I have returned to Bootcamp

I have returned to Bootcamp

Wes in Navy uniformIn the 90’s I went to Navy bootcamp, and last month I returned to bootcamp. But not military bootcamp, software development bootcamp with Coding Dojo.

Why Bootcamp?

Last year had a theme of learning for myself. And as I looked back over the year, and it’s successes and failures, I found that I needed to do more to achieve my goals.

One of my goals is, in essence, is to become a software developer. My dad bought my first computer, a Tandy TRS-80 from RadioShack and I loved it. Much of the software that was bought with the computer was what the 80’s and 90’s called edutainment software, learning games disguised as something fun.

I distinctly remember a math game built around the movie The Black Hole. It was a game played from a tape drive and it was called Space Probe: Math. There were some others but that one sticks out because it had the robot V.I.N.C.E.N.T. as a character.

BASIC

On the TRS-80 I was also able to write programs, but only in BASIC runtime. Lots of line numbers and GOTO statements.

Around this time there were magazines and books that were being published around software coding for these types of computers. You would get a copy of one of the magazines then, painstakingly, transcribe the code into the computer.

This code was usually 100’s of lines and, for me anyways, there was no text editor that allowed me to save my progress. It had to be written out all at once and then run.

I had no idea how to debug back then, I was only 8. Heck, I didn’t even know what debugging was at that age. But if one single entry was wrong, the entire program was dead.

Visual Basic

Along came the 90’s and with it was Visual Basic. Around this time I had joined the Navy and was doing propulsion engineering on the USS JFK (pit snipe MM3).

My dad was doing database stuff with Microsoft Access and some coding around that. He bought me some books to get started learning Visual Basic 6 on my own time using the 386 I had a home.

I worked through the code and lessons but never made much headway. I didn’t have the concept of object orientated programming at the time and with my work hours on the ship, as well as with deployment, I wasn’t able to put much time to complete it all. Laptops were something that you could only dream of then and the computers I had access to on the ship were not open for that kind of stuff.

Some college and meandering

After the military I went to college in Kentucky to get on some path of learning because that’s what I thought I had to do. Work wasn’t a challenge and advancement was stalled. Budget cuts from the company I worked for, because they were looking to slim themselves to sell to a bigger company, meant that I was laid off. No more school after that.

I spent time looking for work and also teaching myself web development along with WordPress. I was able to understand how the web worked and was built but, at the time, not able to make it into something I could make money from.

Once I moved over to Scotland I put a more structured approach to learning in my attempt to become a developer.

I did all the things online that offered courses: Udemy, Udacity, Codecademy, Lynda, freeCodeCamp, etc… But everything was online, solo, and self-directed. It always felt I was learning in a vacuum.

During all of this I was learning stuff. But it was all piece by piece. Like learning the cool riff of a new song but never the whole song. I didn’t understand what to do with the knowledge.

Pack your bags for Bootcamp

All over the world there are learning bootcamps for all sorts of things. One of my previous coworkers, and good friend, was able to jumpstart a good career in the early 2000s’ with a CCNA bootcamp.

There’s a good bootcamp here in the UK I initially looked into. has a good curriculum, lots of contacts in the UK for career follow-up after the bootcamp and only 12 weeks. But it was only in person and that was down in London. I didn’t want to be away from my family for that long and this was also in 2013. My daughter was only 6 months old at the time.

My hunt continued for a few years with me learning on my own here and there until recently.

As of this week I have been doing the online bootcamp offered by the folks at Coding Dojo.

20 Weeks

Four weeks in and I’m pleased with my choice. The cohort I’m learning with has just completed web fundamentals and, as of this Monday, we’re moving on to Python.

There are many aspects of Coding Dojo that I like over the other bootcamps on offer that I’ve found. Some of which I’ll most likely write about over the next few weeks. But to name a few:

  • Class size
  • Mentor access
  • Curriculum

Class size

The class is very realistic. In the cohort I’m part of we’re about 50 folks. From my observations pretty much everyone is based in the US though there are a few other folks that are like me based in non-US locations.

With a class size like this is, there is nearly someone to chat with in Slack. Either getting some support or helping someone else out. It’s been very accessible for me even here in Scotland.

Mentors

I took one mini-bootcamp through Codecademy and had a mentor assigned to me, but getting access to the mentor was no easy task. Through it all I only spoke with my mentor a few times via email and never one on one in a chat or video call. It was frustrating and alienating.

I’ve had a few one to one calls with my first mentor at Coding Dojo and they have been helpful. I didn’t have to chase him to get acknowledgement or help.

Curriculum

Coding Dojo has a focus of learning two software stacks. That’s a good thingTM. With web development (and software in general) a stack refers to the software that’s inclusive of a thing. For a type of development, this stack of software is what it takes to build a thing.

Two software development stacks of knowledge is good as it makes the developer well-rounded and gives them a better tool belt for doing the work.

Every other bootcamp I’ve looked at has a focus of only one thing. Be it Front-end development, Back-end development, or Full-stack development, it’s most often built around one software stack. There’s nothing wrong with this approach but with Coding Dojo pushing for two software stacks can only be better for the student.

I’m still going strong

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write about this as it puts out there what I’m doing and in front of everyone to look at. But it will help me hold myself accountable for what I’m doing.

With all the self-paced stuff it was done on the side and without much accountability. Being out in the open brings everyone’s eyes on me to see what happens next.

