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Keeping up with coding

Coding is a high-demand skill and more and more people are taking less traditional routes to learn it, writes blogger Oli Walker

    Oli Walker's avatar

    Oli Walker

    November 28 2018
    Learning coding


    After climbing another 700m on my old, rusty bicycle, laden with 25kg of letters, for the fourth day in a row, I decided it was time for a career change. At the time I was a postman, working for a small private firm in the hilly town of Tubingen, Germany.

    After my A levels, I became an outdoor adventure guide in the small Scottish town of Aberfeldy. Adventure tourism meant work in other countries: Sri Lanka, Austria and Australia. I was teaching sports to people of all ages and abilities and then moved to Germany to be with a girl I met. It was in Germany that I found a job in posting, which led to me deciding to learn another lifelong skill and continue higher education – after one hill too many.

    With my travelling background, the idea behind my career change was to find something I could do on the road, and you can code from anywhere. After a lot of research, I found out about three-month coding bootcamps which fast-track you into a software developer role.

    I discovered that the computer science world, especially JavaScript, moves so fast that formal education, certificates and degrees are great, but don’t always matter as much as your current skills.

    I bought a new laptop and started using online learning platforms like Lynda and TreeHouse and quickly became hooked. The thrill of solving puzzle after puzzle while building mini apps was incredibly satisfying. Eventually, I committed to the most demanding bootcamp with the highest number of hours focused on JavaScript: Codeworks, which is based in Barcelona.

    Stories from MIT students

    Different bootcamps have different entry processes and this was one of the toughest in Europe: two interviews and a coding challenge had me pretty worried. Fortunately Codeworks provided a network of students to chat with before I started, and I got through the pre-course with the help of a coursemate. I was scared that everyone was going to have found the pre-course easy and that they would be a level above me. 

    But when I started, I was relieved to see that everybody had been challenged and I would be able to keep up for 12 more weeks.

    Learning code is frustrating to say the least. Every few days we would get a new topic, which would always be confusing at first. But with a few more lectures and code reviews, and endless help requests sent to the teaching assistants, we finally made breakthroughs and it felt amazing.

    All this puts you in a good position as a JavaScript developer. The industry is constantly fluctuating, so one of the best skills for a new developer is learning how to work with others and absorb new information. That means finding the right tutorials and mentors, Googling efficiently and picking the relevant information from the countless Stack Overflow posts you’ll read.

    After you’ve celebrated the highs of building an app in 12 days for your final project, Codeworks offers a week of career development. This covers building LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, creating portfolios and mock interviews. The most useful thing was the hiring day, where local companies come in to consider hiring graduates. Just five days after I left, I received a job offer. I’m now working for in Barcelona as a react developer. I already feel like I am an asset to the team, having got production code running in just a week.

    It’s cool to start such an interesting career in the software sector, which is exploding all over the world right now, and it’s nice to be in such a lively city like Barcelona. I’m staying in touch with the friends I made on the course too; Codeworks is good at connecting you to an alumni network, both online and in Meetups, so that you can share opportunities and compare new job stories.

    But perhaps more importantly, I feel like I’ve learned the skills to keep on learning. I’m now part of an amazing community, and I’m able to to keep pushing myself and stay on top of advancing tech.

    My advice for anyone thinking about coding bootcamps is to give everything you have, because you’ll be flat out for three months. It’s an interesting option compared with the three to four years of a standard university route, but you can combine the two.

    I’ve found that learning to code at a higher education level isn’t a straightforward choice between practical courses versus a degree at a traditional redbrick university. Some of my peers had been to UK universities too, so they had some computer science theory under their belts, which helped. I’d say think about how to get into work and consider adding a bootcamp on to your degree. This was a more condensed type of learning with less theory; it was intensely practical.

    And after it’s over, you’ll love that feeling of an empty code editor and a world of possibilities. For the next few years I plan to hone my JavaScript skills, then maybe I’ll take off travelling once again.

    Read more: What can you do with a computer science degree?

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