Taking Care Of Yourself While Going Through a Coding Bootcamp

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I moved to New York City over ten years ago to pursue a career in theatre. For a little over a decade, I had been fortunate to practice my art, and enjoy living in this chaotic yet wildly exciting city. I’ve enjoyed my career as an artist and was quite happy with the things I got to do in this line of work. However, despite the fact that every opportunity I got as an artist were always full of exhilarating and wonderfully memorable experiences, I came to a point where I felt I needed to learn something new; I decided to embark on a new journey.

I started looking at Software Engineering bootcamps a few year ago. Software development was something I found very fascinating. I just didn’t know when and where to start. Then the pandemic happened. The industry I belonged to had to close down, and will remain close for an unforeseeable future. Though this is quite a horrible situation, I took it as the extra nudge I needed to take a leap and follow a path I’ve been eyeing for quite some time.

Coding bootcamps are a short and intensive program to learn Software Engineering skills with the ultimate goal of landing a job. They’re a great accelerated way to get into Software Engineering without needing to go through a four year degree program at a University. They are typically 12 -16 weeks long, and demand 40–60 hours of work.

I am now on my ninth week, in a fifteen-week Software Engineering Immersive. I was pleasantly surprised on my first few weeks, at how much I enjoyed coding. And I am happy to report that I am still thoroughly thrilled to spend my days in front of my computer, learning and writing programs. With that said, I do want to say that going through this program is one of the hardest things I’ve put myself through — emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Because of the pandemic, bootcamps are all online at the moment. Which could be a bit of a challenge at times. Here is what a typical day for me looks like. I wake up at 8:00 am. I make coffee. Eat Breakfast. Shower. By 9:00 am I am in front of my computer, ready for the first Zoom session of the day. 12:00 pm we go on lunch. 1:00 pm, back in virtual classrooms. School work all the way till 6:00 pm. But this is not where it ends, we get so many lessons and labs that most nights, I don’t get to stop working until 10:00 pm. And that’s an easy night. Other nights, specially during project week, I don’t get to stop coding until past midnight. Weekends? I don’t know what those are anymore.

As a performer, I was trained to be in tuned with my body and was conditioned to put a huge emphasis on maintaining and taking care of my said body. Im not just talking about aesthetically. Im talking about all-around health — physical, mental, and emotional. A previous instructor of mine once told our class, “Your body is your instrument. This is all you have. Take very good care of it.” This is something that have resonated with me and have lived by for the past ten years. And it is something I am going to continue practicing, specially now.

Bootcamps are rigorous. You are having to learn and are expected to retain a lot of new information in such a short period of time. This creates a pressure to work yourself to your limit. But you can only be successful in your learning journey if you maintain a healthy mind and body. If you are currently looking into attending, are about to attend, or are currently attending a coding bootcamp, here are a few vital things to consider.

Take breaks. As I had mentioned earlier, you get assigned a lot of work to finish everyday. This could force you to try and work through as many lessons as you can without stopping. But continually doing this could work against your best interest. Our brains naturally stop registering sights, sounds, and feelings if they remain consistent for a period of time. And according to University of Illinois psychology professor, Alejandro Lleras, our brain will react the same way to thoughts that remain consistent for long periods of time. So try standing up, stretching, and stepping away from your computer every once in a while. It will be beneficial to your concentration and focus, and increase your productivity. Consider the Pomodo method.

Physical activity is vital. We all know that exercise has multitude of health benefits. From cardiovascular health, bone health, decreasing the risk of diabetes, etc, to short term benefits , such as feeling better during or immediately after a work out. Exercise also forces you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And to be honest, going to a bootcamp is being in a constant feeling of being uncomfortable about what you know and what you’re supposed to know. And the better you are at curbing these feelings, the better your chances are at succeeding in the program.

Research shows that regular aerobic exercise enhances cognitive functions, particularly executive functions. A study published in the journal of psychology showed that participants who went from not exercising at all, to a modest program of two or three visits per week, demonstrated decreased stress, smoking, alcohol, and caffeine consumption. Their spending and study habits improved and were overall able to improve their regulatory habits.

You might think, with that kind of schedule though, how is one supposed to go thy gym? Well, right now, because of the pandemic, the gyms are not really an option anyway. But you don’t need fancy gym equipments to get some form of exercise. What I have been doing is right after six, when scheduled class time ends, I close my computer, put some pants on, and go for a run, or even just a walk around the park nearby. It’s a nice excuse to step out, get some fresh air, and give yourself a break from sitting all day staring at a computer screen.

Stay hydrated. Your brain is mostly water. So it’s obvious that drinking a lot of water benefits you in number of ways, including: improving concentration and cognition, helping to balance your mood and emotions, maintaining memory function, increasing blood flow and oxygen to your brain, preventing and relieving headaches, and reducing stress. So drink up!

Get enough sleep. Sleep plays a big part in both learning and memory. Without enough sleep, it’s tough to focus and take in new information. Your brain also doesn’t have enough time to properly store memories so you can pull them up later. Sleep lets your brain catch up so you’re ready for what’s next. Think of your brain as a cup. You spend all day filling that cup with new information. So much information that sometimes you fill like your cup is overflowing. Sleep is the time that your brain slowly absorbs and saves those information, tucks it away in a safe space, so you can access it again in the future when you need it. If you are not getting enough sleep, you don’t get to fully empty that cup, preventing you from taking in more every day.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, give yourself some love. You made the decision to put yourself through this intensive program. This is a huge leap you are making towards a better career, and hopefully a better life. Coding bootcamps can be highly selective, rigorous, and highly demanding. They require 40–60 hrs of work a week. You are learning so much in such a short period of time. Humans are not designed to learn this way. Most of the people you know probably won’t be able to get in and go through these programs. But you know who is, and who will? You. So give yourself a lot of credit for the enormous amount of hard work you are putting in. You deserve it, specially from yourself.

Theatre artist turned Software Engineer 🤓

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