The learning culture at Coding Dojo feels very robust and there is lots of support to be found. I don’t feel I’m going to falter. The few times I’ve reached out to the mentors or other students I’ve been supported and helped.

I will write again about this since there is still much more to talk about. But I am enjoying my return to bootcamp, there’s less yelling this time.

A look back at 2016

A look back at 2016

I don’t look back at the year before often. At least in a way that I hold myself accountable for the previous year. So I’m taking a look back at 2016 and thought I should write about it as well.

Year of learning

One of my first posts last year was about giving the year a Theme of Learning. I wanted to focus a lot of my effort towards learning more academically and having new skills. Some of what I wrote was how to track the success of giving myself a theme.

The question as I look back at 2016, and that first post, is was I successful?

Firstly I didn’t find a way of statistically tracking my success, that means I have to look back and try to measure the year with an unbiased eye. I was able to focus on learning but at the end of it all I only completed one full track of learning. Many of the online styled courses, and other self-paced training, I did was not carried out to a successful completion.

Outcome

That’s not the level of success I wanted to see when looked back but it’s the only way to see it. I have an active mind that’s always looking at what the next thing is, or what I will follow up with rather than committing to completing the task in front of me. I see this issue even when I game. In World Of Warcraft I have maxed out character, but I have so many others that I start leveling because I enjoy the journey to max level.

But I also see this reflected in my reading. I love books. I miss having huge bookstores to spend the afternoon in browsing through shelves. That end with me buying books, either physical book or eBooks, I own many books. Also I have a subscription to Audible where I get a new audiobook every month.

My mind is constantly jumping to the next thing instead of finishing what’s right in front of me. It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Solution

To bring about my focus and give me a better environment for learning my wife and I figured that it would be best to get me out of the house.

Working from home and learning from home is great. There’s so much comfort and you never have to get out of your pyjamas. But that relaxed atmosphere was also not motivating me to follow through.

Near my wife’s business we’ve rented some office space that’s large enough for us both. I have moved my desk into here and created a nice space for me to work. The office is large enough for us both and she has her own space to work away from her clinic that will give her a place to work with less distractions.

By being here I have to put on real clothes and leave the house. Which works for me as it changes how my mind sees what I’m doing. I’ve now gone to work mentally and I’ve already started feeling more accomplished with the tasks I’ve been setting myself here.

Measurement of success

I may not have been completely successful in my goal last year, and taking a look back at 2016 has shown me where I faltered. But taking an honest look at where I held myself back I have been able to get oriented in a direction to create success.

Teaching my daughter to drive

Yes my daughter is only 3 and half but I figured it was time to teach her to drive.

Each week we go out for my daughter’s swimming lessons and the pool is on private property along some single lane roads on farm land. This means, typically, the road is empty and allows us to drive at a more leisurely pace.

A few months ago I started letting her sit on my lap to “drive” the car and it makes her happy and excited. It’s fun and harmless, unless she gains a mad amount of strength and wrenches the wheel from my hand and drives us into a fence.

I don’t think that will happen though.

The experience also allows me to teach her to focus on the task at hand. Over the weeks she has become more aware of the drive, how the road feels, and when the road curves so she can begin turning the wheel.

Teaching my daughter to drive is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long while. My father used to let me “drive” on his lap and at the time I thought it was me turning the wheel and really driving. And I want my daughter to have those same, fun, memories of us driving together that I have of me and my dad driving together.

Journaling for better mental health and goals

Journaling for better mental health and goals

Journal Life collectionThroughout history folks have been journaling and keeping diaries. We’ve got the collections from historical figures within personal libraries and have the ability to read what folks were thinking in times of upheaval and change.

Without journaling we wouldn’t have the Diary of Anne Frank to further understand the perspective of the Jewish Persecution from a teenager directly affected by the war.

Without the chance to read the diary of Virginia Woolf we would be denied the knowledge from her diaries to be better informed about mental illness suffered silently by many, bi-polar disorder. And without Virginia being a prominent writer she most likely would have been committed and further insight into this illness would be lost.

Journaling is a tool

I use my writing as a way to empty my mind of the things that are rattling around that I can’t make sense of or things that are just causing me anxiety. Many issues in our lives cannot be solved, but getting them written down can give us a better perspective on what is going on. Often just seeing it written down and see how simple something can be makes it easier to understand.

When I was in the Navy and deployed for 6 months across the world I would keep a personal journal writing out the days events. Email at the time wasn’t that great so I would write letters to myself sharing experiences or problems. Writing like that allowed me to unburden my mind and relax.

What I’m doing now

I try to write here every now and then but with the changes in my year of learning I haven’t given myself much time to dedicate to writing for public consumption.

Last year I backed (another) Kickstarter project by a company here in Scotland, Journal Life. And they’ve put together a nice collection and process of journaling that I am hoping will give me some further direction and understanding of my journey and life.

Starting soon

I’ve only received the journals yesterday so I’ve not started my journaling process yet. I want to get a new pencil first for writing as I don’t want to use pen. I use pen for my study notes.

As well the journaling style with Journal Life is more than just writing out my thoughts as I do here. There is some structure and focus on goals is an important aspect of their view of journaling.

I am excited about this journal I’ll be on with Journal Life and I’m hopeful that with some structure I learn more about myself and also improve things about myself that will be reflected in daily experiences with others.