How To Optimize Your First Week of Bootcamp

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Reflections on Hackbright, Week 1. 

As I reflect on the first week of Hackbright, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to best approach new experiences. The first week is important. Intense experiences can either crush you or make you stronger. You can set yourself up for success by intentionally developing a routine in these first few days. The first week is a time to experiment with challenging your comfort zone, staying organized, and cultivating habits of self-care.

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GETTING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE 

For many people, especially engineering inclined introverts, showing up to the first day of a coding bootcamp may feel like stepping outside naked. A cohort of new people, a new city, new challenging ideas… it may seem like you are dangling in a pit of scary, hungry, human-eating unfamiliarity.

If this sounds like it could be you, let me offer some advice!

If you want to get the most out of your first week, try developing checklists for yourself to challenge your sense of adventure, organization, and self-care. Each checklist will give you concrete goals to both motivate you, and track your progress. Most of these ideas are not new or groundbreaking. However, when you go into a new experience, it helps to remind yourself of the basics. The lists act like stepping stones you carefully lay down to both stabilize and cultivate your sense of adventure, possibility, and sanity as you start this new experience.

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EXAMPLE ADVENTURE CHECKLIST 

1. Meet Three People Every Day

2. Sit in the Front Row

3. Ask Questions

  • Meet Three People A Day
    • Challenge yourself to talk to at least 3 new people a day
      • Remember their names, listen to their stories, and write a note of what you remember after your conversation.
    • Go to the optional Social Events!
      • Not only will you push yourself, you will be fully participating and giving yourself another opportunity to talk to someone new. You never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn.
    • Personal Reflection: This is something I struggled with my first week. At first I found myself gravitating to the first people I met. However, by reminding myself to challenge my comfort zone, I met several of the most interesting people I’ve encountered in a while. There are still a lot of people in my cohort I haven’t talked to, so this is one I will try to consistently push myself to do.
  • Sit in the Front Row of Lecture
    • Free yourself from distraction, force yourself to participate.
    • If not every day, try it at least once a week.
    • Personal Reflection: I’ve made a point of trying to sit in the front row of every lecture. Sitting up front focuses your attention on what is presented by the lecturer. You are paying for this education! Set yourself up for success. Especially if you are easily distracted (like me). Eliminate distractions. Help yourself stay fully present. But don’t steal my seat.
  • Ask Questions
    • Engage in your learning. If you don’t understand something, ask! Most likely someone has the same question and is too afraid to ask.
    • TIP: When sitting in the front row, asking questions feels less scary.
    • Personal Reflection: You are trying to learn computer science. The first week is going to cover the basics. Don’t guess. If you don’t fully comprehend the fundamentals, you are going to make mistakes and create bugs you don’t understand. While bug creation is inevitable for us newbs, be kind to your future self (thanks Joel and Cynthia). I never worry about whether someone is going to think my question is stupid. If I don’t get it now, I am going to suck later. However, use your judgement. If it seems like a question that won’t illuminate the concept for your peers, or could cause a long tangent, maybe ask after class? But don’t be afraid to Ask Questions! They can be a gift to your new peers and yourself.

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EXAMPLE ORGANIZATION CHECKLIST

