The entry of coding bootcamps gave way to new approaches to learning that extend beyond the formal setting of a classroom or a PowerPoint-heavy lecture. For software engineering bootcamp Hack Reactor, this meant embracing an approach that blends the old elements of training with the new.
How Not to Learn Software Engineering
Old habits die hard. Despite the emergence of innovative approaches to learning, some traditional approaches, while inefficient, persist. And these extend even among programming students.
Topping the list is rote learning, where students are hard-wired to memorize and reproduce answers despite a shallow understanding of how such answers were derived. In this case, what’s rewarded is a student’s recall of textbook answers, not their capacity to reason or problem-solve autonomously.
To be fair, some things are worth memorizing: addresses, anniversaries, passwords, and names of your colleagues. But how to solve problems is not one of them. Left unchecked, this way of learning can become especially detrimental to software engineers who make a living out of problem-solving.
Second on the list is isolated learning or the idea that coding solo is the only kind of learning worth following. The days of rockstar developers and lone-wolf inventors are over. Today, the best software engineers are effective communicators and collaborators. It’s therefore paramount for schools to assign the same value in honing students’ soft skills as they do with the technical output.
Finally, there is a real cost to learning that starts and stops at instruction. Just as how you learn to ride a bike by putting yourself on a bicycle, you learn to build apps by getting on with the programming. Put another way, the only way to truly learn software engineering is to tinker with tools and start building.
This is all to say that learning something as complex as software engineering can be a tricky endeavor. You’ll need training that succeeds at breaking down complicated ideas into simple parts and equips you with the relevant soft and technical skills, all while giving you room to put these into practice.
Tackling this challenge head-on is software engineering bootcamp Hack Reactor.
What Is It Really Like to Attend the Hack Reactor Bootcamp?
Since its inception in 2012, Hack Reactor has become a household name in the coding bootcamp space, solidifying its claim to being one of the proven fast lanes to a software engineering career. Hack Reactor’s reputation wasn’t built overnight. It grew out of an intensive training structure that advances the 3Es: education, exposure, and experience.
Education: Build Your Foundations
Your Hack Reactor immersive training kicks off with the junior phase. Here, much of your time will be dedicated to learning the core concepts of the field and solidifying your programming knowledge. To do so, class discussions move from the traditional mode of stand-and-deliver to high-level reviews and interactive learning.
“You can’t just throw a bunch of verbiages, tech frameworks, and libraries all at once to a student without really revealing the motivations and purpose behind it…You’ve got to provide the ‘why’ behind what you’re teaching,’” says Julian Yuen, the Program Lead of Hack Reactor Los Angeles. “You can’t say, ‘here’s React, now go.”
Exposure: Learn from Your Peers
There’s a real value to exposing yourself to differing perspectives. This is especially true in a field where you’re more likely to find yourself iterating on other’s works than independently working on a project from end-to-end.
And with Hack Reactor having diversified classrooms of upskillers, career changers, beginners, parents, and immigrants, you’ll never have a shortage of opportunities for well-rounded discussions and collaborative interactions.
While didactic instruction has a place in Hack Reactor, it doesn’t take up the entire teaching time. From weeks two through six of the program, you’ll be doing two-day sprints solo and in pairs.
“Students sit through a lecture in the morning that gives a high-level overview of what the sprint is. The lecture could be about refactoring a particular app that’s in a specified pattern into a pseudo-classical inheritance pattern, for example,” notes Julian.
“So they spend two days with their pair as they learn how to read and understand the requirements and then implement these accordingly as they are pair-programming. And so that becomes that regular cadence. Every two days sprints, you learn a new concept or a new library and then you implement it [with a partner] based on the requirements.”
Once you reach the end of Week 6, you’ll sit through what the school calls the midpoint technical assessment. “[This is] where you get to actually demonstrate your full stack software development knowledge in terms of building an app that meets certain prompt requirements presented to you,” says Julian.
Assuming you pass the assessment, you’ll enter the senior phase of the program. During this phase, you’ll essentially be ‘learning by doing’ as you tackle experiments and discoveries that are otherwise not called forward by books and conventional lectures.
Experience: Train Your Hands
As the old saying goes, “There’s no better teacher than experience.” As you move into the senior phase, instructors pass on much of the responsibility of learning to you. Doing so forces you to think for yourself as you try to handle complex problems that simulate real-world challenges.
Although your instructors watch you from the backseat, you won’t be driving alone.
“You’ll be broken up into groups and continue that agile methodology type of working style in the senior phase,” says Julian. Instead of mini-coding challenges, you’ll be presented with two capstone projects where you’ll be expected to build functional applications.
“It’s broken down into front end work and system design work,” says Julian, noting that the former will challenge students to build an application that users can interact with at a small scale. “So, they build out a front end application according to some specs that we provide for them.”
