The day I decided to rewire my brain and a few thoughts along the way
On the 7th of October, there were 85 days left in 2019 and these last days would be dedicated to what I decided to call: rewire my brain.
Considering how my brain worked, or at least, how I had trained my brain to process information in the last years, this is the term that best describes my coding bootcamp experience. I knew that learning basic computer programming would not be easy. In fact I envisioned it as a painful process which would require me to unlearn before I could even learn anything.
Before the bootcamp
Before hopping on board, two main reasons pushed me to learn how to code. Firstly, I was interested in the development and management of digital products, so understanding how code worked seemed inevitable to me. I had just freshly obtained a BSc in Governance, Economics and Development and had developed a keen interest for tech through different projects. However, I felt limited in my understanding of it because I felt that I could only grasp a superficial layer of information without ever reaching its essence. How did it actually work behind the scenes?
Secondly, my interest in emerging technologies introduced me to the topic of digital transformation. In an increasingly digitized society, acquiring more technical skills seemed only a matter of time. As organizational structures and their cultures are changing, so are the functions and skills of their employees. Working on tech-related projects is no longer limited necessarily to individuals working in the IT department. The digital transformation of organisations is calling for people to develop interdisciplinary competences as we are breaking functional silos.
Learning how to code was an opportunity for me to understand the development of digital products from A to Z, allowing me to understand the jargon used by technical teams, being able to evaluate myself certain implications and being able to genuinely understand the work of technical teams. In my opinion, a liberal arts approach to education is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s world.
Do not get me wrong, although we should have “specialists”, it is no less important for people to be “generalists” in order to foster collaboration by developing empathy, especially in an environment as connected as today.
However, I had no prior experience in coding, no predispositions, no friends to introduce me to it so I started researching on what my options were. The internet is full of resources which can help the most motivated ones can teach themselves, however, knowing myself, I was looking for a more practical approach.
Le Wagon: “Change your brain, learn how to code”
The learning approach
As I was looking for a coding bootcamp, I found Le Wagon, an immersive coding bootcamp which offered a web development course to become a full-stack Web Developer. A full-stack Web Developer is someone who can work on the front-end (the part of an application that users see and interact with) as well as the back-end (which boils down to what allows the application to exist in the first place). In order to do so, over nine weeks, students would go from learning about developer tools and workflow, to programming basics in Ruby, as well as software architecture and relational database, structured-query language (SQL) and object-relational mapping (ORM).
Learning at Le Wagon is always practice-oriented, from building clones of Airbnb to turning your idea into an actual product in the last two weeks of the bootcamp and pitching it. Overall, what appealed to me was the holistic curriculum combined with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Once convinced that Le Wagon was the best learning approach for me, I realized I could attend the boot camp in 39 cities all around the world, which brought me to my next question: which one should I choose?
As mentioned above, Le Wagon has an entrepreneurial approach which students experience not only directly through learning by doing personalized projects but also through the various talks le Wagon offers around the topic of entrepreneurship. Every week at its Montreal location also known as “La Gare”, a local entrepreneur is invited and interviewed by a student on her/his entrepreneurial journey.
By attending these talks, I had the opportunity to discover the talented individuals of Montreal’s digital ecosystem, namely and amongst others, Dr.Soodeh Farokh, Founder & CTO of C2RO, a company specialized in google analytics of physical spaces. I later had the chance to interview Marina Pavlovic Rivas, co-founder & CEO of Eli, a company enabling women to take control of their health across their lives, by providing them with powerful information on their daily hormone profile. In conclusion, by choosing Le Wagon Montreal, I had the chance to discover Montreal’s digital ecosystem and understand how I could be part of it.
If you are interested in following a bootcamp at Le Wagon bootcamp, looking at technicalities is essential but researching on the city’s digital ecosystem contributes greatly to the kind of experience you are choosing.
On top of a great curriculum and city, I discovered a dedicated team at Le Wagon Montréal which played and still plays a major role in my learning.
Firstly, students are surrounded by teachers who not only go beyond the transmission of knowledge but who also know exactly what you are going through. Indeed, most teachers have attended Le Wagon themselves which is really reassuring because it reminds you that there is hope. There is hope that no matter your random background, if you are motivated and willing to put in the work, you will eventually progress. Teachers with equally as random background as students, have shown me that they have successfully managed to rewire their brain.