1. Organize Your Notebook

2. Create A Routine

  • Organize Your Note Book (Hackbright specific… no computers in lecture)
  • If available, read the lecture slides the night before. Give yourself an idea of what is coming. If possible, print the lecture slides ahead of time and take notes on them.
  • Write legibly: if you don’t, make sure that you go back and rewrite your notes so they are actually useful to your future self. Help yourself want to review your material.
  •  Use a BINDER!
    • I have to say.. I am pretty proud of my Hackbright Notebook. Several classmates have complemented my precious gem and told me they would like to copy it. So I decided to include the recipe in this post. This notebook is a product of my newfound penchant for organization. Thats right, I learned it. You can ask my mom – I was not this OCD as a child. In fact, my past self would probably scoff at my present self in disbelief. So what does that mean for you? If you are not super organized, you can learn to be organized too! If I can do it, you can do it.
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My Beautiful Hackbright Notebook ❤
  • Recipe for a Beautiful Notebook
    • A Clear Binder
      • Elle Woods Moment for the Design Conscious: Sheer will always look chic.
    • Five Star Graph Paper
      • Graph paper > Normal Lined Paper
      • You don’t know how much paper you’ll need. Using a binder and inserting your own paper, avoids the problem of running out of notebook pages and potentially carrying around multiple notebooks.
    • Dividers w/ laminated labels.
      • Use dividers: they eliminate the need for multiple notebooks. They will make your experience of taking old fashioned notes look and feel more organized. I used a label maker (Brother P-Touch) to create the following categories for my notebook: (1) Lecture Notes (2) Project Notes (3) Homework Notes (4) Interview Prep.
      • Elle Woods Moment for the Design Conscious: Resist the urge to buy the rainbow tabs. The plain white ones with the gold edge will give your notebook a mature, minimalistic, clean feel that projects professionalism.
    • A Hackbright Sticker
      • Keep the front of your notebook looking clean. Just one Hackbright Sticker here. The back of your notebook is a great place to put all of those stickers you get at Hackathons. It’s a more contained way to show off your hacker swag, and your computer won’t end up looking like a bumper sticker car riding down a country road.
        • No offense if you have lots of stickers on your computer already. They probably look great.
      • INSTRUCTIONS: Put paper in binder, and voila, you’ve cooked a notebook.

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  • Develop a Routine
    • Developing a routine is crucial to staying organized. Map out your day. Stick to your plan. The point of this exercise is to take the time to actually map out your average day with specific time markers. You can think of these markers as time goals. Write out how you would like to allocate your time on an ideal day. Everyday is different, and you won’t hit your marks everyday. Taking time to write or type this typical day out for yourself will enable you to start being mindful of your time-management habits. You can break down your day in preferred time increments. The practice and should take you about 1 minute. Remember, you have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce.  Here’s my typical day:

6:00 AM – Wake up, make bed, coffee + breakfast

7:00 AM – Go for a run, do yoga, some exercise, get ready for Hackbright

9:30AM – Arrive at Hackbright (1/2 early)

10:00AM – Lecture, Lab

1:00 PM – Lunch

2:00PM – Lecture, Lab

6:00PM – End of Day, Commute Home

7:00PM – Arrive home, review notes, do homework, pack lunch

10:00PM – Review tomorrow’s lecture slides, read, set out clothes + pack for next day, clean room

11:00PM – Set alarm, turn off phone, go to sleep!

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SANITY or SELF-CARE CHECKLIST

1. Eliminate Distractions

2. Workout + Eat Healthy + Sleep

3. Cultivate a positive attitude – You are a blank slate.

  • Eliminate Distractions
    • As you can tell, I am obsessed with the idea of eliminating distractions. I am highly distractible. I am mildly ADD. If there is something around me that could distract me, like my phone, I might be tempted to focus on that instead of lecture. I’ve learned that to be successful in my goals I need to be intentional about recognizing distractions, and cutting them out of my life until I’ve accomplished my task. (.. this is why I sit in the front of lecture). Here are some more general suggestions for your Hackbright/Bootcamp experience.
    • Turn off your technology
      • During lectures and when you go to sleep, turn off your phone and laptop.
      • Personal Reflection: Before Hackbright I rarely turned off my phone. I’ve been using my phone as an alarm clock for years. I have gone months without turning off my phone. Lectures at Hackbright are device free. No phones. No computers. I cannot express to you how much this has positively changed my life! If you are going to a coding bootcamp, you are probably a technology addict. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock. Turn off your phone. You will thank me. You will thank yourself. You will find nirvana. And sleep better.
    • Delete Your Tinder
      • If you are like me and moved across the country newly single for your bootcamp, it is very tempting to want to explore the dating scene. DON’T DO IT! Especially in San Francisco. There are a lot of cute boys in person and on your phone. IGNORE THEM. Delete your Tinder/Hinge/BumbleBee/JDate and FOCUS. It’s only three months. You don’t have time for a new relationship. You can date all the boys after you find a job.
      • If you have a family or significant relationship, good luck.
    • Take a break from Facebook
      • Put important birthdays on your gCal. I promise you that basically all the news will be the same in three months.

