Day One at Dev Bootcamp

Author’s note: This post is way more epic if you start playing the embedded video before you start reading it. Trust me.

7:14 am They told us to get there ten minutes early and I am right on time. I’m seated facing the rear of the train, barreling towards a future I can’t see. The sun is battling the morning clouds for sky space. I think it’s winning. I hope it wins. I’m struck by the realization that everyone on this train has a reason to be here and a place they’re going. For all I know, each silent stranger is also going somewhere today that will change their lives. I send out as many good vibes as I can muster. I’m not sure if they’ll stick. I hope they stick. I am listening to This Will Destroy You at full volume. It’s not a soundtrack. It is a promise. The music shimmers, swells, soars, stills, shakes, sunders. I am ready to be destroyed. I am ready to rebuild myself. Everything I have done leading up to today is gone. My memories are just the stories I tell myself about how I got  here. I feel underprepared this morning, because I have told myself a story of opportunities missed. I did not remember to write down the small and huge victories that kept me up late at night, smiling at the progress I was making. Wherever I actually am, I am much closer to where I’m going than I was nine weeks ago. This feels like the first day of school. This feels like the first day of summer camp. My lunch is packed. I have forgotten my mittens. I wonder whether the teachers will be nice. I wonder whether I will make new friends. The train veers and comes close enough to the one next to it that for a moment I can see another room full of lives, moving as fast as mine, and my awareness expands and I realize the world will be alright no matter what I accomplish today. I will be alright too. And now we are underground. I am walled in but moving fast. My path is laid out and it will take me exactly where I’m meant to go. I put away my headphones and focus on my breath. This is not meditation. This is a warmup. This is my stop. This is it. 9:19 am I’m in the bathroom and there are ten more minutes of waiting before everything starts to happen. We all entered the DBC space at 8am, greeted by a volley of high fives and Gangnam Style blasting on the PA. After a few icebreakers, we spent an hour introducing ourselves one by one: name, cohort mascot, quirk. New boots (what up, Bobolinks!) and TA’s shared the reason they were here. The Salamanders and Coyotes, respectively starting Phases 2 and 3, shared tweet-sized advice for the newbies: Work your hardest. Remember why you’re here. Always be asking questions. Get sleep. Eat food. Enjoy the experience. And never ever push a commit to the master repository. That last one was phrased “Don’t push the master or you’ll get slapped” and for a moment my eyes were darting around the room, looking for the coder whose mastery had sparked a violent streak. Then I realized the guy was just talking about GitHub. Between the intros and this stillness was a catered Day One breakfast and a bit of time to mingle. I took the opportunity to ask everyone I could about what Week 1 would be like. “They pile so much on you, and then you work late to try and understand it all, and then you wake up and they pile so much more on you,” went one reply. So now I’m in the bathroom writing notes, barely following the letter of the “no phones” rule, which unfortunately seems to extend to Wi-Fi device permissions. Oh well. I’m sure I’ll be too busy coding to care about Twitter. 2:11 pm So many introductions, so many walkthroughs, so much controlled chaos. I’m starting to realize I’ll need to hold back at least a few concrete details of my experience in this blog, so as not to spoil surprises or give away answers. Still, there are moments that stand out, even without detailed explanation. A classic get-to-know-you name game got tweaked into a group refactoring challenge. There was a brief discussion about how to stay outside our comfort zones without slipping into panic as the weeks progressed. Boots gave impromptu talks on pairing, open source code, proper gong technique, speed skating. We learned about personal truth and why The Boy really Cried Wolf. An experienced coordinator cheerfully informed us that she would be here for us, whatever we needed. An experienced boot gleefully informed me that I was going to just LOVE this weekend’s group coding challenge. I’m looking forward to my inevitable Sudoku nightmare tonight. We are out of the gates now, and we’re coding. In Phase 0 we paired with one another in hour long sessions, tackling one challenge before parting ways. Now we are split into four-person groups and told we’ll be pairing with one of our groupmates for the entire day. There are six core coding challenges to complete, along with two “stretch” challenges for those who finish early or stay late. My partner is new to the Mac environment and rusty on version control. Not a problem. He gets to practice the basics, and I get to practice explaining them clearly and concisely. We’re both doing our best and scratching our heads and fist bumping when we figure things out, and it doesn’t even matter that we might be a little behind the average pace, except it kind of does, because I’ll need to get home by 11 if I want to sleep for more than 6 hours. I shrug off the stress and resolve to focus only on the present challenge and give it all I can. Things will work out. Help will come if I ask for it. 5:02 pm Pair programming is like playing a multiplayer video game that rewards you constantly for hours and then hits you with a