[HackR Diary] Pre-Course Anticipation

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Thumbnail of my twittler

Thumbnail of my Twitter clone assignment

Tomorrow is a huge day for me. Tomorrow is when I start attending Hack Reactor. I’m about to go from funemployment (going to bed at 4am; waking up at 12pm) to immersive student life (spending 80 hours/week on “campus”). I will write about my journey from amateur to trained pro in a series of blog posts called HackR Diary.

Mandatory Pre-Course Work

I enrolled in tomorrow’s Hack Reactor cohort back in late August. So I had a month to get through some pre-course “homework.” Some bits of the homework were harder than I expected (e.g., functional JavaScript challenges); some bits were easier than I expected (e.g., creation of simple Twitter-like front-end). The Twitter clone challenge was actually really fun for me because I like a challenge that actually includes a front-end.

There were times I was frustrated because I felt like I would be doing a lot better with just a little bit of help (e.g., recursion challenges), but I didn’t ask for much help, so I did a lot of solo struggling. However, one of the biggest bummers was going through the Backbone.js assignment. The assignment was to simply complete the Code School Backbone.js tutorials (two of them). Hack Reactor provided me with a Code School membership, and I was excited to take advantage of it, but that particular set of Code School tutorials isn’t very good at teaching. I felt like I didn’t get a good grip of the concepts (models/collections, views/rendering, routers).

I’m also a bit jaded when it comes to online tutorials. They generally do a lot of hand-holding to the point where you don’t retain much info, and if you get stuck on something, you’re a bit screwed. My low patience for tutorials is part of why I decided to enroll in a bootcamp, but there I was: doing tutorials as part of bootcamp homework! Don’t get me wrong, online tutorials are great resources in general, but I can only take so much. Eventually, I’d rather do some Coderbyte challenges instead of Code School challenges.

Pre-Course Check-In Meeting

Hack Reactor makes incoming students meet with a Hacker-in-Residence (basically a Teaching Assitant?) to check up on the pre-course homework. I heard that some students have been weeded out of the bootcamp by the homework.

I met with an H-in-R named Bianca. My meeting was done in person, but these check-in meetings are sometimes conducted via webcam for those who haven’t arrived in San Francisco yet.

Before the meeting, I was pretty worried about how I stacked up compared to my peers. We’re not experts (hence the desire to enroll in a bootcamp), but we’re supposed to be much better than a typical beginner because the admissions process was not easy. During the meeting, Bianca asked me how I felt about the three biggest parts of the pre-course homework: the functional JavaScript challenge involving test-driven development (TDD), the rudimentary Twitter front-end clone, and the JSON recursion challenges.

I anxiously watched as Bianca scrolled through my code. After discussing some questions I had, issues I struggled with, and solutions to my few bugs, I felt a lot better. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself, but I tend to worry a lot. I walked out of the conference room feeling very positive.

Other Pre-Course Work

Hack Reactor suggests completing more tutorials and reading some resources if students have some spare time before classes start. Suggested topics include Git, Node.js, CSS, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, and CoffeeScript.

I studied Backbone.js a bit more, I read about JavaScript best practices, and I spent a lot of time doing more Code School tutorials. Some are better than others. I mostly looked at HTML/CSS stuff, which sounds easy, but I just wanted to make sure there weren’t too many gaps in my fundamental knowledge (position and display properties still slap me around sometimes).

The Code School tutorial on the Fundamentals of Design was pretty awesome actually. It’s the only tutorial that doesn’t require coding, but it imparted quite a few cool nuggets of knowledge about how to choose fonts, colors, and layouts. The layouts part wasn’t as insightful (I wish they had you actually implement a grid with some coding), but learning about typeface categories (e.g., humanist vs. transitional vs. modern) and what defines a good color scheme (e.g., 60 degrees of hue separation) was sweeeet. Hopefully I’ll get around to blogging about the basics of fonts and colors one day. It’s just some very simple stuff that can help a lot.

Overall, I didn’t do as much studying on my own as I should have. I suck at independent study. Bahumbug.

I’m so friggin’ nervous!

Although the pre-course check-in meeting left me feeling optimistic about my future success at Hack Reactor, I no longer feel quite so confident.

This past weekend, I got access to my cohort’s Google Group. I bet that Hack Reactor nearly forgot to add me to the group. I browsed the group forum, and I saw posts dating back from July. There were some posts in August about meeting up to get to know one another before our Hack Reactor course starts. Doh! I missed those opportunities!

There was also a thread of self-introductions. Only a handful of people introduced themselves, but damn! They sound impressive. They make me worry about how I’ll compare. What’s funny is that a lot of them are non-Asians who have lived in China. They can speak Mandarin way better than I can (i.e., I only know a few basic words). Hopefully I don’t get a lot of flak. I already get enough grief from my mom.

My plans for blogging

Considering that I will be busier than I have ever been in my entire life(?), I probably won’t have much time for blogging, but I am determined to do a fair amount of blogging anyway!

I still have plenty of coding bootcamp research to blog about, but I will give my HackR Diary a higher priority. I’ve set a goal to blog about my experience at Hack Reactor at least once per week. Each diary entry will include a quick recap of topics taught by HackR staff, observational knowledge nuggets I picked up myself, and my personal evaluation of myself and the bootcamp.