Hack Reactor developer bootcamp

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How to Survive at Hack Reactor… and at Life

I am a student at Hack Reactor (cohort #33). This has been one of the most challenging, rewarding, difficult, and mind-blowing experiences of my life. It’s not only the most academically challenging three months of my life (even harder than first semester of law school!) but it also pushed me to a limit beyond what I originally thought I was capable of.

I cannot count the number of emotional ups-and-downs I experienced throughout the course. In the same hour I would go from Javascript-slinging ninja to feelings of absolute inadequacy and failure. Imposter Syndrome anyone?

How did I — someone with no engineering background and only 6 months of light Javascript experience — survive? Simple: hard work, perseverance, and passion for what I was doing. More specifically, here is a list of top reasons of how I survived at Hack Reactor:

Understand the goals

The ultimate question for Hack Reactor is: is this someone that you would want to work with as an engineering colleague upon graduation? The instructors work hard to assess and improve your ability to work as an engineer in a team environment. No one codes alone, nor should they. It’s a team sport and our ability to code well in that setting is a huge barometer of success. Their single focus is to make us good engineers while working in team environments. The minute I understood this goal, my vision and metrics for success became a lot clearer. It really helped me focus on what is important.

End each day with a win

This one is huge for mental psyche. I never left the office without ending the day with a win. It could be as small as finding a missing bracket and finally solving that toy problem, or it could be as large as actually completing the Backbone.js sprint. Whatever it was, leaving on a high note puts you in a great position to start the next day. It acted like a sealant to my day.

Embrace the deep end… Without a life jacket… And 50 lb. weights on

Hack Reactor makes it a point to throw you immediately in the deep end. There is very little hand holding. They teach you to embrace autonomy and self-direction.

Learning how to float is as important as learning how to swim.

I can’t count the number of times I felt I needed to walk into the dean’s office, throw my hands up and proclaim, you caught me, I have zero fucking clue what’s going on and I’m a phony. Many of my classmates were coding ninjas. They were intimidatingly good and I felt like I knew nothing. But I survived and now I am stronger than ever. I got through the battle, with scars, and alive to tell stories about it.

FILO: First In, Last Out

I learned this one while parking my car at the Bart station. I couldn’t help but notice that each day I was the first car in and the last car out. At first I found it strange but then I realized…

That’s what winning looks like. That’s what success looks like. There are no easy roads to the mountain top.

Almost everyday I found myself arriving early and leaving late. At night, I was usually part of the late night crew that helped close the classroom (close blinds, put cups away, etc). I now know that process by heart because of how often I stayed late.

If you are not challenged every single day, you are doing it wrong

You should expect to learn something new every single day. You should also expect to be challenged everyday. If you are not, then you are doing it wrong. It’s a yellow flag and you should speak to an instructor immediately to learn how you can get more out of the program.

The purpose of life is to be continually defeated by greater and greater challenges.

Every single day became the greatest academic challenge of my life, only to be replaced by the next day’s challenge. It never stopped. Right when I thought I had grasped a concept, they threw another one at me that piled more building blocks on top of the first. It. Never. Stops.

Take the stairs

I mean this both literally and figuratively. HR occupies the 6th, 7th, and 8th floors — that’s about 160 stairs to the top, multiple times per day. I accepted the challenge of taking the stairs each day. It helped me develop grit. I also enjoyed watching other students’ faces when they finally reach the top floor. The look of relief and fatigue was one I could empathize with since I too took the stairs shortly before them. It was important to me that I did not get in the habit of taking any shortcuts.

Asking for help !== weakness

Coding is a team sport. I learned that if you are experiencing a technical issue, many other people are also experiencing the same issue. Search Google, ask friends, or speak to a mentor. You are not alone with your problem. Unlike most of the courses throughout my years as a student, it is highly encouraged to use external resources to find the answer to something. Asking for help is normal, it is not a sign of weakness.

Have fun — you’re still young, healthy, and happy

Sometimes we forget how great our lives truly are. Getting up each morning at 6:30 AM and then falling asleep at 1:00 AM is actually not that big of a deal when looked at in perspective. If you live in the US, you are arguably already in the top 5% (300M / 7B). Embrace that and remind yourself that we are on Earth to love, laugh, and have fun. I know that sounds a bit soft, but it’s true!

In sum, if you are thinking of attending Hack Reactor then I hope this post encouraged you to apply. You will push yourself to a place you likely never knew was possible. Buckle up, embrace the challenge, and grow!

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