Thoughts from week 4 of coding bootcamp

Oof. Week 4 of bootcamp was tough. Tuesday morning found me feeling very down on the way to school. I wanted to quit. The day before, we’d been given an assignment using APIs, and I couldn’t get one small part of mine figured out. The issue wasn’t even getting the Ajax call to work – it was getting down into the right level of each object as I pushed them to the DOM in a table. This is the story of my JavaScripting life: knowing conceptually what I need to do and knowing how to do it, but missing one tiny piece of the puzzle. Terribly frustrating! But by Tuesday afternoon I’d solved my problem and was feeling good about the world. This lasted until Saturday, when I went to my third meetup of the week, and it all came crashing down again.

I’d wanted to quit in week 3, too. Actually, if I don’t want to quit at least 3 times in a week, I consider it a good week. Before bootcamp started, I had naive worries about the schedule, my class, the location. I never suspected the real battle would be convincing myself to keep going back. Every. Single. Day. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely adore my classmates, our instructor, the campus director…everything about The Iron Yard, really – but it is hard to get a third of the way into this and still feel like I know basically nothing. Every day I feel like I am repeatedly throwing myself against a brick wall, with naught to show for it but a mutilated sense of self-worth.

(Pretty dramatic, right? I know.)

I’m trying to trust that this isn’t reality. That my brain is absorbing the things it needs to, and it’s all going to come together eventually. I asked a local Iron Yard alumni if she ever stopped feeling like she didn’t know anything, and she said it was in week 11 of 12. 7 weeks away. If you find yourself experiencing this during coding bootcamp, you’ll want to know how to hang on until then. Here’s what’s working for me so far.

Trust your instructor. So many times I’ve felt behind and didn’t want to do the morning exercises from our instructor; I’d want to read up on things to fill in the holes in my learning. But two days later, I would find myself relying on what I had learned during the morning exercises. Even when it’s frustrating, go with it!

Look back over your notes from previous weeks of class. Do you need those notes anymore? No, because you know that stuff by heart now. Tell yourself that in the future you won’t need the notes you’re relying on today. You will make progress!

Immerse yourself! You might as well, right? Read a JS book on the train, listen to a JS podcast on the walk, read JS blog posts in the morning with your coffee. Right before I go to bed, I like to give my brain one last concept to play with while I’m sleeping. The JS dreams are getting exhausting, it’s true – but if it helps me learn, I’m willing to deal with it.

Go to meetups for rejuvenation and inspiration!! I’ve mentioned that I’m terrified of meetups, but I go anyway – because no matter how bad my day has been, I always come away feeling amazing. Even the meetup on Saturday, which I felt woefully unprepared for and almost walked out of halfway through, reminded me that hey, I may not know anything yet, but JavaScript is still completely fascinating to me and I am on the right path.

It is so much info. Your brain is processing it whether you realize it or not. Hang in there. You can do it!

JavaScript thoroughly. JavaScript and repeat.

An image of a JavaScript book by Kyle Simpson.
A fantastic book series I read on the train to and from school every day.

This won’t be a ‘thoughts from week 3 of bootcamp’ post, because I have no thoughts left in my head.

There is only JavaScript.

If the thing I’m trying to think about is not JavaScript, my brain is just not interested, thank you very much.

The hour-long journey to and from campus every day has become a blur. Some days I cannot remember if I walked the final two miles or took Trax. Spans of time the length of entire workdays pass without me noticing. A couple of nights ago Dustin came home from work to find me sitting in the dark with my MacBook, not having bothered to turn a single light on during the past 5 hours because hey, not JavaScript. I misplaced my phone four times between heading upstairs for bed and actually getting into bed. One evening I was water-flossing while mulling over my code when my brain developed a solution, and I walked straight to my computer to write the code, accidentally leaving the WaterPik on – full and running.

My brain is only interested in JavaScript even when it’s supposed to be sleeping. I wake up multiple times a night to find it tossing around coding assignments in an infinite loop. I imagine what it must be like for my loved ones right now: They talk to a blank-faced robot about their daily struggles, and when they’re finished the robot comes to life and responds with a bunch of jibberish about callbacks, promises, prototypes, and inheritance. Frequently the robot has a breakdown and cries just like a human would, but don’t be fooled – it’s only crying about JavaScript.

