Doing a Bootcamp remotely: An Englishman’s tale of an American Cohort
I shall put an initial proviso here, everything I say from this point onwards is very subjective to my experience. However I hope that some of the following words will be beneficial!
So, one of the main things I will start by mentioning, I have recently graduated from the Flatiron School Online Software Engineering Bootcamp. I was originally intending on doing the course on site in the London Campus, however a rather significant pandemic arose, and quite sensibly they closed the campuses.
This left me in a bit of a pickle. Postpone till the campuses re-open or go all in and change to the Online course. As I had revved myself up for this, I went ahead and switched to the Online version.
Pull up a chair, light the fire and welcome, welcome to my tale.
First few things I think I should bring up, the time difference, it is not impossible but it is significant. I was part of a New York based cohort whilst being physically located just north of London. So I have been sitting a solid 5 hours ahead of most of the rest of the people on the course. There were a few nearer GMT with one person dialling in from South Africa and another from Portugal, but the rest of the 30-ish strong cohort was based in and around America.
This however panned out fine, with the daily lecture being scheduled for 1100 EST this lead to in the UK the lectures happening at a very pleasant 1600 GMT. This works itself out very well for a good decent finish to the day.
So first bit of advice: Schedule your time like you are working a job. For real. I would regularly start at 8am then finish at 5pm. This not only gives you the structure you need, but gives you downtime to allow you to recuperate. Sure every now and then you may have to churn beyond, but I managed to survive with a regular 5pm shut off.
An addendum to this, get your sleep. No brain runs well on 4 hours sleep because you tried to stay up will 4am solving one tricky bit of code. If you had stopped, rested on it and gone back to it, you may have had it solved far swifter than that (a lesson it took me a while to learn)!
Working with Others
Second, if you get the chance to pair program or help the rest of your cohort, take it. They will not necessarily be online a lot of the time when you are. So when the chance crops up, do it. It’s great experience in how others code as well as helping you through if you are stuck at all.
Zoom and Google Hangouts are both great ways to share the time together, and most Bootcamps also allow for Zoom memberships for their students (at least at the moment)
Thirdly, chip up in lectures. Speak your piece, ask questions, do not be cowed by having a different accent from the rest of the cohort, you are paying for this course, make the most of it! The course leads also really appreciate people willing to chip up, and ask/answer questions. Even if you get it wrong, at least you are trying.
Be prepared for strange idioms as well as to have to explain your own. I got into the habit of using them a bit too much and had to spend a fair amount of time explaining what I meant. Then again, with the UK versus the USA, ‘Same ballpark, different kettle of fish’.
Fourth, try and keep ahead of lectures as best possible. Don’t just do the recommended weekly lectures, look ahead, start really getting into the nitty gritty. This way if you do run into problems, you can prepare in advance to use the the course coaches and other support mechanisms that are running on EST. This just means you don’t fall on the back foot and get behind if you get stuck. Also, don’t be afraid to approach other members of your cohort, you can never tell when they may be able to help you through with a problem.
Fifth, start your projects early if you can. Start thinking through a good project idea at least a week before project week starts, even if its just a nebulous few ideas, thats a heck of a lot better than getting to project week and not having any direction. Talk these ideas through when it comes to any open office hours and see what people think. Run them past your cohort!
Sixth, try and do as much pre-work as you can. If you are doing a bootcamp, it’s probably not going to be a last minute decision. Plan for this in advance, there are a number of great free resources out there that give you a great set of foundations to start from:
Are just a few, with a number of really great resources. Also, the Flatiron School itself has a great pre-work track to work along. I cannot advise you do these bits in advance enough.
Lines of Communication
Seven, keep an eye on Slack, no doubt any course you do will have its own Slack channel, keep an eye on this in case things crop up that require you to timetable for outside your normal hours. Sometime a really interesting talk may be occurring but that means staying up late! Also check if these are recorded, they often will be and this can mean you can go back and watch them even if they were late (not as good as attending live, but still decent).
So as a brief summation:
1. Timetable yourself and make sure to get your rest.
2. Interact with your cohort as much as possible when possible
3. Speak your piece and ask questions in the lectures, no-one else is going to ask your questions for you.
4. Keep ahead of lectures when you can, you can never tell when life will happen.
5. Start thinking about your projects early even if its only coming up with ideas.
6. Do the pre-work, then extra pre-work, then a little more prework.
7. Keep an eye on the group channels of communication. They are a dang handy way of finding out anything else going on
So thats my wisdom, feel free to ask questions in the comments about anything at all raised here.
All in all I can say that the Online course has been spectacular. Sure doing it in person would have been preferable. But with everything going on at the moment we must make the best of it.
Keep calm and code on.