10 Tips for Smashing your Makers Course

Dear Future Makers,

It’s the final day of my Makers experience and I’m on the train down to London for the careers fair, so I thought I’d chuck in my two cents about what you can do to make your Makers experience fantastic. Good luck, and Slack me — I like meeting people!

Paula

  1. Boundaries
    I was a little worried when I read in a description of Makers students that you will “eat, breathe, and sleep code”. I’d done an intense undergrad where I didn’t sleep for four years, but I’m 30 now and I like to go to bed at 11pm. So I figured out pretty quick that in order to keep my sanity, I’d have to put strict boundaries in place. For me, this meant:
  • lunchtimes are for taking walks (while eating Huel) or coffees with friends and not for doing anything code-related
  • No coding before 9:30am or after 6pm
  • Say no to work when you’re too exhausted to work effectively. This saves you time in the long run.

Your own boundaries may look different but I encourage you to make sure you spend time away from coding — your brain will need a rest and you’re still human and need fun time!

2. Meditate
Or yoga or Alexander technique or gym or whatever it is you do to relax. Mindfulness meditation is a great way of settling your brain, clearing out all the crap and worries and stress. I meditated with a pair partner on the course — at 8:50am every morning we’d meditate (she in Paris, I in Cambridge) and send each other a meditation emoji when we’d finished. Talk to Dana if you need help getting started.

3. Work smart, not hard
If you’re up until 2am working, you’re doing it wrong. Use the pomodoro technique (there’s a great Chrome extension) and don’t work for more than two pomos on a problem without asking for help. If you’re stuck, take a break, go for a walk, sleep on it…you’ll come back to it refreshed and the solution may magically pop into your mind. Also, don’t merge to master branches when you’re in a rush. This never ends well.

4. Diagram first
The physical act of writing 100 lines of code takes five minutes. Making those lines of code work really well takes a lot more preparation. Especially if you’re working on a team, make sure you are on board with building the same thing.

5. Let go of your ego
Full disclosure, this is the one I struggle with the most, so this advice is primarily directed toward me.

Listen more than you talk. Ask yourself what’s best for your pair or team, not what’s best for you. As one of my best friends and I say to each other, “Isn’t it annoying when other people don’t do exactly what you want, in the way and time that would suit you?” It is annoying and you’re not alone. Acknowledge that annoyance, take a step back, breathe, remember that it’s only code and at the end of the day, people > code.

And remember that Makers is the beginning, not the end of your coding journey. You’ll have plenty more chances to build all the features and use all the tech that you don’t get to on the course.

A final project standup — note the excellent bee art, a key theme in our work.

6. Communicate
Running late to standup? Slack the team! Feeling ill and need to take a day off? Slack the team. Pipe burst in your kitchen and you almost get insanely flooded before figuring out how to turn off the water and your heart rate is way up and you haven’t had coffee? Slack the team. (This happened to me.)

People are not mind readers (thankfully!). If you are ill/tired/stressed, they will not know and you may come across as uncaring when in fact you just need time off. Have the courage to communicate that.

7. Courage/vulnerability
You’re going to be in an uncomfortable space of not knowing things. Especially if you’ve already been a working professional, you will be frustrated to be back at square one. I know I spent the first couple weeks on the course feeling like the village idiot, and thankfully our coach said that even if we were the absolute worst person on the course, we’d still get a job and do well. So be proud of yourself for having the courage to take this step, and walk into the vulnerability of being a beginner again. And if you need some company, read this blog from my first weekend on the course.

8. Do something tactile
Colouring in, jigsaw puzzles, gardening, Play-Doh, Legos, music…find something creative that doesn’t involve looking at any screens and involves your body.

9. Blog
Writing about your experience is a great way to reflect on your learning. And reflecting on your learning means analysing, learning from, and improving. If you’re not comfortable writing for the public, keep a private journal. It’s amazing to look back and see the things you struggled with a month ago are now second nature.

10. Have fun!
Remember that you are spending three months of your life LEARNING HOW TO CODE!!!! How totally awesome is that?? Remind yourself of this! And make sure to check out the Stack Overflow page of programmer jokes. And have Zoom drinks with your cohort (‘the cohort that drinks together thinks together’, I like to say).

Good luck on your Makers journey! ​​

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