[Redacted] Academy – Weeks Five & Six

The work on my [Redacted] project has officially begun, so I’m procrastinating on everything else these days. This blog post sat around unpublished for more than a week, but it’s here now!

My last blog post received a fair amount of attention and a ton of responses. So I want to acknowledge all the emails and messages from the many people who responded to my last post. Some thanked me for my honesty, others offered words of encouragement, and many developers offered their professional help. While I couldn’t reply to every email, I read them all and want to say THANK YOU!

Moving on…

I am happy to report that I’ve made it through weeks five and six at [Redacted]  and things are finally starting to click for me. Why? A few weeks ago, I started tuning out lectures… sort of… let me explain.

[Redacted] is great at a number of things (networking, mentors, community), but lectures haven’t been one of their strengths. It’s not that I don’t care about the lectures, it’s that I don’t learn very much from them. But I want to learn this stuff, I want to learn it badly, it’s why I’m here. So I started bringing my laptop to lectures, writing down key terms and concepts, and then looking those things up in Safari Books. By the end of the lecture, I have a set of bookmarked chapters that fully explain concepts like jQuery or SQL databases, chapters I can reference back to, re-read, and take notes from.

My new reliance on Safari Books has done a couple things for me:

  •  When the instructors lecture too quickly, I can go back and read at my own pace.
  •  If lectures are confusing and unstructured, or when the instructors get lost on tangents, I don’t get lost with them, because I have guidance points back to the things I need to know.
  • Allowed me to write and share my own notes, and understand important concepts from another voice/perspective.

At first, I felt weird about having my face in my laptop during lectures… I didn’t want to come across a jerk, but I knew I wasn’t learning by just listening. It’s hard to tell people that their best isn’t working for you, but the lectures at [Redacted] , as well intended as they may be, don’t work for me (and don’t work as well as they should, for a number of other students). The promises of improved lectures that came in earlier weeks… well, that never really happened. It’s a harsh realization on both ends but I realized I can’t rely on anyone else to get the education I want/need, I have to go after it myself.

The instruction period is pretty much over, which is good for me in some ways. The project phase has begun, and we’re all building a program of our choice to show to 25+ different companies, in a series of seven-minute flash interviews, on Demo Day. I think this might be the most valuable part of [Redacted], but for some reason it’s given the least attention?

The project phase is a little under three weeks, and many of us picked our projects ambitiously (maybe a little too ambitiously). We’re allowed to work on a bit more of our own schedule, and leave [Redacted] to meet with our mentors for project advice. My mentor, Dominic Dagradi, is AMAZING. He is literally ALWAYS online, and ready to help me. If I have a question night or day, I know he’ll be there to answer it. He’s saved me countless hours of work by giving me sound design advice. Did I mention he’s wicked smart? In addition to Dominic, I also have the help of my friend Dave McCroy. Dave and his wife Caroline are close friends of mine, and it just so happens that Dave is also a crazy fucking smart programmer and business man who’s had amazing success in his career and life. I am beyond thankful for Dominic and Dave; without their direction and help, I would truly be lost.

(Me and Dominic at the Heroku office. Hair twins!)

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You should check them out, if you want to read up on some kickass programmers:

  •  Dominic Dagradi:          GitHub                        Twitter                      Website
  •  Dave McCroy:                  GitHub                        Twitter                      LinkedIn

My last weeks at [Redacted] have improved because I’ve been spending more time with the things I know work well (like Safari books and my fantastic mentors); but [Redacted] itself hasn’t improved very much.

Unfortunately, I still feel very much the same as I did in previous posts, about [Redacted]’s failings as a school and business. In week four, Instructor2 came downstairs to discuss the failures and took responsibility for them, promising to lecture more himself and personally intervene with students and staff who were falling behind. I think we all felt more hopeful then, that the “real” [Redacted] we’d signed up for would come back… but it didn’t. Instructor2 comes downstairs occasionally, but doesn’t lecture, and the last two weeks of lectures were the same as before. The only solid lectures came from Instructor1, who clearly thought out her lessons on JavaScript, tailoring the exercises and instruction to our class, and following through with many of us. Other than JavaScript I & II, though… things stayed the same. This is especially sad to say, because I think we all had high hopes after Instructor2 came to talk to us, and seemed sincere with his promises.

