If you missed part 1, I went over some key things to think through as far as making a career change, selecting a bootcamp, and setting yourself up to be successful before getting started. If you’ve already made your choice and are getting ready to start classes, phase 3 of that post includes some useful links to help you get some reps in before you start drinking from the firehose. With research and prep in the rearview mirror, let’s dive in on how to get off to a great start with your program.
7 Phases of Changing Careers through a Coding Bootcamp, Part 2
Phase 4: Starting Your Bootcamp
First of all, congratulations on making it this far. By simply stepping foot inside the classroom you’ve already dared to be bolder than the average person. Here’s your opportunity to set the foundation for great habits as you work your way through the program.
What do I want to get out of my program?
Imagine yourself at the end of your bootcamp. What does success look like? Is it a job offer by the time your program is finished? Could it be a portfolio website featuring three unique projects you’ve created? Whatever it is, the sooner and more clearly you define your goals the more you’ll get out of your program. Let’s look at each of those examples and see how they’d play out.
Goal 1: I want a job offer in my field of study by the time my program is done.
This goal gives you a specific outcome of getting a job using the tech skills you will have acquired during your bootcamp. With the end in mind, you can start to think through things like how to build out your resume, what kinds of specific skills employers are looking for, and who you might be able to start networking with. Start by looking at the syllabus for your program and taking note of the tech you’ll be using. Then use that list to filter through a few job postings. You’ll now have a reference point for the skills you’ll need to develop in order to start applying for jobs as you’re finishing up your program. I’ll dive into this a bit deeper in Phase 7 when we talk through finding that first job.
Goal 2: I want to build a portfolio website that shows three unique projects I’ve worked on.
Want to focus on the curriculum and hold off on the job hunt until you’re done with the program? Try setting your goal around building a portfolio site that showcases your unique abilities and interests. The key here is to go a bit beyond the standard assignments that everyone else is working on. By working on an extra project or two you’ll do a few things. First, you’ll cement your skills even further by getting more practice on something new. Second, you’ll differentiate yourself from your peers by creating things that no one else is working on in your program.
You can add a bio and relevant work experience to supplement your projects and even show off your eye for design in the process. Don’t stress about making it look perfect, just get something up and out for the world to see. You can (and should) always go back and redesign it later. Not learning front-end development? No sweat. This gives you the opportunity to work with someone who knows a thing or two about designing a nice looking website. Collaboration. Networking. Pretty portfolio page. Win-win(-win).
Set your goal, then map out your steps
Use your big goal as a way to hold yourself accountable. Think through the action steps necessary to get you where you want to be and track your progress along the way. It’s also helpful to think through the challenges you might face and what you’ll do when adversity strikes. You can’t predict everything, but taking some time to thoughtfully plan ahead can serve as an anchor as you navigate through your program.
Phase 5: Desert of Despair
At some point during your program you’re going to get hit with a sinking feeling that leaves you wondering if you’re really cut out to be a developer / data scientist / designer / whatever-your-program-is-helping-you-learn...er. For some people, this happens about halfway through, for others it happens within the first week, but everyone experiences it at some point. It’s called The Desert of Despair. Like wandering through a desert in desperate need of water, you may feel isolated, hopeless, and lost. Beyond the initial honeymoon phase and handholding it might seem like everyone else is getting it except you. Trust me, they’re not. Remember when we talked about establishing those good habits and building your support network? Time to utilize those to help you find your way.
What do I do when things get hard?
First off, remind yourself that this feeling is completely normal. It’s actually something you should get used to. A career in tech means a constantly evolving field with new, exciting things to learn all the time. People experience self-doubt all the time but what matters most is that you keep maintaining that growth mindset.
Check in with your support network.
When you’re in the middle of an intense program, especially one that’s full-time, it’s easy to become fully immersed in all things coding. Give yourself some time to unwind. Spending some time with those closest to you can go a lot farther than putting in that 10th hour of work in for the day. You’re not going to learn everything all at once and you’re definitely not going to fall behind everyone else by taking a night off here and there. Take the opportunity to reconnect and recharge when things get tough and celebrate all the progress you’ve made so far.
Check in on your big goal.
Be sure to revisit your big goal from the beginning of your bootcamp. Hopefully you’ve been checking in on it over the course of the program, but definitely take a look at least a month before you’re set to graduate. Are you still on track? Great! Keep plugging away at your action steps so you can continue your progress. Did you fall off a bit? Don’t worry. Use this bit of reflection to reassess your situation and make a game plan for getting back at it.
Update your portfolio.
Now is a great time to go back and freshen up that portfolio site of yours. Add some of your newer projects and give the design a facelift. Think of ways to make it reflective of your personality. Do you like writing? Try building out a blog section with a few posts recapping some of the things you learned throughout your bootcamp. Are you big into animations? Add some flair here and there to make the user experience more enjoyable. All of this serves the secondary purpose of reinforcing what you’ve learned over the past few months.
Begin widening your circle to get a jump start on the job hunt. Experts estimate anywhere between 70-85 percent of jobs are found through networking. It takes time to build out your network, so getting a start while you’re still in your program can only help once you start actually looking for jobs.
Crush your final project.
Does your bootcamp have a graduation requirement of building a capstone project? Think of ways to make it unique. At this point, hopefully you’ve realized that a big part of your bootcamp is around learning how to learn. Use that to your advantage by implementing a feature that goes above and beyond the project requirements. You might break a few things along the way, but it comes with the profession. Experiment with a few ideas and see what sticks. At the very least, you’ll stumble upon something new that you can dig into a bit more later on.
It’s been a long journey. Thinking back to those first few classes and looking at the skills you’ve developed now, you should be tremendously proud of yourself. If you’ve got the ability to take some time off before moving on to the next step, don’t be afraid to relax for a bit. Once you’re ready, it’s time to get your first job in tech!
Phase 7: Post-Bootcamp
It’s likely that your bootcamp has a career services team dedicated to helping students find their first job after graduation. Utilize those services as much as possible. Getting more advice on small tweaks to your resume and hearing different perspectives on how to best present yourself during an interview will be invaluable moving forward. Keep a big picture view as you start applying for different roles. Most people have to work their way through a number of applications before even getting an interview, let alone an actual job. Look at each position as a learning opportunity and keep chipping away.
Figure out what networking means to you and commit to doing it. If you love going out and meeting new people, search for local tech groups or job events on Meetup. If the thought of mingling with strangers makes you cringe, leverage the powerful online communities of Twitter and Reddit. Lots of people in the tech world want to help you, you just need to ask. Contributing to open source projects on GitHub is a great way to build your network and get more practice at the same time. You could even add to your portfolio by reaching out to a few local nonprofits and taking on some small freelance projects.
Coding bootcamps are a rare opportunity to switch fields at any point in your career. You need a lot of courage to make the leap and that boldness alone is a sign that you’ve got what it takes to be successful. Just like making it through your program, the job hunt will certainly feel hopeless at times. Stick to the process and you’ll be just fine. You should be extremely proud of all the work you’ve put in. Congratulations on taking the time to invest in yourself and cheers to advancing your career!