It’s not like I want my brain to be this way. I appreciate its preoccupation with JavaScript, because my goodness, it is fascinating stuff – but damn, a girl would like a break! 10 hours of JS a day should be enough, right? I’d like to have oysters and champagne with Deez without thinking about let, const, and var. I’d like to shower without reminding myself, “Now I’m shampooing my hair, now I’m conditioning my JavaScript…” and 5 minutes later having to repeat the process. I would love to be able to answer questions like, “Do you want roasted peppers on your salad?” or, “Do you want a beer?” with a word besides, “What?”

I really can’t expect anything else of my brain right now with all that’s being thrown at it. The first two weeks of bootcamp were pretty chill compared to the acceleration that’s happening now, and I know our instructor is still holding back. How do people doing this without a support network survive? I’m trying to imagine not having Deezus doing the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and offspring-wrangling while I’m in bootcamp, and I can’t even. I did all that stuff myself while in college and working full-time, which was incredibly difficult – and this is waaaaay harder than college! If you are a bootcamp grad who made it through without any help, @ me, because I need you to teach me things!

In the meantime, I’m going to go get some JavaScript.

Specks of victory

They warn you to be okay with being uncomfortable. You read a hundred blog posts that say the same. YOU RETWEET QUOTES ABOUT IT. You think to yourself, “It’s part of why I’m doing this, because I was too comfortable in my previous life – I was getting too stagnant.” But no…you have no idea.

No idea what it will be like to go from having every answer you need, from being queen of your domain, from feeling good about yourself because in general you’re doing shit right, to experiencing day after day of failure, to being thrown so off-balance by the paradigm shift that it even starts affecting the rightness of stuff you do in your home life, to feeling afraid to do anything at all because recent experience has taught you the probability of getting it right is NOT GOOD.

And you thought you had this discomfort thing down because hey, you’d already survived letting down the ones who count on you by quitting your cushy job; and hey, you’d already gone against everything you believed about money in order to take a giant risk with basically your entire savings account; and hey, you’d already spent countless hours over the last 16 weeks alone, with yourself, dealing with the crazy beasts inside your head. But no…you had no idea.

No idea that this discomfort would tear you down, but it doesn’t build you back up, no – it leaves you to fend for yourself, leaves you to sift through the rubble looking for the tiniest speck of ANYTHING you can call a victory. Last week you were aware that you had strengths and weaknesses. This week you only have weaknesses and a keen desperation to not feel like a fool. So you search, and you search, and eventually your brain comes up with:

Weakness: Teaching others.
Speck of victory: Within that inability to guide/teach someone else, there lies a window for them to find their own way. And I do have the ability to support people as they discover their own best way of doing things, and encourage them, and help them feel safe making mistakes.

Weakness: JavaScript solutions don’t come naturally to me.
Speck of victory: My code is organized, detailed, and at least I do understand what it’s doing.

Weakness: Basically terrified of meetups.
Speck of victory: I still make myself go.

And your brain has to be satisfied with these three itty bitty victories it found, because you now have 5 hours to sleep before getting up and throwing yourself at failure again. And you’re not quite sure if the rest of your life will be this way, but it’s the decision you made, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Thoughts from week 2 of coding bootcamp

Monday

1) We opened with some Markdown exercises. I can see its usefulness when blogging about things in specific languages. Despair as I think, “Will I ever get to that point?!”

2) Iron Yard students are expected to teach crash courses to the public, and take turns hosting the JS Learners group. This is awesome but terrifying. Who wants to be the teacher/host unable to answer questions, so students feel they wasted their time?

3) We reviewed our weekend projects in class (here is my GitHub page for it) and discussed what makes good visual design. It was actually pretty fascinating, which surprised me. Imagine knowing all the things that the eye expects and then how to make those things happen!

4) The global day of code is coming up and I want to participate, but I’d hate to get partnered with someone who has to carry me and do all the work. I am not a person who rides on others’ coattails and doesn’t contribute!

Tuesday

1) Okay, so CSS and all its inheritances is pretty dang cool. I can imagine it’s hard to be really good at CSS, which is funny since so many people dismiss it as easy, or as ‘not programming.’ But this person could be hella important on a team. I kind of want to go do all the learning on CSS now, but no time for that yet – JavaScript starts today.

