Am I Too Old for a Coding Bootcamp?

(Nope! Here’s my path and some tips.)

An image of a girl trying to drink from a hose but being sprayed
Learning in an immersive boot camp is often compared to trying to drink from a fire hose….

Six months ago, I googled the same question. And, if you’re like me, you’ve learned JavaScript and are thinking about taking it further. Wondering if you’re too old to zig into a totally different zag. The short answer is: No! You are definitely not too old, even if you don’t come from a tech background.

After college, I worked in early education with infant and toddlers. But when I had children, my husband’s demanding job and my low pay didn’t make it worthwhile to continue. At home with a new baby and feeling isolated, it wasn’t easy to feel connected. Consumer internet was still new and very basic. No social media, no shopping, and slow dial up. When my internet service offered customers free small site hosting, I had no idea what that meant. Intrigued, I added an HTML book to the bag of picture books on my next trip to the library. While my daughter napped, I created a very basic personal site to keep in touch with friends and family, essentially a blog.

The next 20 years were a blur of raising children, caring for sick parents, volunteering at school and more. My computer time was spent on the mundane and definitely not code related. I watched home internet blossom and I loved the way it could serve up the information I needed whenever I wanted it. I could count on the internet to tell me how to fix the dryer, the garage door, the plumbing. I always want to know how things work and fit together. The internet always provides the answers.

Just before the pandemic, I was looking to reenter the job force and I didn’t feel like there were many options to me after being home for so long. I had many skills but they were diverse, not enough of any one thing, and certainly not resume ready. I accepted that I would get a job, it was too late for a career. In a chance conversation, an acquaintance mentioned Grace Hopper at Fullstack’s coding bootcamp. Intrigued, I went home and looked it up. I was excited about the possibility of a new career path that I hadn’t considered. As the pandemic seized everyday life, I turned to the internet to learn JavaScript.

Before I knew it, I was where you are. Googling “Am I too old for a coding bootcamp?” From the other side, you are definitely not too old! If you’ve learned enough to get to the applying part and the only thing holding you back is fear, just do it. As someone who went to college with a typewriter and was stoked that my new roommate had a word processor, I am definitely not a ‘digital native’. But don’t underestimate the benefit of your life experiences or overestimate the benefit of someone else’s. You may not know exactly how the internet works but the internet is just a system with parts that fit together. And if you can learn other systems, plumbing, automotive, the human body, you can learn the system that makes up the web.

Having said that you can learn it at any age, the bootcamp experience is intense. Clear your calendar. Until it’s over, not even nights or weekends are yours. You will eat, breathe, and dream about code. You will learn that you can actually feel your brain hurt. You will be told, “Trust the process” again and again. You cannot possibly take in everything that you’re taught and that’s ok. It will come together. When it’s over and you have the high-level view, you will be amazed at how much you learned in such a short period of time. And you will be able to figure out which parts you missed and fill them in.

My age difference was barely noticeable, to me at least. (The blur of Zoom in pandemic school helps.) The only time it felt obvious came from my own insecurities. Like when I didn’t know a keyboard shortcut and someone younger was quick to tell me what to do. There’s so much info to take in from the first hour of the first day, you don’t have time for your insecurities to get in the way. Learning JS is the big hurdle but a little prep work can make you even more comfortable. Whether older or from a non-tech background, I wish I had reviewed these before I started…

Command Line Interface (CLI)- Get comfortable with a few basic commands and bookmark a cheat sheet. The CLI is similar to the ways we interacted with computers before the mouse and GUI (graphical user interface) came along. You will use it for creating directories, installing packages, and more…

VS Code- Like me, you may have learned JavaScript in Codepen, Codecademy, or others. In bootcamp, VS Code is the text editor you will be working in. Download it before you start and play around with it. There are a few extensions you should have as a beginner: ESLint, Prettier, and Bracket Pair Colorizer. These will help alert you to errors, space your code blocks according to best practices, and help you match up your bracket pairs. (For fun, look through the color themes too!) For tutorials and installation help check out https://code.visualstudio.com/learn.

HTML- It helps to have some experience with HTML and CSS. JavaScript is where you’ll spend your time but HTML is the skeleton of a webpage. HTML is easy to understand and you can follow a tutorial to familiarize yourself with it. CSS is something you’ll wrestle with often and it may be helpful to watch a tutorial on Flexbox. (And you may as well look up the DOM while you’re at it!)

Git/GitHub- You will be using Git and GitHub to keep track of and save your work. Git is a version control system. It’s a way to track changes to a project. If necessary, you can revert to a former version, branch off a new version, commit changes, etc. Your Git repo (repository) is stored on your local machine. GitHub is a repository hosting service, a way to share and work on a project with others. You don’t need to use this yet but it’s good to have a grasp of how it works. (https://product.hubspot.com/blog/git-and-github-tutorial-for-beginners)

Having a head start may take the edge off the first week’s information overload. You’ll use the above throughout your bootcamp experience and beyond. Other things that will help are a comfortable work space, a second monitor, and some blue light glasses. A steady stream of comfort snacks is helpful to combat the frustration and doubt that is your companion throughout the process. But YOU CAN DO THIS.

I’ll leave you with a few other things I wish I had known or done during my time in bootcamp…

Don’t be shy about asking a teammate to slow down or explain. There were times I didn’t speak up. Afraid it was confirmation I was too old for this. Try to remember, it’s not your age. The young ones are struggling too and they are happy to help. The act of explaining it to someone else helps sort it out. Some in your cohort will get it faster and some will struggle. Don’t be shy about the struggle. I later found out a younger class mate found a tutor for a week that was a killer. If I hadn’t been caught in my insecurities and reached out for help, I could’ve solidified those skills and moved forward quicker. Make a study group. Ask someone who gets it to tutor you that week.

Avoid “tutorial hell”. There was a time when I was struggling with a concept and kept watching tutorials and reading articles. My thought was that if I could understand the whole, I would be able to understand how the parts came together and how to code it. But it’s actually the opposite. You need to struggle with the code to understand the whole. The same as you could watch a million guitar lessons but you need to do it to learn it. (If you do watch tutorials, code along with them.)

Console.log() everything. I can’t stress this enough. As your code becomes more involved and traces through different parts of the stack, it can be hard to see what’s happening under the hood. Write logs that tell you where they are and what they have at that point. Something like, console.log(“Here in the fetchAll thunk”, data) will tell you where and when the program is hitting this code. It will also let you see if the data is what you expect it to be at this point. Good logs help you understand the flow and root out bugs. Think of it like spraying soapy water on a leaky tire and looking for bubbles, it helps you see things you wouldn’t otherwise.

Today is actually my bootcamp graduation and I will be moving onto my job search! It has been an intense experience but so positive in every way, despite a global pandemic and being entirely online. The Grace Hopper Program was terrific with wonderful, patient instructors who foster a positive learning environment. The students are an amazing bunch, warm, supportive, and kind. Attending a bootcamp challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and I am so pleased I did. It is my “pandemic positive”. Don’t let fear hold you back. You can do it! Good luck!