teachers are always available to unblock you when you’re stuck, and you can count on your buddies for help solving challenges. The more you collaborate, the better, because you learn a lot from your interactions with classmates and teachers. There’s a lot of value in understanding someone else’s process and seeing different approaches to the same problem. Group projects were the best part of the program. We put into practice everything we had learned and flexed our project management muscles.
"My coding bootcamp experience was a collaborative one. Collaboration might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine a group of people coding, but at Le Wagon, it is. Teachers are always available to unblock you when you’re stuck, and you can count on your buddies for help solving challenges."
I also had the opportunity to collaborate with great people in my master’s program, but I noticed a huge difference. My director, a francophone colleague, and a PhD student researching a similar topic all generously shared their time and experience helping me through my journey. These exchanges went deep, but they happened with fewer and more specialized people; unlike with coding, I didn’t have the chance to collaborate with most of my other classmates.
Embracing difficulties and mistakes
We learned to embrace bugs at the bootcamp. When they happened, we dealt with them and moved forward. There was an open-minded culture where it was OK to make mistakes because that’s how we learned! Every solution found after hours of being blocked was an invaluable victory. Programmers make plenty of mistakes all the time and learn from them. Solving coding challenges every day is a surprisingly satisfying activity. You get to have a lot of fun with it!
On the flip side, I had a different relationship with mistakes when I was studying for my master’s. Despite my professors’ efforts to create a supportive environment, I couldn’t help but feel bad about my mistakes. It could be due to the fact that I was way out of my comfort zone doing a master’s in a foreign language, or maybe it’s just harder to own up to your mistakes in the academic world. I imagine other people have had different experiences and I could only speak for myself. Now that I’ve almost finished my thesis though, I have a great feeling of accomplishment, but it’s a slower payoff than with code.
Would I do things differently?
Yes. If I could start over, I would do my master’s degree in my own native language and then translate it. I did learn a lot of French, but I would have chosen a different type of program tailored for language learning.
As for doing the coding bootcamp at the same time — no. I loved the part-time format and I learned a lot. It’s still fast-paced, but the nature of the part-time program allows for more time to review concepts when needed. I felt so empowered after this experience, like I can do anything now.
Do I regret anything?
Of course not! It’s with the mistakes we make that we learn the most, right? The most important thing is to keep going, keep trying, and keep learning.