They have managed to digest information and transmit it to you in the most accessible way. They also acknowledge that sometimes it may seem like it makes no sense but that you should be patient, trust the process and at some point, it will make more sense. They understand you might want to understand everything to make sense of certain things but also remind you that you have to prioritize.
None of them will tell you that it is easy, most of them will tell you that they have struggled but most importantly, all of them will tell you that this is only the beginning and that you should never stop learning.
Indeed, le Wagon gives you the foundations to dive into the world of programming but the most is yet to come.
After the bootcamp
After the bootcamp, you get to decide what you want to focus on. I have seen a lot of my classmates take very different paths, at very different paces. While some become junior developers, others move onto product management or UX/UI. While some start their free-lance career, others go back to academia Altogether, the ubiquity of coding allows you to choose how you can use and develop your new skills. Le Wagon recognizes and its staff actively listens to you to help you find opportunities and/or people that come close to your personal ambitions.
While some started the bootcamp with a certain vision, it is important to acknowledge that projection can be a real obstacle for the future. Throughout the coding bootcamp, you are continuously learning new things that you will need time to digest and dig further into, once you will have time for it. I remember one day being puzzled by the uncertainty in my life during the bootcamp. I felt uprooted, wanting to know exactly what the next step in my life would be once I would have finished my bootcamp.
I talked about it with one of the staff members who told me that no one really knew where exactly they would end up, that I would see and that I should appreciate my uncertainty instead of being paralyzed by it. I slowly started getting comfortable in uncomfortable settings. My pre-bootcamp to post-bootcamp vision changed various times and slowly I could pinpoint what truly spoke to me. Throughout all this process, the most important was undeniably developing the capacity to pivot, to acknowledge what I liked and what I did not, in order to stay coherent with myself.
A never-ending rollercoaster
From the first day I started my coding bootcamp up to today, I have been on a constant rollercoaster of emotions. There are days where I feel on top of the world and others I feel below ground, wondering why I am putting myself through all of this. This recurrent feeling that I have had before, during and after my coding bootcamp, has reminded me that learning takes time and that you have to be self-compassionate along the way.
Learning in a fast-paced society, where instantaneity reigns and where slow processes are becoming increasingly frustrating, is hard. In addition, the evaluation of one’s learning process is more challenging than ever in a society of media-induced voyeurism and perpetual comparison.
Today, as I have engaged in this personal and professional re-orientation for almost a year, I have accepted that there will be days harder than others, that converting my ambitious thoughts into actual products will not happen overnight but rather one step at a time and that learning will remain an ongoing process. Most importantly, I also remind myself that finding yourself is not a race and that we all have a different definition of success.
Le Wagon: a benevolent community
Despite finishing my bootcamp in December 2019, I am still part of a benevolent community which has continuously provided me with the tools, resources and guidance to follow my ambitions and grow as an individual. I am grateful to have made friends with whom I can talk about my ups and downs, who can help me when I am ready to give up, who remind me that perseverance is key and who continuously inspire me.
While I was more used to working using Word, reading research papers, thinking about policy making, I started using my computer differently, discovering the use of a text editor, terminal, local host, spending quality time on StackOverflow, Slack and overall discovering the struggle of building small web applications. I realized how for most of my life, I had taken for granted all functioning applications and the amount of work that goes into every digital product we use in our everyday life.
As I started thinking differently about my environment, I naturally started focusing on different topics and decided to dedicate myself to information technology. Indeed, I have just started my MSc. in Management of Digital Transformation at HEC Montreal and I am looking forward to helping organisations engage in digital transformation.
I envision education, encompassing university and bootcamps, as a place that trains you to learn how to think about your environment rather than as an organisation that makes you become something. It is also a place where you learn how to surround yourself and cultivate your interests. After that, it is up to you to make your own path, combining your interests and knowledge. One thing is sure, if you have gone through Le Wagon, you are well-equipped to go onto your next adventure!
I would like to once again thank Le Wagon Canada and more specifically its Montreal staff, the boss ladies: MG, Aline and Laure for their unconditional support, the teachers for their patience and inspiration, and my classmates, for making this experience unforgettable. I am proud being part of this great community and I am looking forward to giving back!