The Storm Before the Calm

It’s just an assessment.

Not a test. Not a stumbling block. Not a trial by fire. Just an opportunity to see whether the stuff in my head and my hands is enough to make the stuff in tomorrow’s five challenges work before the time runs out. If it is, great – I’m ready to move forward into the next phase. If it isn’t, great – I’m aware of my shortcomings and know what I’ll need to do to fix them next time around.

Apparently test anxiety is very common here. An instructor told us a story about a student who sticky-noted their monitor at the start of an assessment, signaling they had a question that needed answering. The question? “I’m panicking. I need help. I forget how to do all this stuff. Talk me back from the ledge.” I’m not that far gone, but there is a familiar feeling in my gut that comes before a moment where my performance will be judged somehow. I never seem to shake it, so now I’m trying to ride it to a saner place.

So. It’s not a judgment. Not a chance to fail. Not a culmination of past work. Just a look at how I’m doing right now. Nothing more.

My favorite mentor recommended bringing in something that makes me feel good: a talisman, a tasty snack, a great album, a hot cup of coffee, a photograph that keeps me grounded. There’s no rule against getting up and walking around, so I might even play my guitar in the hallway if I feel too stressed. The key, he tells me, is making sure my brain isn’t getting jammed up by raw emotion. The challenges won’t be lengthy, and they won’t show me anything I haven’t seen before, but they’ll be short enough that getting stuck will cost me, and the easiest way to get stuck is to panic.

But I won’t panic. Because it’s not an emergency. Not a crisis. Not a referendum on my past experience. Just a few beautiful lines of code I get the privilege of writing.

My mentor reminds me that there’s no sense in moving on to a phase I’m not ready for. Employers and clients won’t want unfinished projects, no matter how fast they’re delivered. I don’t need to beat this thing because it can’t be beaten. “It” doesn’t even exist. There’s just me and what I’ve learned and an opportunity to show it.

The best thing I can do to “prepare” is what I’ve already been doing. I know how to create classes. I can pass hashes to and fro. My parsing game is on point. I don’t miss indentations and usually remember to end my methods. I always read the f*cking error message. There’s no way to cram for this, but I can build more stuff between now and then if I want to. I think I’ll create a Band and Musician class tonight and see how they can talk to each other. And then I’ll get eight hours of sleep and arrive early in the morning.

The less I worry, the more I can focus on this week’s material, which has us building our own ActiveRecord methods and manipulating databases with Ruby code. Most of us left a couple challenges hanging this afternoon, and we’ve been told that our Phase 2 understanding depends entirely upon how well we acclimate ourselves to this new stuff. It’s pretty complicated and requires a lot of looking back and forth between files, checking the scope of variables (is :name the name of Fifi the dog or is it the name of the Dog class?), and writing and testing against rspec statements. There’s a lot to take in, and the easiest way to miss it is by focusing on the wrong stuff. It’s not about the easy work tomorrow morning, it’s about the frenzied learning that takes place during the hours before and after it.

Tomorrow is not the hardest part. It’s the easiest part. Assessment day will be a brief respite from the breakneck learning pace we’ve come to expect here. For once in three weeks, we won’t be up against anything new before lunch.

Two days ago, I felt like I was drowning, and I clung to a life preserver made of the stuff I felt like I was drowning in two days before that. Today, drowning in ActiveRecord calls, I found solace in the predictability of the SQL statements that had mystified me on Monday.

Tomorrow will be like a life vest strapped to a boogie board. As long as I can keep kicking, I’ll swim as far as I can swim. Whether that gets me to the next island isn’t really up to me at this point. I can hope it does, but hoping won’t help me swim any faster.

I woke up scared out of my mind and now I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

String cheese, you’re coming with me.



  1. I’ve been following your story online, Duke. Keep the blog posts coming–great writing makes for great reading! I just wanted to pop in and offer a little encouragement: you got this.

    1. Thanks! I plan to keep posting as long as I’m in Dev Bootcamp and probably much longer. And I think I did a pretty good job on my assessment just now.

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