When I heard about the opportunity to become a TA at Vancouver's Lighthouse Labs coding bootcamp, I was more than happy to jump in and help. Lighthouse Labs focuses on Ruby on Rails - the same stack I was taught when I was a bootcamper at App Academy in San Francisco.
Looking back now, enlisting in a coding bootcamp was one of the best decisions I ever made. But when I started the application process, I wasn't sure it was the right track for me.
I had just completed a master's degree in statistics and was dreading my job options: licensed actuary, government statistician, calculating risk at some insurance company. I was envisioning a very different future for myself - a career in a fast-paced environment where I could keep learning and improving. At the same time, I feared such a change in direction would set me back many years, and that the decision meant my master's degree had been for nothing.
Despite my own doubts, I convinced myself that the possibility of a fulfilling career as a software developer justified the opportunity cost of a mere nine weeks of my life. Risk assessment! (Something I learned when I took my actuarial exams.)
Living and Learning in SF
At App Academy, I encountered students who had a ridiculous range of backgrounds, skills, and perspectives. Our group included a former farmer, an ex-circus performer and an MIT Grad who once participated in mixed martial arts (MMA) cage matches!
Learning to code is a skill just like any other. With practice and hard work, it can be done. It all comes down to how much motivation you have and how much you're willing to sacrifice.
People often ask me: "What's a typical day at bootcamp like?" For me, I lived and breathed code for 10 to 12 hours every day. When I wasn't coding, I slept on the floor in the space where the bootcamp was held (something I don't recommend future bootcampers to do!). I showered at the YMCA and ate a lot of fast food during the nine weeks I was in San Francisco.
It was mentally challenging, physically taxing and, at times, exhausting. But it was so much fun! I loved the rush of solving problems and seeing how fast I improved every day.
Finding a Job
During the last week of bootcamp, our head instructor gave us valuable interviewing guidelines and advice. One of the most important pieces of advice was to be realistic and confident in our abilities. There is a high demand for good software developers and, after bootcamp, our coding skills could compete against the majority of Rails developers.
My job search started with AngelList. I set up my resume, clicked on all the jobs I was interested in, and soon I was contacted by employers looking to speak with me over the phone or by e-mail.
I was immediately attracted to Axiom Zen and the great variety of projects they were undertaking.
I was offered several jobs but it was Axiom Zen's unique interviewing style and awesome culture fit that won me over. I was happy to accept a position as software engineer and I'm excited to be a part of something great in its early stages.
During my time at Axiom Zen I've worked with different stacks and on a variety of different projects. Among them is ZenHub, a product that started as an internal tool for the engineering team to collaborate better on GitHub but is now being used by hundreds of teams in our private beta. If you use GitHub, give ZenHub a try!
The TA Experience
Coding bootcamps are still a relatively new concept which means, until there is a consensus on the best way to teach coding skills, the atmosphere, teaching style and curriculum will vary a lot from one camp to another.
I've really enjoyed being a mentor at Lighthouse Labs and helping the students develop their passion for code.
One of the major differences at Lighthouse Labs is that the TA to student ratio is much higher. Sometimes, there are more TAs than students! I've also noticed that lectures for Lighthouse Labs are longer compared to the bootcamp I attended.
Lighthouse Labs shares the same space as Launch Academy, a pre-accelerator program that helps entrepreneurs execute on their startups. This shared office space gives the bootcamp students the opportunity to mingle with entrepreneurs from many other startups. Being fully immersed in the tech scene is one of the best ways to learn the ropes quickly and effectively. As the saying goes: "Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you."
The one thing I see consistently across all tech communities is the welcoming yet driven atmosphere. Everyone is motivated to keep learning and everyone is willing to help one another get across their barriers.
This is the feeling I had during my bootcamp experience and I am happy that the same collaborative and dynamic attitudes can be found here in Vancouver.