This project runs for two to three weeks, after which you’ll move on to the two-week system design capstone project. “That’s where we really shine at Hack Reactor,” says Julian. “We don’t just think about building a minimum viable product. We think about what happens if you’ve got thousands—if not millions—of visitors with your app. How do you make sure that your app is still operational throughout that traffic?”
“Or more importantly, what happens when a particular service in your application fails? And so we have folks go through that and…make sure the students’ assumptions are validated before moving on with their work.”
The senior phase closes with another application work called Blue Ocean where students meet with Hack Reactor staff acting as clients. “They have about a week to essentially implement the vision that the client presents to them,” says Julian. With the project simulating a real-world development project, development teams will also be more scaled out.
“Instead of four individuals, you’ll be looking at maybe seven to nine individuals in a group. So, you’ll have more chefs in the kitchen, which really requires really strong communication among individual contributors,” explains Julian.
Master Software Engineering by building a solid foundation, engaging with your peers, and tackling hands-on projects at Hack Reactor.Apply to Hack Reactor today.
Environment: Receive On-Demand Guidance and Support
With the program’s rigorous structure, on-demand guidance has become a given. Interwoven in all these E’s is an ongoing stream of support from Hack Reactor instructors, teaching assistants, administrators, and career coaches.
“We have weekly retrospectives that we conduct with our staff members—may it be with the cohort lead or program lead,” says Julian. “And that’s really just to make sure we’re hearing how the students are feeling or if they have feedback for us concerning the curriculum.”
For instance, if a student feels like they’re falling behind, instructors and teaching assistants will be there to provide extra personalized support such as implementing a performance improvement plan.
If another student struggles with working in teams, the staff might hold tap-out sessions with their cohort leads to help support them in terms of communicating and managing conflict with their teammates.
“But we do make it clear that at a certain point when they get to the senior phase, the responsibility is on them to reach out as needed,” says Julian.
“We’ll still check on them. We’ll still make sure that the work gets done. But if things come up and they feel like things may not get delivered in time or a milestone may not be met, they need to speak up. They need to communicate that with their managers or with the tech lead.”
In doing so, students, while not completely left alone to their devices, learn to become autonomous developers. “We provide students a roadmap,” says Julian, “but we don’t provide the answers. We don’t do the driving for them. We’re the GPS…We say, hey if you travel two miles this way, there’s going to be a cliff coming up so let’s deviate accordingly.”
“Let’s course correct so that we get back on track to that destination that you’re hoping to arrive at.”
Lessons of the Day: Tips for the Aspiring Hack Reactor Student
“Come ready with a grounded curiosity.”
“Yes, you want to stay curious. Yes, you want to stay open. But you want to not get too curious that you fall into rabbit holes. And so finding that healthy balance is vital to succeeding here at Hack Reactor,” says Julian.
“Oftentimes, folks get overly curious and they start to jump too deep into something. They want to know all the ins and outs of how a particular thing works that they lose focus and miss the immediate goal at hand.”
“Possess intellectual humility.”
“It’s not about being a know-it-all. It’s about being a learn-it-all. Don’t feel that because you understand a particular sprint, you don’t have anything more to learn. You need to have the intellectual humility to ground yourself, otherwise, you put off your peers.”
“You also deprive yourself of the gift of continuous learning if you think that because you’ve done all your bare-minimum requirements, you’re done. There’s nothing else left.”
“Build objective resilience.”
“Perseverance is important; but so is knowing when to be kind to yourself if you’ve really given it your all. We have self-assessments throughout the course, especially the junior phase where we help folks gauge where they’re at with the material. And sometimes, they get a little bit hard on themselves, understandably so,” says Julian.
“But we always advise folks that if they’ve done the work and put in the time but are still not getting it, that’s okay. We’ll help you come up with a plan of attack. What we don’t want you to do is not be kind to yourself to a point where you’re not going to be open to pieces of advice that comes your way. And I think that’s something that a lot of places overlook sometimes.”
“They think that if they follow this roadmap, they’re going to be great. But no, that’s something that students need to slowly build up.”
Hack Reactor: Where Learning Isn’t One-Dimensional
The Hack Reactor Software Engineering immersive stands apart from other training programs by creating a classroom that focuses on not just one, but three elements of learning. You don’t just follow one textbook, one instructor, one type of assessment, and one perspective.
Instead, you’re exposed to a multitude of learning methods, all of which are designed to hone your thinking, your capacity to work and learn from others, and your ability to build and create value. In doing so, Hack Reactor ensures that you’re adequately prepared to succeed in the workforce.
“There’s always going to be new folks coming in the job market, sticking around for a couple of months and then dipping out,” says Julian. “But the ability to persevere through the different obstacles, different challenges, and different market changes, I think that’s going to serve you a lot better.” And this is what Hack Reactor seeks to train you for.
If that sounds a good deal, get started on Hack Reactor’s admissions process and commit to well-rounded training.
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