As I work at a coding bootcamp, I get to meet dozens of people every few months who have decided to spend 12 weeks changing their careers and their lives. Doing that isn’t always an easy experience, and I know because it’s an experience I’ve gone through myself.
Recently I worked on putting together a short handbook for our students, and one of the first things I knew I wanted to include were some tips for looking after yourself during those 12 weeks. If you’re not careful, it’s all to easy to fall into a cycle of overworking, over-worrying, and constantly feeling like you’re fighting to keep your head above water, which isn’t the most productive way to spend your 3 months. And it’s definitely not what we want for our students!
I had some ideas of my own, but I also asked around my colleagues and friends (many of whom went through the coding bootcamp experience themselves), and the Twitterverse, for some tips and advice.
Here are some of our top tips for looking after yourself.
Wise words, worth remembering
Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to where you were X weeks ago
In a class of students, or in any social situation, it’s so easy to look around and try to compare yourself to other people. It’s just human nature, and with the rise of social media, we’re more accustomed than ever to fall into this pattern of thinking. But these words of advice, which I received on my first day at Northcoders, literally became my mantra for the course. I would repeat them to myself on a daily basis, and it really helped. Comparing yourself to others is completely pointless. All you gain is anxiety. Nothing else. It doesn’t help you, inspire you, or improve you.
However, luckily you have a really great yardstick against which you can and should measure yourself — former you. Remember three weeks ago when you weren’t sure what the difference between map and forEach was? Well, just take a look and see how far you’ve come! Your trajectory will be different to the person you’re sitting next to, paired with, or who always seems to have their hand in the air to answer a question, but that’s absolutely fine. The point is, you’re on a trajectory and you’re going to get there.
Do something you enjoy that isn’t coding
Take time every day to do something else you enjoy
When you’re on a coding course, it can feel like you’re wasting your time if you do anything other than coding every waking hour of the day, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the hours you put in make a huge difference, but it’s the quality of those hours that really matters.
To improve the quality of the hours you spend at the screen, let your brain switch off by doing something completely unrelated to coding. I found knitting and running extremely valuable whilst I was learning to code. Both allowed my brain to switch off whilst I engaged in automatic tasks, and I would come back to the computer refreshed and with a clear head ready to solve problems. Do whatever works for you — as long as it’s away from a screen and you enjoy it.
Stretching is good for the soul, and the shoulders
Look after yourself physically
This is similar to the previous point, but it’s worth noting separately. Coding is, believe it or not, a fairly sedentary activity! Your only imposed exercise might be your morning ‘Stand Up’, and if you’re not used to working for long hours at a computer you could start out with poor posture. I also found that my eyes quickly became extremely tired when I began coding all day.
Making time every day to do some simple stretching exercises will really help. Just Google ‘stretches for office workers’ and you’ll see that there are plenty of guides out there. You might also look into eye exercises for screen users if you are getting sore or tired eyes. At the minimum, taking regular breaks from the screen and walking around the room or the building will really help. It also has the benefit of giving you a bit of headspace to think about the problem at hand — you’ll be surprised how often a solution comes to you the moment you step away from the computer!
I also can’t stress enough how important it is to try and get good quality sleep during a coding course. At the beginning it can be really hard to switch off — code is swimming around your head when you close your eyes and you can’t stop thinking about that function you were trying to implement earlier. To improve your sleep quality, try to stick to a nighttime routine that works for you. If you had a good routine before the course, try not to deviate. If your routine isn’t working, maybe consider reading or trying meditation or yoga before going to sleep to help unwind. Don’t stay up working right up until bedtime, however tempting it is!
If you’re sleepy… sleep
Listen to your body
We’ve all had afternoons where we’re sleepy and lethargic and just not getting it, no matter how hard we try. And we’ve all had those hours where we’re so engrossed and wired into what we’re doing that we fly through the work at breakneck speed and look at the clock and can’t believe where the time’s gone.
I would listen to your body at times like these. If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open and can’t focus for more than a few minutes, head home as soon as possible and get an early night. It’s not an efficient use of your time to battle on under these conditions. It’s easier to learn when you’re really engaged, switched on and working ‘deeply’, so try to run with these times instead.
Don’t worry about next week, just focus on today.
Focus on the here and now
If you’re attending a coding bootcamp you likely have a big goal — to change your career. It’s natural for everyone to worry somewhat about how you’re going to get there, and for some people this will cause more anxiety than others. But worrying about it won’t get you there faster.
If you try to focus all your energy on the here and now — what you’re learning this week, what you’re trying to implement before you go home, what you’re listening to in this lecture — you’ll steadily find that everything fits into place. If you know that next week’s going to focus on databases, the worst thing you can do is try and research databases in advance. Just forget about it. Focus on what you are doing this week and leave the rest for later. I promise you will save yourself time and effort. And when you get onto databases, that’s where all your attention should be.
You're in a room of friends, remember!
Remember that everyone else in the room is going through the same experience, and many of your mentors will have also been in your shoes. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, worried or stressed, talk to someone. I can guarantee that if you start talking you’ll find that somebody else feels the same as you and can empathise. If you feel like you’ve got too much to do and don’t know where to begin, tutors can help you prioritise, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Remember that your classmates are your friends — when this is all over you’re going to be working in the same tech space, you’ll most likely keep in touch with many of them, and you’ll be looking out for one another in your careers. You’re not in competition with them!
Do you have any other tips for surviving a bootcamp? Tweet me @harrietty or leave a comment here!