Sink or swim: Being thrown in the coding deep end helps

“How hard can it actually be?”

I remember asking myself those exact words a few months ago.

Imagine you are told that you are among the select few who have made it into We Think Code. What’s great about this is you have around two years of university experience and you happened to get distinctions on every second module. It can’t be that tough right?

It’s now four months later and I have engaged in a lot of retrospection. I have to say I would have been better off if I had no prior coding experience. That way I would have had to start at ground zero with everyone else instead of having to start over and then catch up to the crowd.

In university I was an above average student. I earned my fair share of distinctions and was relatively comfortable. That’s all well and good but why then is it more challenging in this new environment, why have I felt as if I was drowning so many times?

What’s different about We Think Code compared to traditional universities? I say ‘universities’ because I’m not the only one who studied IT in university and now find themselves learning how to crawl all over again.

In a word, the problem is ‘Theory’. Personally I feel like a lot of the concepts I am currently learning are very familiar and easy to grasp. The problem was that I was using the same methods of learning as I did at varsity and that’s just not good enough.

Being given a list of study material and having access to the summary of what I would be asked in the exam made me soft. It was so easy that looking back I am disappointed I did not do better.

What makes things more challenging now is that everything I need to know I have to discover myself. Whether I trawl the internet, which can have way too much information, or ask some of my fellow students does not matter. To top that off you must meet the vague requirements while being given some of the narrowest deadlines imaginable. For example, being asked to code a UNIX shell in two weeks. Then you only find out what the criteria for marking is after submission. This taught me the importance of defensive coding.

I have come to believe that universities do a lot to help students pass. So much so that I believe it is counter productive. A lot of students will complete their studies only to be re-taught how to do their job. That’s if they are lucky enough to find one. It’s one of the key factors one becomes aware of on WeThinkCode_. Here, one learn skills relevant to your workplace, which are desired by corporate sponsors. This is a massive weight off my mind ahead of searching for a job.

It’s not a pleasant experience being thrown in the deep end but it has allowed me to learn so much in a short amount of time. I have also become more resourceful, resilient and persistent. I have acquired skills I am glad I have learnt now rather than later.

My biggest realisation here has been that I don’t know anywhere as much as I thought I knew. That’s a good thing because now I know how much more I can and should learn. To paraphrase Harvard’s David J. MalanWhat ultimately matters in this course is not so much where you end up relative to your classmates but where you, at the end of two years, end up relative to yourself in Week 0.”

Written by Kgomotso Mofokeng

This story is part of a regular series written for htxt.africa by students of WeThinkCode_, a revolutionary new teaching college in downtown Johannesburg, reflecting on what it’s like to be a young technologist starting out in South Africa today. Find out more about WeThinkCode_ here.

[Picture Credit: Robbie Sproule]

This article was originally published on htxt.africa on 12 August 2016.

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