2) We were given 5 JS problems as homework. I had a rubber duck moment with one – I was venting to my husband about how I couldn’t figure out how to do the Rovarspraket and as I was explaining it, it dawned on me exactly how to do it. Rubber ducking is not limited to tech of course – he responded that earlier that day, as soon as he started explaining a new process to his team, he realized he’d made a mistake and what it was.

Wednesday

1) Playing with JavaScript is fun, even if I’m writing the smallest, simplest function. So much more fun than HTML/CSS! (Sorry, my first week friends – you’re still cool, but…) I was familiar with the built-in methods for arrays but I had no idea strings had the same sort of thing and this just made my day. Spent a half hour reading up on regexes and am excited for when we are allowed to use those.

2) My poor spouse. Probably any poor significant other of a bootcamp student. He has to deal with me texting him little snippets of code I write, or showing him what I did at the end of the day because I’m so excited. He’s willing to listen even if he doesn’t understand, of course – because he’s the best.

Thursday

1) JavaScript comes easy to me, but it doesn’t come naturally. Does that make sense? Once I’m shown or figure out how to do something, I get it pretty quickly, but as for being able to pull out of my head a hundred different solutions to whatever is presented to me – nah, that’s not me. Not yet anyway. Accounting was the same way at first, but I did get to that ‘natural’ point eventually (after about 8 years, haha).

2) We did some more mob programming today. I thought I would dislike being the head navigator but I ended up enjoying myself immensely. I’m surrounded by smart people; when I need input or ideas everyone is ready to help out. I feel super lucky to be in this specific cohort.

Friday

1) Presentation day! Turns out presentations aren’t all that bad once I’ve had time for the slightest bit of preparation. Inspired by this blog post by Rob Martin, I presented on collaboration in tech, how mob programming is one of the ways we collaborate, and how we can be better collaborators. My five minutes was up way too soon.

2) For weekend homework we were given a project quite beyond what we’ve learned in class, but that’s okay – our instructor has given us the resources and techniques to find answers to our questions, so I’m still excited to give the assignment a try!

Also published on Medium.

Thoughts from week 1 of coding bootcamp

Monday:

1) They’re not joking when they say it takes energy and time – I’m ready for bed by 730pm. My brain is very happy, though. My brain hasn’t been this happy in a long while actually, and that’s something I require and a major reason I chose to learn how to code.

2) Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. The person struggling with the command line today may kick your ass at CSS tomorrow; the person flying through git today may not know anything about HTML tomorrow. Help each other whenever you can, knowing that you’ll be the one needing help soon enough.

3) Last week I couldn’t have put together any sort of code while listening to music. Right now I’ve got Talking Heads in my earbuds, the presidential debate on the TV, and I’m cruising through stuff no problem. THE BRAIN IS AMAZING.

4) I already can’t wait to get up in the morning and do it all again. The people in my class are smart, willing, and funny, and I know it’s soon but I feel like they’re going to make it all worth it.

5) My goodness, I am grateful for a supportive husband. He met me for a cocktail after class and is now cooking a delicious dinner while I finish up some homework. And he woke up with me to do this:

An image of Ashly LaMarr on her first day at The Iron Yard.
“First day of class” pics are a big thing here in Utah. My husband surprised me with the sign and the pic 🙂

Things which may be difficult:

6) Mondays. Class is in downtown SLC and on Mondays Dustin works a block away. He’s a blast to hang out with and we’re surrounded by tons of great bars and food, so I will be sorely tempted to meet him at 5 on Mondays, regardless of homework completion. (Really, it’s a pretty great thing to struggle with.)

7) Being around people for 10 hours a day. Introverts, you feel me.

8) Finding a way to concentrate when surrounded by noise. Today we had some reading to do. I have ADD, which I choose not to medicate. I wanted to put my headphones in with some white noise while reading but was afraid this would be misconstrued as being shut off from my classmates or unwilling to cooperate. I don’t want to alienate my fellow students; I will have to find this balance.

Tuesday

1) More gratitude for Dustin. I came home to Pimm’s Cups and a bacon-covered meatloaf. I mean, seriously!