difficulty spike so gnarly that you wonder whether the rewards were some kind of elaborate and sadistic setup. We were trucking along, plowing through engaging but basic material, and then suddenly 90 minutes had gone by and there was a cluster of TA’s looking over our shoulders and I can’t remember whether they dropped more F bombs or we did but there were a lot of F bombs being dropped. Turns out we had veered off course early on by changing two things when we only needed to change one, and the test file had assumed we would never change the second thing, and so we sat stuck until we thought to start from scratch and do the one thing, after which there was much “oh my GOD”ing and “you gotta be SHITTING me”ing and wailing and gnashing of keyboards. I couldn’t stop grinning through the whole thing though. I love a good challenge, and that was one hell of a good challenge. Afterwards, I’d learn that most of the pairs had gotten stuck on that finicky piece of code, and I felt good for not beating myself up when I had the chance. At this point, my partner was exhausted from the mental effort and ready to turn in for the day. But first, we had to attend our introductory Engineering Empathy session. The topic was feedback. Great companies thrive on it, failing companies stumble over it. A.S.K., actionable specific kind. The instructor stresses that the kindest feedback can be the hardest to hear. Kindness is not niceness. Kindness is loving and fearless. Kindness is respecting your fellow boot enough to tell them that it’s gut check time, that they will wash out at their current pace. It’s telling your partner that their pairing style is crippling your effectiveness. It’s admitting that you might not have the whole story, while standing firm on the validity of your piece of the story. Parallels are drawn between the Compass of Shame and the ways we can choose to deal with feedback. The instructor is given a tissue box. It’s full of feedback that’s difficult to process. He hits himself over the head with it, attacking himself. He throws it at the giver, attacking others. He refuses to take the box, avoiding any confrontation. He drops the box and walks away, withdrawing from the stress. Then he takes one tissue out of the box. It’s the part of the feedback that he can actually use. He does not actually use it. So far, we are all hale and hearty here at Dev Bootcamp. 9:13 pm My partner was tapped out at 5:00. That left me alone and eager to see how much of the code I could understand all by myself. I mostly flew through a basic refactoring exercise with one baffling capitalization requirement. Ditto for the first half of a method chaining exercise. I took a brief break to FaceTime with my daughter. We blew raspberries at each other for five minutes and then I told her a made-up story about Pikachu. My wife had gotten her hair done and she looked fantastic. For the first time since I’d left, I felt a little homesick. We hung up and I ascended the elevator to the seventh floor, ready to get back into my rhythm. Then came my second difficulty spike: an inscrutable chain of methods, a single-line gauntlet that needed a cleaner look. Prime numbers were involved. Squares too. It was a mess. Again, I shortly found myself joined by a bemused trio of instructors, and I felt no performance pressure because this was now our code and we were going to solve it together, damn it. We teased out an artful solution and patted each other on the back, having gained a deeper understanding of array iteration and deletion methods. It was getting late now, and I felt a pang of pressure at the realization that the day’s final core challenge was still untouched. Luckily, it was a challenge I’d already completed by overachieving during Phase 0 prep, and once I worked up the courage to ask a Phase 3 boot to pair up, we knocked out a solution that was elegant and D.R.Y. (Don’t Repeat Yourself; if your code uses the same line or a version of it multiple times, you can write it better). I’m heading home earlier than I expected to, and I’m almost shaking with joy. I made it through my first day without slipping behind. Walking down Grand, I whipped out my phone and scheduled a mentoring session for tomorrow, because one of those stretch challenges I missed looks too juicy to pass up. I’m doing this. I can do this. 11:38 pm In bed, fading, I click Publish on my blog post and put my laptop away. This will almost certainly be my last long blog post for at least a week. Maybe until this is finished. But maybe not. Where I’m from, it’s already tomorrow. I’ll try not to get too far ahead of myself.

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3 comments

  1. Array iterization on day 1?! Holy hell brother, you’re on the path to success. This is something I simply cannot relate to as I learned everything I know by my lonesome with my nose in a book like the true auto-didact archetype I self stylize myself as, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m jealous of group effort. This sounds beyond riveting. Can’t wait till you come back and I can pick ya brain on what it was like. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through your blogs and cheer ya on from Kalamazoo! Congratulations on surviving day 1 man!

    1. Haha… I appreciate that brother. I actually know array iterization, I was just surprised that they broke that out on day 1. Sounds like it’s going to be a rigorous course, but in a very good way. I’m “playing along at home” as I try and teach myself Objective-C so I can move into mobile programming next 🙂

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