[Redacted] is making improvements, restructuring their staff and curriculum, but I don’t think I will benefit from any of that; maybe the next class will. They tried something new with our class… it didn’t work, and we all know it… and, that’s just kind of the way it is. I could go into more detail about this stuff, but it’s frustrating and a little sad. Instead, I’ll shift focus to talk about the people who are doing awesome things at [Redacted] .

There are two students at [Redacted], who are some of my favorite people:

  • Erica Joy, a Googler with a long career in tech, who is writing software to do genetic and geospatial querying, to find connecting points between different family trees.
  • Laura Jane, a former science teacher/middle school vice principal, who is writing a compiler and easy-to-read technical documentation to go with it (making whatever the fuck compilers do infinitely more understandable to the rest of us).

Laura, Erica, and I found ourselves working in the same corner of the pair programming room around week three; it’s now called the “Bad Girl Corner” by the instructors. We got the name from Instructor1 because it houses three smart and outspoken ‘bad girls’, who aren’t afraid to ask for the things they need to get ahead. And really, there is only one other person I wholeheartedly welcome into the Bad Girl Corner… and he’s not even a girl. I’ve specifically saved him for last, because he has saved me from myself more than once, and has changed so much for me.

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Instructor3 is a new, part-time, instructor at [Redacted]. He’s only there Tuesdays and Thursdays, which bums me out, because is my favorite instructor (and many other students would agree he’s their favorite too). Like many instructors at [Redacted], Instructor3 is wicked smart, but what he really shines most about him, is that he’s an outstanding teacher.

I learn the most on what I now refer to as ‘Instructor3 Days’. I can’t tell you how many times he has rescued me from a coding spiral by coming over to my station, even when I haven’t asked for help. He takes the time to really get to know students, and can easily spot when I’m spiraling or lost, from across the room. When Instructor3 does arrive at my station, he’s there to listen to how I understand (or don’t understand) a problem, then adjust his answer to fit my brain. Occasionally, he doesn’t know the answer (nobody knows them all), and this is one of the best things about him. Instructor3, is open enough to learn with students, and will sit and happily find the answer with you, explaining all the way through… and that, my folks, is one of the most important parts of teaching, learning with your students and enjoying it.

One of my greatest frustrations at [Redacted] , is when I ask questions and the instructors respond with either: “You don’t need to know that right now” or “don’t ask about that, it’s not important”. I often felt they didn’t know the answer themselves, or at least didn’t understand well enough to explain to someone else in simple terms, so they’d avoid answering at all. These responses, made me want to stop asking questions… I thought all my questions were stupid or bad when they were answered that way. Instructor3 has made me want to ask questions again, made me curious about really learning this computer programming stuff, like I’d hoped to.

Really I’m just trying to say, Instructor3 is the best. It’s rare to find someone who is both a great developer and great teacher; when I find someone like that, I do my best to hold on to them!

So, thank you to Dominic, Dave, Instructor1, Erica, Laura, and especially Instructor3. You guys are amazing and I’m really thankful to have you. And for any readers who don’t know me well, I want to mention that being sappy isn’t something I do well or often, so if I’m saying it about these people, I must mean it.

The takeaway from this blog are that you should always keep your career and education in your own hands, and do what you know works for you. [Redacted] is a great stepping-stone, but learning everything you’ll need to from them alone, is unrealistic. Work hard, speak up for yourself, use your resources, and get outside mentors. I’d suggest anyone looking into [Redacted] to get a mentor as soon as you can; so many developers are happy to help, and you don’t have to be in school or attending a bootcamp to get a mentor. In the end, what you make of an experience is far more valuable than the experience alone.


  • Dena Sawyer

    Hi Ashley,
    I just read your posts about your experience with your coding bootcamp. I am interested in attending but might be a bit more hesitant to do so after reading your blog. Now I am thinking about taking things into my own hands and not being as reliant on going to a school. I’ve started doing some free online coding classes. But what else? First things that come to mind are to start my own website like yours and find a mentor. But no idea how to start either of those. Would love a little advice hear and am open to a mentor or even a student with a bit more experience then me that would like to work with me. I so appreciate reading about your experience here.

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