2) Ugh, could not be more disinterested in a subject than I am in HTML/CSS. I know its importance and I know I’ll have to know it and I can do it but I am secretly praying I won’t have to deal with it constantly.

3) I could take the Trax directly to campus, but instead I’m walking the two miles from the train station through downtown, then back again at the end of the day. SLC has a lovely downtown. So clean. So many friendly people. It’s a good way to work exercise into my day and I’m already worried about what I’ll do when the snow and inversions come.

4) Still love my classmates, but by noon I am drained from being around people and all the auditory stimulation it brings. Today I barely had the energy to walk half a block to grab a sandwich, and I was desperate to find a quiet little green space where I could sit and eat my lunch alone to recharge. Luckily my twitter followers had some great locale suggestions I’ll need to check out. So far, I think this is going to be my biggest struggle. I love the lively discussion during lectures, and helping or being helped by my deskmate, but if I don’t force myself to take those moments to be quiet and alone, I’m not going to make it. At a workplace I imagine it to be easier – surely I can go for a brief walk or hey, even hide in a bathroom stall if worse comes to worse. I am now fully coming to understand the word IMMERSIVE.

Wednesday

1) First day I wanted to flip off my computer. Forget you, CSS and your stupid :first-child, :last-child rules (this got better by the end of the day and I ended up gladly turning to it for the weekend assignment).

2) Gratitude today turns towards my classmates, teacher, and campus director. These people are the bomb.

3) Still exhausted, but not by being around others – just by the material. Two days in a row now I’ve tried to plan running a super short errand after class and just haven’t had it in me to do so.

Thursday

1) We tried out a version of mob programming today, and while I enjoyed it and could immediately see the benefits, I think it’s tough to do when no head navigator is designated. It becomes easy for some to fly under the radar, or to not feel valid/needed enough to share their ideas.

2) There was a discussion on work-life balance at lunch. I’m of the opinion that as long as employees allow ridiculous working hours to happen, they’ll keep happening. For 15 years I put my career ahead of everything else in my life, and I ended up paying for it dearly. I won’t do it again. I’m determined to always be in a position where I can walk away from a job that demands too much of me and my family.

3) A regional gent presented on Iron Yard career services and gave us some things we can start doing today, including updating our CV, social networking, and finding 10 companies we think we might want to work for. Right now I only know of one company, so looks like I have some work to do.

4) Much-needed easier day at TIY. We are three days in and I’m already a walking zombie and sleeping through alarms. My body hurts from sitting down so much, and my neck is demanding I get to the Apple store and get a stand/keyboard.

Friday

1) We have to present every week – eek! Following up on what Shawn spoke about yesterday, I presented on the benefits of social media networking as I’ve experienced them. I hate presenting. I never know what to do with my hands (note to self, next time hold the laptop and have something to project), I struggle to make eye contact, and just generally don’t like having attention on me. I may have been the worst presenter but hey, I survived and that’s part of what this class is for – a safe zone where we can fail (and often fail together). Loved getting to know my classmates even more through their super cool presentations.

2) Got a keyboard, stand, and mouse, and my neck is going to be so happy! Excited about the weekend assignment we were given and am looking forward to plugging in some music to my ears and just going to town.

Also posted on Medium.

Pair Programming: Absurd or nah?

Image of code on a computer screen.

I adore having a preconceived notion and then changing my mind after gaining a new perspective. When this happens I get a great opportunity to laugh at myself and am again reminded that hey, I don’t always know everything I think I do.

In this week’s episode of Ashly Changes her Mind, we feature pair programming. Don’t know what pair programming is, exactly? Here is a quick video explanation:

When I first heard about pair programming, I thought, “Nah bro, that ain’t for me.” Two people working on one computer, passing the keyboard back and forth while they collaborate using an incessant stream of talking? Um, it could take (has taken) me years to get that comfortable with someone! And I’m not even to the stage where I can focus while listening to music; how in the world am I supposed to concentrate when my partner won’t be quiet already? Not to mention my perfectionist tendency of wanting everything I do to be 100% correct before showing it to the world – someone watching me make mistakes is my personal nightmare.

