Part 2: Three basic principles

A couple weeks down the line, Julia is over half way through the course — or ‘sabbatical’ as she so gingerly calls it. As we meet again to discuss her progress, she shares her insights on coding, talks about the products she has built, the challenges she faced, and surprises she encountered during her time at the Ironhack web development bootcamp.

This is part 2 of a series that follows Julia Miller, Product Manager at Zalando, during a 9-week web development course at Ironhack.

It’s almost nine weeks into the course, and Julia has just finished creating her final project — a wine recommendation application. The idea was born thanks to a common love for wine in her project group. “All three of us are passionate wine drinkers”, she explains, which is why they created a fully functional web application that helps users choose the perfect wine for their meal. After only about eight weeks of having started her ‘coding sabbatical’, she is proud to be able to built a site like this — but of course that was not where things began.

Knowing the basics/craft

At the beginning of the course, in the first of three modules, the bootcamp had students go on a little time travel. Teaching them the very basics of code and computing, Julia and her cohort learned to build a website with tools that were used at the dawn of the world wide web and microsoft back in the 90’s.

While this little exercise may seem futile, the knowledge she acquired here would later prove to be quite essential. Julia explains how learning old techniques gave her a basic understanding of the principles and structures upon which she would later build — a feel for the craft so to say. Besides laying the foundation for future work, the challenge to do some old-school coding however also proved to be quite fun. After running her idea by a Teaching Assistant who approved her proposal in terms of both complexity and do-ability, Julia recreated Bomberman, a popular Nintendo game she remembers playing as a child, “even in Kazakhstan”.

In total it took her four days to build the game, which, much like the original Bomberman, could be played alone or in competition against another player. Of course, Julia wasn’t the only one to become creative with this exercise. “We had a lot of cool games” she explains, telling of another student who even developed a typing simulator in which you are interacting with a little hippo.

That student outcomes vary and can be quite creative is no surprise, considering the wide range of people in the course and their diverse professional backgrounds — from highschool grads, to classical singers, historians, designers, sales managers, marketers or engineers. While some students who attend Ironhack are more experienced in the tech field, using the course as a career booster, many who join have little to no prior knowledge at all. Usually these students want to reinvent themselves, switch career paths and become launch their careers in tech.

Team work & research

Creativity and team diversity continued to play a role throughout the course. In a second module, in which she learned to use different frameworks and build API’s, Julia paired up with a British student, who was also a manager just like herself.

Using their newfound knowledge of Bootstrap, a framework used for its predefined grid system, they created an application that allows researchers to gather and track field data through crowdsourcing knowledge. People on the street can post data points, which are filtered in a way that helps the researcher determine the reliability of the information before integrating it in their project.

While creating this application was a challenge from a technical standpoint, Julia also laughingly describes how the project went almost oddly smoothly. Both with the same professional background as managers, they had a seamless experience in their ‘pair-programming’ — a common way for developers to work in companies as well.

Indeed, web development as it is done today is far from a fly-solo job. Though many still have a classic image of the isolated geek stuck away behind a computer, Julia explains how in fact coding is extremely interactive, even noting that “if you’re not a teamplayer, you shouldn’t be a coder”. According to her, only about 50 % of work time is actually spent coding, while the rest, (much like any other job) is spent managing processes, solving problems and communicating effectively with your team.

“It’s impossible to write your own code”.

Even when it comes to the knowledge itself, web development is hardly a one-man show. Instead, Julia describes how a lot of writing code depends on research skills. “It took me at least an hour of guessing around, until it occured to me that, hey, I can just google it”, she notes laughingly. Indeed, a large part of the time is not spent thinking, but googling and finding out how others have solved the problem you are facing.

Luckily, there are sites like Stack Overflow where she was able to access a global community of developers, eager to help each other and share their coding knowledge. Coming from a different field, the openness and willingness to share knowledge among the web development community was somewhat surprising for Julia. “This was very new to me”, she says.

And while for now Julia still finds herself on the receiving end of this knowledge exchange (in fact she usually finds herself sifting through questions, which were already answered a few years ago) this does not mean that one day she will not be the other side. “The general mood”, she says, “is that today I’m going to help someone, and tomorrow I will be helped”. The motivation to build tools together with others is something she truly likes.

Staying up to date

As much as teamwork and good research play a role, staying up to date seems to be another crucial factor. Julia believes that in this fast paced and quickly changing field, it is everyone’s responsibility to stay informed, no matter where you work or what stage you are in. She even estimates that “if you want to be a good developer you have to spend at least 80% of your free time educating yourself about new tools and methods”.

For this reason, module three of the bootcamp, takes a closer look at a framework called React. Developed by Facebook, it is currently heavily used in the industry. Strangely enough though, many coding schools do to not integrate this into their curriculum. As Ironhack’s goal is however to prepare students for the professional world they will encounter as web developers, they have decided to iterate their program to bring in elements like these. This is something Julia particularly appreciates about the course, and speaking about her Lead Teacher Maxence, she remarks that “the cool thing about Maxence is that he is always up to date”.

Indeed, coding is a new field, and so being flexible and staying up to date is important for coders as well as schools. Ironhack’s integration of React is certainly exemplary, especially since their goal is to boost people’s careers and prepare their cohorts for what comes next. As Ironhack’s Growth Manager Kristina Krinizki explains, “when you’re done with the bootcamp, you’re not done at all — you’re just getting started”.

written by B.P. and edited by K.K.