Disclosure: Fullstack Academy, the coding bootcamp, has previously sponsored Hacker Noon.
A lot of the time, the skills it takes to do a job don’t line up with the skills it took to get the job. To get a degree in a computer science, for example, you’ll spend a lot of time reading and a lot of time studying for and taking tests. You won’t do any of that on a daily basis as a programmer. And then once you start the job hunt, a lot of the technical challenges you’ll see won’t reflect skills you’ll actually need for the job. Coding bootcamp, though, is different. Because so much of a program like Fullstack Academy or Grace Hopper Program is project-based, and because even the process of applying to a rigorous bootcamp like those is a lot like applying for a job, the skills that serve you well at bootcamp will also make you a better developer.
We sat down with our nearly 20 instructors, plus our Career Success team, to learn which traits they see over and over in our most successful developers — and it turns out every single one of them is something anyone can cultivate if you take the time and hold yourself accountable. So look over this list. If you find yourself checking lots of these boxes, you can feel confident you’ll succeed not only at Fullstack or Grace Hopper, but as a developer out in the world. If you’re seeing lots of gaps, set some new goals — and you’ll come out on the other side prepared not just to enter the industry, but to make it there.
Like we said, just getting into a high-caliber bootcamp like Fullstack or Grace Hopper takes dedication — but that’s not all. In fact, you might be surprised which other four characteristics you must have in order to be a good candidate for bootcamp.
1. You must be comfortable taking risks.
Even though the coding bootcamp industry isn’t new anymore, and lots of big companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and LinkedIn have gotten over their bootcamp skepticism, it’s still a novel educational model to many people. Not only do you have to sort through the wide range of programs to determine which are actually working — we recommend you use CIRR.org’s independently verified outcomes reports — and then which will be best for you specifically, but you’ll also have to contend with other people’s uneducated responses. Your uncle from Nebraska might say he’s heard bad things about those bootcamps. Your mom might encourage you to get a “real degree” instead, so you’ll have “something to show for your work.”
To block out the noise, do methodical research, and come to the conclusion that bootcamp is the right choice for you is already taking the risk that your parents will be upset or you’ll no longer be on the same life track as your friends. And it’ll be only the first of many risks — quitting your job to immerse yourself for three months, applying for positions with no engineering experience, and turning down good offers to wait for amazing offers. So you’ve got to be prepared to take those and the smaller everyday risks of programming, like breaking what you’ve built, trying a new framework on a tight deadline, or committing to deliverables before you actually know how to deliver them in order to get here, be successful here, and ultimately work in the industry.
2. You have to hold yourself accountable.
Just to get here, you will have to have made yourself work when you wanted to be watching Netflix, or chosen an extra coding challenge over an outing with friends. That same accountability is what will make you a bootcamp classmate others can rely on, and then propel you through your job search — did you send thank-you notes? did you squeeze in an extra networking event? — and make you an in-demand hire.
3. You’ve got to be consistent.
Consistency might sound pretty boring for a risk-taker, but it’s all a balancing act. Coding is a language like any other: Don’t use it, and you’ll lose it. To get to a point where you can pass our assessment, code every single day. Even if it’s just one problem, accustom your brain to thinking like a developer. And don’t rest on your laurels when you’ve solved a coding challenge. Build on that success until you really know the fundamentals and don’t have to think about them.
4. You must be passionate.
People talk a lot about “following your passion,” but this is something much more concrete. To be accepted to Fullstack or Grace Hopper, you’ve got to have either taken CS classes or taught yourself coding, usually on top of having a job. If programming isn’t something you really love, you aren’t even going to make it to our admissions process. And once you’re a Fullstack or Grace Hopper student, you’ll be coding and learning to code for 10 hours a day, five to six days a week. You can have all the other characteristics on this list, but if coding doesn’t excite you, if you don’t want to talk about it all the time and play around with it even when you’re supposed to be doing something else, you’re not going to like it here — or in the tech industry.
