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Do I need previous coding experience?

A common question we get from prospective students is this: “if I don’t have any previous coding experience, can I still do this?”

For context, when they are saying “experience”, they mean any background whatsoever in writing code and developing software, even if it’s just as a hobby. Most of our students have never been employed as a software developer, although we do get the occasional student who does have a technical background and are coming to us to re-skill or up-skill.

Underneath this question is something pretty universal: “will I struggle at this? Will it be painful? Am I missing something key that will reduce the struggle or pain?”

Our goal with this article is to give you a clear picture of what having experience at coding or not having experience at coding does in terms of positioning your success.

The short version is – yes, previous experience is helpful. But it isn’t always as helpful as one thinks, and there are definite advantages to coming in with a beginner’s mind.

How Previous Coding Experience Can Be Helpful

The obvious advantage to previous coding experience? You’re not starting from scratch, so you can more easily hit the ground running with an intense program like a coding bootcamp and be ready to ingest new concepts more quickly. There is a lot to learn in coding – new ways of thinking, the syntax of code, the lingo in technology, more advanced computer operations, the command line, and the list goes on. The more of these things you know, the easier it CAN be to be successful.

How Previous Coding Experience Can Be Hurtful

If it was as easy as saying that having previous experience is beneficial (therefore meaning that having no previous experience is hurtful) then that would be the end of the article. But here we are, still talking? So what’s the other side of this?

In the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition, there is a concept known as “beginners mind”.

A Buddhist master named Shunryo Suzuki has been quoted as stating the following:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

What he’s saying is that someone who is approaching a situation or challenge without training, preconceived notions, and previous experiences is more able to approach that challenge with openness. Openness is a key condition for creativity – and coding is all about creativity.

Creativity is the ability to generate ideas and solutions that are original and valuable. When writing software, we are often approaching brand new situations that nobody has solved for before, and we have to be able to take innovative and novel approaches to solving those problems.

By and large, the biggest factor in a student’s success that we’ve seen is their ability to be creative.

When someone comes to the camp with previous experience, especially a lot of it, we are often in a situation of needing to UN-TRAIN previous ideas, habits, and mindsets from that student in order to better prepare them to succeed. In a fast paced environment like a bootcamp, that valuable time can be better spent on other things.

On the other hand, someone totally new to coding is a blank slate ready to receive the best practices and approaches from the start. This is where having no experience becomes a superpower and not a liability.

The Pursuit of a Diverse, Inclusive Bootcamp

What will empower a more vibrant, innovative, and effective tech workforce is a diversity of tech workers. One of the great things about tech is how many people come from different backgrounds, experiences, and careers to bring their unique perspectives to the job. Many of the best engineers we’ve trained used to be musicians, brewery owners, teachers, insurance salespersons… the list goes on. They all have distinct ways of connecting with end users and using their creativity to solve problems.

This is why we’re open to both those with experience and without experience. We want to rise to the challenge of training those without experience so we can keep that influx of diversity going and continue to help raise the bar of what it means to be in the tech field.

Unconventional? Perhaps, but this is a growing trend throughout the tech field. Fewer and fewer companies require college degrees in their vetting process and there’s a big drive for diversity and inclusion across a multitude of factors. There’s never been a better time to jump in and start building.

Mindset, Mindset, Mindset

At the end of the day, the only factor that predicts success or failure in a bootcamp is mindset. If the student has an open mind, a willingness to fail forward, and is comfortable being uncomfortable with not knowing until they build into the right solution, they’ll be successful. The technical skills are the easy part to teach – the hard part is the mindset and emotional intelligence that actually leads to success and landing that first job.

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