Adult education is intimidating, partly because it brings back memories of school. Many of us had unpleasant learning experiences back then, or were taught in a method that didn’t suit.
However, the discipline of coding – and how it’s taught – might not be what you expect.
Here are are some tips for approaching bootcamps. Getting off on the right foot is a little easier if you know what to expect…
Concentrate on practice instead of memorising
Many of us think that learning is memorisation. That’s not what really what it is, but it’s not our fault if we’re mistaken. Learning is – or should be – understanding.
Teaching, especially in early schooldays, often consists of memorisation (from the alphabet to numbers and beyond) and that trend often continues into secondary/high school and third level exams. Too many of us are trained to absorb and then regurgitate reams of information without appreciating its meaning.
This thinking isn’t helpful for learning to code: Software development is a craft. It consists of problem solving, creativity and using a working knowledge of a language.
At Code Institute we value practical learning over theory. Some students fall into the trap of taking reams of notes without understanding their meaning or context. We would prefer if you spent the time trying to understand how a language works and tinkering with it. Practice, practice and practice some more, until you’re familiar and comfortable with the basics.
Play with the lines of code. Experiment. One of our mentors has a favourite question from students: “What would happen if I did this?” His answer is always “Go ahead and try it.”
Learning to code is seeing how a function works and then testing it out; seeing what its capabilities and limitations are, and how it connects with other functions.
One of our students had a background as a cook and he treated software development like recipes: But aligning instructions like that doesn’t work. You might be able to follow it exactly and get what works, but that’s not coding. It’s the difference between tracing a picture and drawing it. Or building a Lego toy based on instructions compared to building a new Lego creation of your own. (Lines of code are Lego bricks in this metaphor!)
Get over your fear of failing
Everyone fears failure and that’s okay. But we’ll let you in on a secret: A lot of coding, even for experienced developers, is trial and error.
To get the best out of bootcamps, try to get comfortable with swinging and missing. Unlike with a cooking recipe (where you can burn the meal) you can’t fail with code. If it doesn’t work yet, it just means it’s not done.
An early part of our bootcamps are“test-driven development”. This is where you’re set up with a test code which will initially fail, and then you try to alter the code to make it work.
Test-driven development teaches you that there’s no such thing as failing in coding. It’s just a case of a code not doing what you want to do. The only failure is not proceeding.
The following scenario might sound familiar to you: You’re trying to solve a problem and it’s not working. You describe the problem to somebody else, and in doing so, the solution occurs to you.
Articulating a puzzle out loud works wonders, and it happens in software development all the time. If you can’t find a human, grab a rubber duck! All you need is a sounding board.
In fact, “rubber ducking” is a term that’s widely used in software development, as many devs explain coding conundrums line by line to inanimate objects (yes, often a duck). Not surprisingly, rubber ducking has its own wikipedia page.
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