The work doesn’t stop once you’ve been accepted to Fullstack or Grace Hopper. In fact, a different kind of work is just beginning. Though our programs are explicitly not competitive — we never actively cut students and in fact we generally discourage competition of any kind — they are very intense, and within the first few weeks, many students realize that to be successful, they’re going to have to recalibrate their expectations and make some changes. Coming in with the following characteristics, or having the wherewithal to develop them as you go, will go a long way toward helping you succeed here.
Yes, you’ll have your face in a monitor most of the time, but it’s important to zoom out regularly to assess your strengths and weaknesses, how you’re feeling about the process, how you’re progressing, and what effect you have on others. Ultimately, sussing out which parts of the work you enjoy and which you’re good at can help you narrow your job search and bring your career goals as a whole into focus — and someone with clear career goals is going to be very sought-after by employers after graduation.
To be successful here, you’ll have to fail. Repeatedly. If your ego is too big or too fragile to handle making mistakes, bootcamp isn’t for you — and neither is coding. Successful bootcampers are excited to fail because it means they’re one step closer to the solution, and they take that failure in stride. They understand that every failure is a learning opportunity, and that ultimately they’re here to learn, not to impress anyone or be right all the time. Humble people can fail, learn from those failures, and ask for help when they need it. It’s not easy to ask for help, but it shows you’re putting the work and your long-term goals before your ego and your momentary disappointment at having failed.
Some of the curriculum here is lecture-based, but an equal part is project-based. Those projects are generally open-ended: What do you want to build and how do you want to build it? Successful students are curious to see what happens when they combine two functions they’ve never combined before, and they spend time wondering how to improve the technology they see around them. Your instructors are an amazing support system, but at Fullstack and Grace Hopper, your curiosity will drive your projects.
Most of what we’ve talked about so far have been the forces that make you tick. But what about interpersonal forces — between you and your fellow bootcampers, your coworkers, and your friends and community? This broader advice applies to any situation in which you’ll be interacting with others, including here at Fullstack or Grace Hopper, where your connections are a huge part of the experience.
9. Listen more than you talk.
Our culture definitely advantages the loud, the pontificators, the mansplainers. But you’ll learn far more and be a more valuable team member if you listen more than you talk. Remind yourself every day that you’ve come to bootcamp to learn, that all the instructors and your fellow students have something to teach you. Before you speak, ask yourself what you’re getting out of it. Is your comment necessary? Do you need to ask that question, or could you try to figure it out on your own first? If you’re helping someone, did they ask you to do that, or are you jumping in before giving them a chance? Really work at listening. We guarantee you’ll learn something and that your colleagues will appreciate it.
10. Learn to communicate clearly.
Clear communication solves problems before they become problems. Especially when you’re working as a group on a student project, or as part of a team in an office, being able to accurately translate what’s happening in your brain to the people around you will reduce your frustration and save wasted time on everyone’s part. Especially as Slack becomes a bigger part of everyone’s working lives — we’ve got Fullslack for bootcamp hopefuls, plus separate communities for students, alums, and staff — it’s important that you be able to communicate verbally and in writing.
11. Learn to work well with others.
The network you build here at Fullstack or Grace Hopper is one of the most important resources you’ll get out of your entire bootcamp experience. Your instructors and advisors have worked in the industry and have heavy-hitter connections, while all of your classmates will go on to work in the industry and will open doors of all sorts. If those people don’t enjoy working with you, they aren’t going to recommend you for a job. And more than anything, your classmates should become your friends, people who’ll be there for you when the job search sucks, who’ll celebrate your first promotion, who’ll go camping or shopping with you when you need a break. Work to build those relationships; they’ll be your most valuable resource.
12. Be receptive to feedback.
Not everyone is right all the time. And even when you’re right about something, there may be additional solutions you haven’t thought of or new perspectives that will make your thought process even better next time. The point is, you have to be open to others’ feedback. Whether you’re here at Fullstack, where instructors have a lot to teach you, or on the job, where your manager is reviewing your work. Coding bootcamp instructors, employers, even life partners will be most excited about someone who’s able to go into a situation with the tools we’ve already discussed — humility and knowing how to listen — and who can then build on those by thinking through feedback and moving forward accordingly.