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  • Work Out, Eat Healthy, and Sleep
    • Keep Your Workout Routine!
      • You will not have much time for anything, but it is crucial that you make time to keep working out. Go for a run on the weekend. Find a yoga studio. If not a yoga studio, do some yoga before you go to sleep or first thing in the morning. It will help you clear your mind and enable you to feel physically and emotionally strong as you go through this intense experience.
    • Balance Water + Coffee in-take
      • You are going to be drinking a lot of coffee. Everyone around you is going to be drinking a lot of coffee. Drink water too or you will get dehydrated and sick. Thank you.
    • Make your Lunch and Don’t Snack
      • Resist the urge to buy lunch. You will save money and eat healthier. Also, don’t snack. Snacking is evil and is the gateway drug to gaining five pounds you didn’t have before when you don’t follow my advice and slack on your workout routine. Say no to snacks. You won’t starve, I promise.
    • Sleep
      • I’ll say it again. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock. Turn off your phone at night. You will sleep better.
      • Don’t do the snooze button. The snooze button is evil and is designed to ruin your day. Set one alarm, and force yourself to sit up. You don’t necessarily need to get out of bed. But try to keep your eyes open and wake up on the first alarm. You will not miss snoozing. You will feel more awake in 5 minutes and feel more empowered to take on the day.

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  • Cultivate a Positive Attitude – You are a Blank Slate
    • You are a Blank Slate
      • You are writing a new chapter of your life. Learn from your past experiences, and be grateful for them. But at this point, the past in behind you. You get to be who you want to be now. Embrace your unique story. We are all coming to Hackbright with different backgrounds and experiences. How you frame your past to yourself will determine how free you will be to successfully blossom into your ideal self.  It’s important that you take time to think about what in your past experience will help make you an incredible software engineer.
    • Be Positive, you have a lot to be grateful for!
      • Hackbright only accepts 5-8% of applicants. You are here for a reason. You set your mind to this, and you are here. Trust the process and yourself. This is going to be an incredible, challenging, life-changing 12 weeks!
      • The moment you have your first crying spree, step back and look around you.  You are getting to learn! You made a dream come true! You are learning how to code! You are getting the opportunity of a lifetime to change your path in an innovative, cutting edge educational environment. That bug may be a little bitch, but at least this problem has a solution. You will get it eventually. Keep going. Life is pretty good.
    • Do not try to win Hackbright.
      • Listen, no one here is a software engineer yet. Everyone is coming in at different levels. Everyone is coming in with different experience.Some people had more time to do pre-work than others. Don’t compare yourself to everyone else and sell yourself short.  No one is going to have the same journey.
    • Set Realistic Expectations
      • As amazing as Hackbright is, at the end of the day, what you learn and where you end up after is up to your hard work and efforts. Hackbright is going to be what you make it. It’s up to you to advocate for yourself, take on outside challenges, and network. You will make mistakes. The Hackbright Staff are incredible, but not perfect human beings. No one can predict what challenges lie ahead of your job search. Shoot for your dream job, and have a backup plan. Theres no one way to get to your goal.
    •  Be Compassionate to Yourself and Others
      • Give your classmates the benefit of the doubt.
        • Check your arrogance at the door. Everyone is going to have moments where they feel like a genius. Everyone is going to have moments where they feel like an idiot. Allow each other to have those moments without defining one another by those moments. Everyone is here to grow and learn.

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So there you go.

If you’ve gone through Hackbright, or another bootcamp,  I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.

Have a great first week!

< C >

6 thoughts on “How To Optimize Your First Week of Bootcamp

  1. Great post with a ton of helpful advice!!!
    I was definitely inspired by your awesome binder, and the importance of having a daily routine. Thanks Carly!

  2. Thanks for this wonderful entry, Carly! Did you know that it was linked in the Fellowship Handbook? Starting my first day @ Hackbright (12th cohort) tomorrow morning and reading your tips/thoughts was incredibly encouraging. Hope this message finds you well!

  3. thanks for taking the time to meet with and encourage me in person.. i wouldn’t have made it this far without you!! i hope you end up being a mentor soon!!

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