I graduated from Hack Reactor about a month ago. I worked my ass off and feel really good about how much value I got out of the program. I was also elected as my cohort's president and graduation speaker. I was so happy I cried a little. OK, a lot. This was the first time in my life I have felt like I REALLY applied myself fully to a difficult long term task. I spent around three weeks searching for a job and was able to get a good job locally rather quickly. I started this week, and have been meaning to write an article about how I feel about my Hack Reactor experience in hindsight and how my education has applied so far at work. (This is that article.)
Hack Reactor- Overall Thoughts
I could just sum this section up by saying "It's really fucking awesome." I miss Hack Reactor a ton and feel like it's an experience I will look back on later in life with fond memories. I truly feel that calling the Hack Reactor experience life changing is totally accurate and not in any way an exaggeration. I gave up a ton to attend the program. I had to take out a high-interest 18k loan, spend basically all of my savings, and say goodbye to friends and family for 4+ months. This was totally worth it.
Having said all this, I do think that Hack Reactor, like any experience, is what you make it. I think I did a lot of things well, but also certainly made my fair share of mistakes.
What I Did Well
The first thing that comes to mind is asking questions. I asked a TON of questions. Way more than anyone else. I asked good questions, silly questions, off topic questions, obvious questions, obscure questions, rhetorical questions, all the questions. I asked questions to Hack Reactor staff, fellow students, professional Software Engineers, and peers. I asked questions in contexts where it was expected and welcomed, and sometimes in situations where questions were not expected. I didn't worry about sounding silly or stupid. Simply put, ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS!
Another thing I think I did well was maintaining life balance. I generally made sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise, and to eat well. Near the end of the program, I allowed myself to get out of balance and to work on a sub optimal sleep schedule. I also stopped working out fo r the most part. I felt it. It felt much easier to get through the intense days at HR when I was exercising regularly. I found myself feeling angry more often and having a harder time thinking of solutions during the last quarter. I believe that having a balanced, healthy lifestyle is critical to your success in something as intense as a coding bootcamp.
Lastly, I took initiative. I did so constantly. I offered to take on leadership roles such as product owner/SCRUM Master during group projects. I offered to help others with toy problems. I contacted HR staff when there were discrepancies in course scheduling and/or bugs in software. This stuff is actually REALLY easy to do. It takes only a few minutes per day of extra time commitment, and the payoffs are huge. Take initiative whenever possible!
What I Did Poorly
The biggest detriment to my progress during Hack Reactor was that I didn't focus exclusively on Software Engineering for the duration of the immersive. I played poker a few hours per week, I played some video games, I watched TV, and I'm sure I found some other ways to procrastinate which I am forgetting at this moment. If I could change one thing about my time in Hack Reactor, it would be to focus 100% on the curriculum and to do nothing on the side. This might sound really hard to do, and in my opinion, it is, but I think I would have learned even more and probably would have been able to have more job opportunities post graduation if I had done this.
Upon graduation, I felt very prepared for the job search and felt like I could tackle most toy problems that might be thrown at me. However, if I had given that last 15-20% the whole time, I would probably be able to solve those same problems in better ways with optimal time and space complexity. I really think it would make a huge difference. Do it.
I was also really bad at being kind to myself. I had a tendency to get frustrated and mad at myself when I was stuck. I would kick the shit out of myself mentally after having a bad or unproductive day, which just made it worse. Learning Software Engineering is hard, and nobody can do it without having bad days. Practicing the reverse golden rule and treating yourself with kindness and compassion will be a huge advantage in any walk of life.
I have only been "on the job" as a Software Engineer for 4 days now. I have not written a single line of code in my new role. The onboarding process will take 3+ weeks, and I will write little to no code for my company in that time. However, I feel I can confidently say that I am OVER prepared to do this job. Based on the conversations I have had with co workers and the time I have spent reviewing production source code so far, Hack Reactor truly has gone above and beyond in preparing its students for real world Software Engineering roles. I feel like I know a lot more than my supervisors and co workers generally expect a new hire to know. I'm really excited to dive into the code and show everyone what I can do!
Well, I have to run now because I'm actually at work at the moment as I write this. Lunch break is over, and I have meetings to go to! In a few weeks I will be posting more about what I am doing at my new job and how things are going. Thanks for reading!