Life after a coding bootcamp
Surviving your first three months as a Junior Developer
This time last year I handed in my notice at work and signed up to the Web Development Immersive at General Assembly (GA), one of the best coding bootcamps in London. Learning to code at Bootcamp was a rollercoaster to say the least, however despite me feeling totally unqualified for the job I was invited to join the instructional team for the following course as a Teaching Assistant.
Being a teaching assistant was challenging, potentially even more so than my own bootcamp experience. It involved a lot of help with the technical side but also a surprising amount of time spent emotionally supporting the students too. I was often being asked “Will I need to know xyz when I’m in a job?”, “Should I be networking right now?”, “What’s going to be expected of me when I start a new job?”, “Will I find a job?”, all the questions that I was also asking myself - I was only a teaching assistant, I didn’t have all the answers, I hadn’t worked in industry and was in their exact shoes only a few weeks prior.
When I first started thinking about joining the job market, for me, it was never about finding the “dream job” or working for a big tech company. I had a few things on my wishlist:
- Work for developers
- Find a supportive environment
- Be encouraged to learn
- Flexible/remote working
...Enter JDLT 🙌🏻
My job here ticks all my boxes and many more that I hadn’t even considered before. We even have an office dog 😍. I think I’ve become one of those annoying people that actually enjoys their job, something I never believed was possible before becoming a developer.
YMMV - Your Mileage May Vary
I have never been a studious type, I hated exams and revising and to an extent being in a classroom environment. As it turns out bootcamp didn’t just teach me how to code, it also taught me how to learn. I came to realise the learning style that works best for me; no note taking, just hands-on and figuring it out as I go. This is something I really committed to during my time at GA. There were people around me frantically taking notes of every single step to make but I knew that didn’t work for me so I didn’t do it. I carried this mentality into my job and it’s reconfirmed that this is the best thing for me.
I worried that it might look bad that I wasn’t taking notes while pair coding but I knew what was best for me and stuck to it. You should do the same, communicate with whoever is training/mentoring you about which learning style works best for you.
You will probably break something...
...and that’s ok, don’t panic! When I first started I was so scared about breaking things or doing things wrong but in reality you can’t really do that much damage. Any good employer will put controls in place such as code reviews and pull requests so you can’t actually break things too badly. Besides, it’s usually a quick fix and everyone is happy to help. I’ve definitely used hard reset quite a few times in the last few weeks alone. More senior developers make mistakes too, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help when you do (because you will).
I get to do this thing everyday that I love... and get paid for it? But I have no idea what I’m doing, surely they’ll figure it out soon?” - _the voice in my head
Imposter syndrome is real
Before coding I didn’t know imposter syndrome existed, but these days we’re best mates.
“I get to do this thing everyday that I love... and get paid for it? But I have no idea what I’m doing, surely they’ll figure it out soon?” - the voice in my head
Personally I think this is something that doesn’t really go away but more something that you need to get comfortable with. I’m constantly reminding myself that I do know how to code (most of the time) and I’ve got the skills I need to do the job. JDLT know it too right? I completed the tech challenge, interviewed and got offered a job, so they must see something in me that I can’t always see in myself. Remember that most developers have felt this at one time or another, it’s not just you, I promise.
I don’t think I could even estimate how many times I’ve said “I don’t know” in the last few months, not including the times where the look on my face didn’t require the words. If my short time in the tech industry has taught me anything, it's that saying you don't know is totally cool. Saying that you don’t know doesn’t mean you can’t do something, it just means that you need some time to figure it out (and you will). In my first couple of weeks I was pair coding on a live chat feature from scratch and I felt like I had never written a line of code before.
I had just gotten my head around using functional React components and async/await when suddenly I was using hooks, switching between front end, backend and endless pages of Twilio docs, and felt lost. When it came to my turn during stand up one afternoon my contribution was “My head is exploding and I have no idea what's going on” to which our CEO just smiled and said “that’s cool”.
Every developer started as a junior at some point so trust me when I say, they get it. There isn’t any expectation of juniors for a reason, we need time and support which is exactly what you should be asking for - so if you’re not getting this in your first role (or any role for that matter) then speak up!
Don’t compare yourself
You know what you know and you don't know what you don’t know. Does that make any sense? Either way, what I mean is that it doesn’t matter what you know or what you don’t because you’re learning everyday. Something you don’t know right now is something you’ll be doing with your eyes closed 3 months down the line so just don’t sweat it.
Of course every other developer in the office knows more, they’ve been doing it longer. This is something I am guilty of, comparing myself to others.
We all do it, but it’s so important to remind yourself that you’re still new to this. I don’t feel any pressure of expectation at work and I feel like that is how it should be for the first few months at least. If you’re worried about how you’re getting on it’s always best to ask for a catch up with your boss to check in and get some feedback.
Give yourself a break
I’ve never had a job like this before. I used to be able to run on autopilot most of the time and be pretty efficient doing so. Being a developer feels completely different. I’m learning new things every day and most of the time requires total focus and to be honest it’s exhausting. I don’t remember every being warned about this while I was at bootcamp, I do remember being told that work life was a generally slower paced and so I thought that when I got my first job after bootcamp my life and routine would go back to “normal”, but apparently I was wrong. So if you’re feeling like me then cut yourself some slack, adjusting to a new career and way of working doesn’t happen over night.
Seriously. Couldn’t live without it. Before my first role in industry I was always being told how much google is used by real life developers, in my head never quite believing it, but it's actually true and a normal part of the day. Being a good developer isn’t about writing every line of code from memory, it’s about knowing how to break down a problem and if you don’t know how to fix that problem? Google 👍🏻
So there you have it, an idea of what being a junior developer is actually like in the real world. Life after coding bootcamp, not as scary as you might think.