Coding camps, by nature, are short and intense. That means participants have to dive in quickly and start wringing out the most value they can out of the experience. There's just not the time to sit, reflect and get your bearings.
"[A coding camp] is one of those situations where it's a very clear input that's linearly correlated with output," said Mo Zhu, a January graduate of Launch Academy, a 10-week program based in Boston.
Zhu went in without much of a formal background in coding, but a strong interest, and is now a software developer at 3Play Media.
We asked several code camps, as well as code camp alumni for pointers on how to have the best experience possible when attending one of these intense coding boot camps.
1. Get in the right mindset
"Be prepared for a roller coaster ride," said Smita Busar, a graduate from Seattle-based Code Fellows. Attending a coding camp, in most cases, means going all in. gSchool's Kinsey Durham said that when prospective students ask about taking vacations or going on honeymoons during the program, the answer is 'no.' "You need to be 100% here all the time for 6 months and ready to work really hard," she said.
Code Fellows' CEO Kristin Smith said that as part of engaging in an immersive experience, it's good to look beyond what's being taught.
"As you dive into a particular technology stack, invest the time to explore online resources and adjacent topics that support the lessons you're learning in class — like tool sets, frameworks, or different ways of doing the things you're taught, " she said.
2. Do the pre-work
If your camp of choice gives you work to do ahead of time, don't skimp on the effort. It's a chance to give yourself a leg up in a fast-paced learning environment. "The prework does a great job of preparing you, giving you that foundation you need before you come in," Zhu said.
Smith equated the prep work to getting ready for a physical journey- and that includes making sure your gear is in good shape. "Make sure your equipment is ready to go. You can't afford to have your laptop or any key resources fail you," she said.
3. Have a support system, give them a heads up
Busar went through Code Fellows with a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old baby. Luckily, she also had a supportive husband through the process. She advised explaining the nature of the time commitment to friends or family, and asking for help when needed.
4. Be social
Zhu spent as much time as he could at Launch Academy, not just to talk to the instructors, but to talk and share with his classmates. "I think that's an overlooked but very important source of learning," he said. "I think what gets the most learning is not necessarily me sitting at my computer just typing away. I can do that anywhere, but what's special and important is that you can learn from the people who are there."
5. Don't get burned out
Since you might be in the position of working long days, evenings, and weekends, it's important to watch out for burnout, Dunham said. She said that students should "make sure that they take care of themselves mentally and physically. Keep up with exercise routines, sometimes that gets pushed to the wayside." It's an important habit to develop. "It's a real thing and people in the industry deal with that a lot," she said.
Zhu agreed. He advised taking small breathers. Every hour or two, or after finishing an assignment, he'd take a small break and go talk to someone. "Bank little victories of resting when you can," he said. He also said Launch Academy was good about encouraging some fun on the side, which made the process easier.
Besides avoiding burnout, it's also important to not get discouraged. "If you're going to take a coding course, you need to know that you're going to go through the crucible of feeling overwhelmed - and you'll need to find your way though," Smith said. "Understand that you will sometimes need to 'reset' yourself and use the resources around you to keep up the pace."
Hannah Jane Buchanan, a graduate of Fullstack Academy, had similar thoughts: "I think most graduates have fleeting moments of self doubt during their experience, like 'Can I really do this?' and occasional feelings of imposter syndrome, but always remembering that everyone started somewhere is really helpful."
6. Keep learning
Whether you're starting cold, or adding to your skillset, don't think of your time in a coding program as a finite experience. In many cases, it's a stepping stone in developing expertise. Zhu said "not to think of it as somebody sprinkled fairy dust on you and suddenly you're a great developer." Don't approach a camp as if when it's finished, you're finished learning.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.