13. Be skeptical of the status quo.
Working well with others isn’t the same as going along blindly with whatever’s happening. We’ve already pointed out that the best programmers are curious and interested in trying new things. Part of working well with others, then, is knowing how to respectfully push the envelope. Instead of just patching the current system, step back and ask if the current system is even the right way to be doing things. Maybe, instead of patching something outdated, you build something totally new. The most successful people — at bootcamp and in the workplace — will ask “why” more often than any other question. And if you work well with others, are passionate about the work, and consistently deliver results, you’ll find yourself among people who trust you to change things for the better.
When we talk about “successful” students, we aren’t just talking about people who made it through bootcamp without falling apart. Like we said, our goal is for you to grow not only professionally (i.e. get a job), but also personally, and we consider our most successful students to be the ones everyone else wants to have on their team — whether that’s a team within a company, a team at a Hackathon, or a team of Capture the Flag players. Below are four philosophies our most sought-after team players embody.
14. Find balance.
You know what they say: moderation in all things. A coding bootcamp like Fullstack Academy or Grace Hopper Program is a lot of fun — but it’s not sustainable. Coding — or doing anything — all day every day forever isn’t a healthy lifestyle. So dive deep when you need to, but also know when you don’t need that depth and can move on. Sticking with a problem until you figure it out, even if it kills you, is certainly tenacious — but sometimes finding the solution just isn’t worth the trouble. You have to know when to push the envelope and when to let things go, and that’s not something you can read in a blog. You’ll learn it over time, through all your experiences, and develop an inner compass that will serve you well in every area of your life.
15. Practice patient empathy.
Not everyone is as smart as you or as quick as you or as adept at the things you’re adept at. But you know what? We can guarantee that at some point you’ve met someone smarter and quicker than you, and you may not even have realized it because that person chose to be patient with you and empathize. We’ve all been in a position of ignorance — there was a time when you couldn’t solve a relatively easy problem or weren’t familiar with a basic function — and the important thing is how you treat others when you see them in the same situation. In the same way our instructors choose patience, choose walking you through the same problem eighty times until they see the light come on, you should do the same. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who doesn’t get it or can’t think as quickly, and help them the way you would want someone to help you.
16. Give back to your community.
Fullstack and Grace Hopper are educational institutions, but more importantly, they’re communities. Your fellow students, your instructors, our student experience and career success staff — they form a network of support and a resource you can return to over and over again throughout your career. The tech industry will be another community. So take the time to appreciate what others within those communities have done for you, and pay it forward. Mentor a beginner. Improve your company’s hiring practices and the tech industry overall by seeking out and recommending diverse candidates from your networks. Volunteer at a hackathon or speak to a high school tech class. Human connections are what will help you end up in your dream industry, in your dream job. Be the connection that helps someone else get there, too.
17. Trust in the power of habit.
As we’ve said, the bootcamp mentality isn’t sustainable. You won’t always be able to learn as quickly or as efficiently as you do during bootcamp — and that’s perfectly normal and ok. What you can do is optimize your learning going forward by establishing good habits while you’re here. Like training yourself to write code every day. It’s easy to write code when everyone around you is doing that, too, but what about once you’re alone in your apartment looking for jobs? It might be tempting to focus only on the job search and get rusty, or even to take a break from your search and watch a few hours of tv each day, when what you could be doing is developing something awesome for your portfolio. The more you make coding a habit, the less of a struggle it’ll be to keep it up moving forward.
Use your brain’s habit loop to your advantage in all things — going to the gym, thanking your coworkers for help, wiping down the counter after you’ve made lunch — and you’ll be able to spend your valuable energy on more complex things, like being a role model or building technology that changes how people live their lives.
All of these 17 character traits are things you have the power to cultivate within yourself. So go back to the beginning a take a risk: Choose something that doesn’t sound like you and work on it. Hold yourself accountable. Be consistent. Zoom out to see how it’s affecting others. Be humble enough to ask for their feedback and then be receptive to what they say. Be tenacious — don’t give up until you’ve made it a habit. Then go back and iterate: Start all over again with the next trait, and you’ll find yourself becoming exactly the sort of person who succeeds here at Fullstack Academy — and everywhere else.