How to prepare for a coding bootcamp

by Aaron Fried

Get the scoop on the correct way to prepare for an in-person or online bootcamp with these helpful tips

Top 3 Things to Remember:

  1. Be willing to accept short-term costs like stress and tuition for a big long-term gain.
  2. The more you learn beforehand, the better off you’ll be.
  3. Get used to being stuck on hard problems and learn to love solving them.

Learn the Tech

No matter which coding bootcamp you want to prepare for, there’s one surefire way to get ahead: start learning material in the curriculum. While every bootcamp will have its own distinct approach to teaching you web development, certain things will always be the same. You can prepare by learning frontend web development — HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — for any bootcamp. Some bootcamps don’t teach these since they assume you know them already.

Frontend technologies are universal to bootcamps because they make up the web browser. You can learn all sorts of languages on the backend, but these three are always present on the frontend. Since you’ll be spending a lot of money enrolling in a coding bootcamp, it makes sense to start with free resources such as CodeAcademy or Free Code Camp to get started.

Another important aspect of frontend web development is design. You don’t need it to be a frontend developer, since many companies hire specialized designers, but it helps. Having a grasp on design early will help you stand out after you graduate, since it will help you build a striking portfolio. Further, if you put early effort into learn to code from designs, you will be well-prepared for the job hunt before you even start coding bootcamp.

On the backend, there’s a lot more variety. All sorts of programming languages can be run on servers and bootcamps have adapted to that. Some bootcamps, such as App Academy and Turing School, will teach students to write code in Ruby, whose Rails web development framework is widely popular and easy to learn. Others, including Thinkful and MakerSquare, will teach JavaScript so students can write full-stack apps using only one language.

Whichever language your future coding bootcamp teaches, you can prepare yourself by learning the language’s syntax. CodeAcademy is great for syntax drills, but it’s not the only option — A Smarter Way to Learn JavaScript is sparser looking, but achieves the same goals. There are tons of free books available online (or, if you’re feeling retro, at your local library). Try a few out if books are more your style.

You should also understand your language’s data types, such as strings, integers, floats, arrays, and more. Control flow, loops, and recursion are also important concepts to have a grasp on before you get started. For example, even if you don’t know how to write a loop or a conditional, you should have a basic idea of what they are and when they might be used.

All in all, you want to learn as many fundamental concepts behind the practical applications you’ll be learning. That way, you’ll have time to focus on creating solutions instead of wondering what the problem is.

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Get your mind right

Coding bootcamps are hard — that’s a tough fact to mentally prepare for. When you sign up to learn a new professional-grade skill in just a few months, you need to accept that there will be difficulties along the way — you’ll spend more time learning over the next few months than you’d spend at a full time job — but it will be worth it in the long run.

One of the most important first steps is setting up a support system among your close friends and family. Since you’ll be very busy, the last thing you want is friends and family getting offended that you’re spending nearly all of your free time learning to code. Make sure they understand the journey you’re about to embark on.

You’ll also need to get used to a couple of new feelings: being stuck while also learning tons of brand new ideas. Since you’re learning at an accelerated pace, you’re going to hit a challenge every day. Chances are, some of these challenges will feel insurmountable. They aren’t and you’ll get through them, just keep pushing.

Many students we’ve spoken to find it useful to reflect frequently. Take a moment at the end of each day to think about what you’ve learned, where you struggled, and how you moved forward. Write it down. Then, perhaps a month later when you’re feeling that you’ve made no progress, you can look back and see just how far you’ve already come.

That’s the key to getting mentally prepared for a coding bootcamp: focus on your progress.

Balance your budget

Education is expensive, but it’s also the biggest investment you can make in yourself. As with any investment, you want to be financially responsible.

Your financial well-being is a key goal of your career, and you shouldn’t need to ruin your bank account in the short term in order to learn skills that will help you in the long run. You can have a balance, even if you haven’t saved a lot of money before enrolling.

The first step to any budgeting is knowing your costs. Understand how much it will cost you to live while you’re in bootcamp, not just to attend bootcamp. In other words, you’re adding rent, utilities, food, transportation — all of your necessary expenses — to the cost of the bootcamp.

On top of that, you want to consider opportunity cost, or the money you could have made if you were working instead of studying.

If you have enough saved to handle all of this (and you’re comfortable dipping into your savings), you can pay up-front and not have to worry any further.

You may also consider taking out a loan to lessen the short-term financial stress of a bootcamp. After interest, you’ll end up paying more in the long run, but learning software development will raise your earning potential.

Big decisions like that are important, but so are the thousands of small decisions you’ll make between now and the day you get your first dev job. Be frugal, every dollar counts. Cooking your own meals and brewing your own coffee can cost less than $10 per day. You can pay more than that for one lunch in New York City.

In short, plan out your budget and follow through. Chances are, you’ll see a big pay raise after you start working as a developer. Embrace a few tough months and you’ll end up far better off in the long run.

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Updated on September 23rd, 2016