Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning

Tag: bootcamps

a modest (code school) proposal

I posted awhile back that after two classes, I took a break from working as a Teaching Assistant with Code Fellows. Part of this was logistical: it’s hard to dedicate yourself to a job search while also working long hours to support students and instructors. The job opportunities I’d been hoping for didn’t materialize, so I decided to double down on my efforts.

The second part of leaving was emotional — It’s intense work. Two months seemed like a manageable amount of time to sustain that level of full-time effort. By the end, I was exhausted. I’d had a terrific first class working with my former instructor, and was excited to bring that experience with me to a second class with a new instructor and TA team. The last week of that class was particularly stressful when I clashed with just about everyone on their decision to throw out all the assignments done up to that point and heavily weigh “instructor gut feeling” and a hastily conceived and executed pen-and-paper “quiz” as grounds for student advancement, or not. In doing so, I watched in real-time as all the studies about gender bias in the classroom played out, and experienced the frustration of fighting back against it, all the while being treated to a lecture about how none of this was sexist, at all, the opposite in fact!

So I left that team. And since then, I’ve found myself distancing myself from Code Fellows and gravitating more to communities where inclusion and diversity are lived values. I’m also hitting month five of job searching, witnessing how other code schools have programs in place that help with the gap from code school -> industry, and feeling that Code Fellows is still for the most part sending us off with a pat on the back and a “go get ’em, tiger.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Code Fellows has a uniquely diverse and passionate student base and huge potential to be something great. As a friend and alumnus, I have some ideas. I will probably get labeled a “hater” for this, but it comes from a place of optimism.

Part 1: The Low Hanging Fruit

ApplePicker

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memo to my younger self

Consider this a #tbt.

sophomore English major w/ill-advised eyebrow ring

I’ve made a lot of decisions (or, in failing to make a decision, reinforced the path I was on) re: education, career, and life, and for the most part I regret none of it. All my cumulative life experiences exist to put me exactly where I need to be today. And here is a good place! So in the hypothetical “what would you say to your college self if you could go back” I’d probably say — this is a nice gig so enjoy it, be kind to your friends/family and yourself. Everything is going to take longer than you think now, but you’ll get there.

You know: heavy on validation, easy on specifics.

If I could, though, I’d be like JUST ONE THING: will you please take at least one statistics class and intro to economics. At some point in my college tenure I decided that I didn’t want to study those things, so I didn’t. I, in fact, *rejected a major in journalism* because it required those electives.

And there’s precedent for me taking college classes not because I had to but because it seemed like the right thing to do — throughout my k-12 schooling, “calculus” always seemed like the pinnacle of stuff smart people learn, so I took calculus. I bet if my older, wiser, more attractive self came to visit college Mary, I could have convinced myself to take some stats classes. This has always been my Achilles Heel as I’ve explored career paths that involve any type of number crunching (and most do).

So let’s talk data science.

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riding rails (for fun and profit)

At the end of my interview, the instructor asked, “Soooo… what are you doing in September?”

And just like that, I snagged a spot in Code Fellows coveted Ruby on Rails development accelerator, an 8 week full-time bootcamp designed to jump-start a career in web development. Hi-fives for everyone!

I was nervous but well-prepared going into the interview. Keeping this website and writing about what I’m learning has been a good way to internalize it and work out “talking points.” I was glad that I took some time to clean up my portfolio site (www.marythought.com) since that was one of the first questions asked, “do you have a projects site we can look at?” Why YES indeed I do!

I have a month to prepare, so I updated The Plan with what I’m working on before class starts. In a nutshell:

  • get some more perspectives on Ruby on Rails, and learn as much as I can about Rails apps
  • review JavaScript (two weeks of the DA will focus on this) and practice it via some hands-on projects
  • bone up on algorithms and core programing concepts

I’m also going to try to take care of some of those pesky “life” tasks. I finally renewed the car registration (they give you two years in Washington before you have to get an emissions test), and I need to set up my new health insurance and convert to life as a married person.

At times throughout this process I’ve felt a bit aimless, so it’s good to be entering into a period of intense, highly structured time focused on becoming career-ready. And, much as I’m currently feeling “let’s get this show ON THE ROAD” it all happened exactly when it needed to, and not before.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. More adventures to come!

state of the code

this kid has A Plan

this kid has A Plan

(cross-posted with The Plan)

In January 2015, I made a tentative 4 month schedule for what my code learning would look like, and for the most part I executed on it. Anything optional got shelved. Almost all the MOOCs got shelved (I did stick with the MIT one about 3/4ths of the way through). I went to one meet-up group meeting, once, which is ridiculous given the wealth of resources in our community and openness to sharing, but hey, this journey is about learning and I’ve learned I’m not a meet-up person.

Not surprisingly, in-person class commitments were key to moving forward and keeping me accountable, and I’ve had overall positive results with Code Fellows so far.

If I had to plan it again, here’s my do-over itinerary:

  1. First, get you a Mac, or get ready for a world of pain.
  2. Unless you’re planning to do the full-time bootcamp (in which case do everything you can the month before), take a night class with Code Fellows ($500 for foundations I or $1,500 for foundations II if you already have some code experience and want to prep for an accelerator).
  3. If you have an opportunity to apply to Ada Academy, do it! Don’t let the required video and their unpredictable cohort schedule scare you away, unless the latter is a deal breaker. This cohort timing wouldn’t have worked for me, but that’s not why I didn’t apply — I didn’t apply because I was scared to make a stupid video. And that’s super lame. So, you know, just do it (and then turn them down if it doesn’t feel right).The act of applying will be a useful exercise for you. This year they had 265 applicants and selected 24 women, and, while I’m confident the number of applications will only grow, those odds are not terrible. You can do it!
  4. You’ll want to work all the way through the HTML/CSS web track andJavaScript tutorials on Code Academy. These are required for the Code Fellows foundations classes and a good intro/refresher for everyone else. Don’t let it be your only teaching source, but it’s not a bad piece of the bigger pie.
  5. Work through MITx 6.00.1x  Intro to Computer Science with John Guttag. I bought the textbook but never really used it, so skip that. Instead get the textbook for…
  6. Python the Hard Way: the book is offered for free entirely online, so a paper copy is optional (but nice, IMO, because you can keep going without an internet connection). If the hard way isn’t your style, try Elizabeth Wickes python for informatics instead.
  7. Get familiar with git (where you’ll keep track of your programs), unix/terminal line(where you’ll run/edit/etc your programs) and a text editor, I use Sublime 2. Like, really, learn them. This could maybe wait until month 2 or 3 but the sooner the better.
  8. Tackle a few side projects to start to grow your portfolio and have something to practice your new skills on: mine were this blog (powered via WordPress), a non-Wordpress pure html/css webpage, and twitter bots. Bot, bot, bot!
  9. Talk to programmers to learn about their jobs, and research code school options that might be a fit for you.
  10. Hopefully you made some friends in your class (or online) and have an ongoing study group in the works. Or, for Pete’s sake, go to some meet-ups. I hear they don’t bite.
  11. You should probably try a few languages/programing paths to see what’s a fit. At some point you’ll want to narrow down a programing language. Keep in mind that once you know one, it’s easy enough to pick up another, so you’ll also want to pay attention to who’s teaching what and where the opportunities are. I personally like Python and there are lots of jobs in JavaScript, but I had a great experience with an instructor who teaches the Ruby accelerator and that’s what I’m currently focusing on.
  12. Next steps for me: take another foundations II class in June (this one in Ruby), and apply for the Ruby accelerator in August. On this path, I’ll be “done” by the end of October and looking for jobs or internships before the start of 2016. We’ll have to take a good hard look at finances after the wedding and honeymoon this summer. I’ll be most comfortable if my period of unemployment lasts no longer than a year, but I’m mentally prepared for a career shift to last up to two years (same amount of time as full-time grad school for most programs). One year could be crazy wishful thinking.

And that’s it! I tried and failed to break this out month-by-month, but I hope this is helpful to someone even without that timeline. I’ll keep my first (aspirational) draft on The Plan page that has many repeat resources (and a lot more that I didn’t get to). Enjoy! –Mary

disruptive web development education

Last night, I went to an info session hosted by General Assembly and with representatives from Code Fellows and Ada Academy. I’ve written about the latter two before (all about bootcamps), and while General Assembly is a new find for me, they also have a strong reputation and a variety of classes for learners at all levels. This is a great trio to have in our city!

The panelists mostly confirmed what I already knew: disruptive web education (that is, learning that occurs outside of a traditional university degree program) is real, it works, and it’s here to stay. For people already working as software developers and programmers, it’s frequently necessary to stay relevant.

I was especially buoyed by the Ada panelist who shared, “I was living in the Bay Area, I had just quit my job and was teaching myself Python… now I have my choice of internship options” <–MY PEOPLE~!

I created a bit of an awkward moment by asking about the similarities/differences between the CF and GA accelerator/immersion (3 month) programs. They were diplomatic but didn’t go into details. Here’s a little chart with what I can gather from web research:

School pre-reqs length cost topics job guarantee?
Ada application–women only; newbies ok 1 yr w/6 month internship free Ruby on Rails; JavaScript; html/css; git no (but everyone gets one)
GA application–newbies ok(?) 10-12 weeks $9500-$11500 web development; user experience; other topics w/no scheduled dates no
CF application–fundamentals experience required; newbies directed to foundations classes 3 months $10000 python; ruby on rails; ios; full-stack javascript; web ui yes

So it looks like the big difference is whether or not GA takes newbies for their immersion program–the trade-off being that they will not guarantee you a job after. CF does, because they can be super choosy about who they admit. A prerequisite for admission to one of their accelerator tracks is “hobbyist” level understanding (roughly 1.5 years tinkering with it, gulp) of your stack. CF and GA also offer a wide range of day-long – month-long full and part-time options. Ada does not. (Yet!)

As a take-away, I’m currently enrolled in CF’s April month-long Foundations bootcamp (which has some overlap with the Foundations I class I’m taking in February) and may seriously consider switching to GA’s web development immersion in March. I’m also planning to apply to Ada.

Other useful info I picked up:

  • If you are only going to learn one programing language, make it JavaScript. JavaScript is all the rage and knowing it will make you infinitely more employable. So, learn JavaScript.*
  • After JavaScript, Node and Angular. Know them. Use them. Love them. (This is the first I am hearing of either.)
  • This is huge: the next Ada application cycle opens SOON! February, in fact. They are not super great w/transparency about the process on their website, but they’re still new and I am confident that will change with time. Next cohort begins in May. I sense this is a pretty competitive application process. Also worth investigating: hackbright, a 10 week option based in SF.

*Thanks to Jessie for pointing out that Java and JavaScript are two different things.

I just completed the html/css Code Academy web track and will be working on a secret, non-Wordpress website soon (as well as, sigh, learning JavaScript). Stay tuuunnnned.

all about bootcamps

keyboard cat

I started to gain confidence that yes, making a career transition to computer programming IS possible, when I learned about two great organizations here in Seattle.

The first, Ada Developers Academy, is free for admitted applicants and backed by public grants and some of the biggest tech companies in town. It’s a one year full-time training and internship program for women with no previous professional tech experience. I met some of the Ada students last year at a big data conference and was impressed by their presence  and enthusiasm. “These are women,” I thought, “a lot like me.”

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