But then I did what I always do when I feel underinformed about something: I researched the hell out of it. And you know what? – it doesn’t sound so awful anymore. In fact, it sounds kind of awesome. I’ve worked mostly on my own for many years, and I am really good at it. I can happily work eight hours a day not having to answer to anyone, not having to supervise anyone, not getting constantly interrupted. But I get damn lonely. Turns out I need people. It gets exhausting motivating myself, bouncing ideas off of myself (yes, that’s a thing), staying encouraged by myself, learning by myself! And being a bit shy hasn’t been conducive to grabbing someone and saying, “Hey, want to work on this together?” But with pair programming, people are thrown together with a goal and I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now because it can be dreadful but you know what? It can also be amazing.

We feed off of one another’s energy, and we challenge each other. When clashing personalities have to find a way to come together, we grow and are better off because of it. Yes, it can be tough getting critiqued on our way of doing things. Yes, it can be a hassle coming up with an articulate explanation for why we think something should be done. Yes, it can take up precious time experimenting with different ideas to find the best one. But hey, welcome to the world of working with other people! If we want to develop our social and business skills, if we want to help foster an environment of give-and-take among our team, if we want the best ideas to make it into the codebase – then pair programming sounds like a solid way to go.

Junior devs, are you unsure? Pair programming could be a great way for you to learn programming by osmosis, as Maaret Pyhäjärvi has said. Keyboard shortcuts, programming styles, thinking patterns – all these can be picked up more quickly by pairing with someone more experienced. Senior devs, are you uninterested? Pair programming could let you pass on your knowledge to someone who needs it while solidifying your own learning and methods of teaching. Think of it as a paid way to contribute back to the community! Managers, do you have reluctant participants? Have them try it for a few days before they can say no way. Maybe it’s just not their style, or maybe they’ve never found the right partner.

There are so many incredibly smart and talented people in tech. I’d much rather work alongside them, learning and teaching where I can, than sit across from them and work alone. Sure, I may change my mind again down the road, but right now I am all in on pair programming.

Also posted on Medium.

On risk

That thing where you get the final, legit notice that your financing for a coding bootcamp has been approved and you think to yourself, “Dear lord, this is really happening!?” Yeah, that.

Last night I sat at Whiskey Street with my love, drinking cocktails and catching Pokemon. Just across the way stood the building where said coding bootcamp will be starting in two short weeks. I stared at it. I tweeted about how this is the riskiest thing I’ve ever done. One of my inner voices popped up and reminded me, “Hey, you’ve remarried after a horrible divorce, are you sure this is the riskiest?” To which I replied, “Yeah, girl. Yeah.”

Then another inner voice proceeded to yell, “YOU ARE THIRTY FREAKING SEVEN AND JUST NOW DOING THE RISKIEST THING EVER? IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

Ah, my brain.

What makes this the riskiest is that I have people depending on me. I have kids, a husband. If I fail it’s not just me in the poorhouse, living in my car again, eating ramen and bologna sandwiches every day of the week. It’s my kids who’ll lose their own bedrooms in the traditional suburban home I’ve finally been able to provide after all these years; it’s my husband who won’t have the freedom to keep doing what he loves because there will be pressure for him to get a better-paying job with actual benefits. It will be all the savings I’ve painstakingly set aside over the last eight years gone in a flash and nothing to show for it.

Risk in this situation is a different ball game than risk on my own. As a teen, I took crazy risks even after thinking things through. Sure, I’ll take my friend’s Lotus up to 150 on an unfamiliar mountain road. Sure, I’ll get a jailhouse-style tattoo from a guy who was introduced to me over lunch at Denny’s. Sure, I’ll fall in and out of love with abandon because hey, it’s just my own heart I’m hurting. Then you have kids. Or you get married. Or you have family members you need to take care of. And risks, even though they’re not life-threatening and really sound quite safe, suddenly become about ten times scarier.

I am scared. I hide it pretty well. Most of the time, I’m confident I’ll succeed because career-wise, I always have. But often I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat (cliche but true), absolutely terrified of being a source of struggle for the people I love the most. God love ’em – they’re not even worried about it. I guess I’ve got that part covered 🙂

Also published on Medium.

I’ll decide.

“Write what you know,” they say.

“Write about what you’re learning,” they say.

“Write about experiences you’ve had,” they say.

“STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO,” I say.