Don’t try to build the car, build a skateboard first.
– Henrik Kniberg
After nearly two months at AltCampus, I felt the load was getting overwhelming. I have a daily website I make, the classes to attend, exercises in the classes to do, work on problem solving through the Codewars website.
Phew! that’s a lot. Well, as it turns out, it is a lot, which means that it is difficult to do. I reached out to my mentor Prashant and asked him what I’m supposed to do in this case, his answer?
“Don’t try to build the car, build a skateboard first.”
He continued to explain that I was trying to get too much done in too little time and instead I must focus only on getting the thing which I am doing to be “Functional”.
The analogy here is that of the process of building a car vs building a skateboard.
Let us say we have four months to build a car.
Month one, we create the wheels.
Month two, we create the chassis.
Month three, we add the engine.
Month four, we put everything together and may get a functional car.
Or, we could build a skateboard in month one and build on it from there.
The goal is to start with making something functional. A tap that dispenses water at 1 drop/second is better than 0 drops/second.
Now, I can focus on making things as Version 1.0.0 and think of building something better for version 1.0.1 and so on and so forth.
This way of thinking has taken a huge load off my shoulders, I no longer have to feel stressed about making everything perfect. I know that there will always be a version 2, 3 and 4 to add functionality.
Examples of this can be seen everywhere.
The first iPhone did not have 3G or copy and paste.
Instagram started with only 1 filter and only worked on iOS.
Uber was an app that could only be downloaded with the link and you could only get that link from someone who was already using it.
Making it Functional is the goal of any endeavour, we can always iterate and improve later.
When I started the challenge, I had no idea of how I would make one website a day for 6 staight months. I figured that if I had no website to upload, I could just whip up some vanilla HTML and CSS and write “Hello World” in the most fancy way possible. Which is close to something I have done a few times.. :). However, I can say that on most days, I never had an issue coming up with an idea for a website.
The challenge actually gave me a framework for putting things into a place which could later be seen. Had it not been for the challenge, I would have no place to put these ideas together and host them live. I would have made individual one off websites which would have vanished in the desert of despair. Taking on such a challenge gives you a few gems that you can put in your permanent portfolio. This is in addition to the skill enrichment you get.
I must add that this challenge has been made easier because I’m currently at AltCampus, without which, I might have slacked off or put this on the backburner and let it to die like several other endeavours.
30 days complete, 150 more to go. You can see the websites here.
It is an ordinary day for many in the town home to the Dalai Lama, but for a group of people inside a seemingly ordinary building, every day is a learning. Learning possibly the most important skill in the 21st century, coding.
AltCampus, a coding school that runs a six month program to train ordinary average people into serious software engineers that can do some serious damage is not based in a major city like Bangalore, but rather in the quiet little town of Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India. Most people who’ve heard of Dharamshala would have possibly only heard of it due to the presence of the Dalai Lama, the leader of the Tibetan government in exile, but the town is home to a quaint tech community that works silently and continues to create software.
I stumbled upon this place when I was searching for places to learn coding in a physical space. As most people know, while coding has everything to do with a computer, the hardest way to learn it is also from the computer, alone. I found a list of places that teach coding in physical school type settings on Quora and found this to be the only place which was not in a major city. You might be thinking, who would want to go to the middle of nowhere for six months to learn coding? Personally, I love living in a city, especially a big city, we have a lot of things that are going for us and the big city structure allows us to remain relatively possession-less. However, something I realised after coming to AltCampus and Dharamshala is that we have ZERO distractions. Yes, the touristy vibe of the place maybe a little distraction, but I’m here on a mission. A mission to master coding over the next six months, at least I hope to ;).
This approach is actually working wonderfully for me. At this time, near AltCampus, I have no car, no public transport, cabs are expensive and the only way to move around cheaply is to walk. In addition, the lack of movie theatres and other places that could possibly create an interest in going places are far away and I couldn’t walk all the way. This leaves me with relatively little to do except for learn how to code by doing the exercises given at AltCampus everyday.
I seem to be learning to code fairly easily, perhaps it is a natural predisposition I have towards programming or it is the result of having been with on computer since age 5, either way, this is working for me. I like coding, I like things that I can do using code, the power that software gives people like me to be able to impact large numbers of people. If not all of the above, it could be that I am simply in the ‘Honeymoon’ phase that my instructor told me that we would encounter for the first fortnight before getting into the ‘Desert of Despair’ and eventually, if we persist, we get to the promise land where we get good at coding and can build software products.
The Experience at AltCampus
Although I’ve been here for only about ten days, being a process engineer, I can say that this method of learning code works. I have made more progress in two days here than I made in the past six months sitting at home and trying to figure things out on my own or going through a MOOC.
I arrived at AltCampus on the 7th of April which happened to be a Sunday, there was nothing much to do. The classes were only from Monday to Saturday. My first impressions weren’t the best, there were two buildings under construction of which one was to be the accommodation and one is the place where we learn. AltCampus is a small place, I’m in batch 7 and there has only been one batch that has graduated from the program until now, they’ve got placed in jobs paying upwards of INR 50,000/mo and have started paying AltCampus back for the program. AltCampus works on a unique principle where people go through the program without paying a fee during the program and pay only once they get a job paying Rs 50,000 or more per month. You are to pay 15% of the income for an year after the program which adds up to around Rs90,000 at a minimum.
This approach is kind of scary for me coming from a business perspective as it puts an enormous amount of faith into the students, but as a student, it gives me immense faith in the program as the school has taken all the risk and is only asking me to pay if I get a job paying upwards of 50k. We don’t have to pay if we do not get a job paying at least 50k, this is what they say on their website.
The food is good at AltCampus, it is not great, it is not bad, it is good. Being a south Indian, I don’t have many complaints although I do miss idly and dosas for breakfast, but rice is served for lunch and rotis for dinner.
They’ve put us up in a comfortable guesthouse at this point as the accommodation building is under construction however, I doubt if the accommodation is going to be as comfortable as the guesthouse, but I guess I can manage.
AltCampus is a loosely structured program, it is not too rigid and the founders also are taking things as they go and trying things out with every new batch. The one thing that I have got going for me is that there are so many people I can talk to about coding which is something that didn’t happen to me in my circle back home.
If there is something that I would like AltCampus to do is to be more strict with the processes and structure in addition to the filtering mechanism for new students. I feel that certain students have absolutely no knowledge about coding might face a certain difficulty in the beginning which may cause the student to not be super enthusiastic till the end. Although I believe that they will definitely pick up the skill if they stick through the program and hammer it out until the bitter end, but if they give up mentally early, I doubt if they will stick through it.
Structure and processes could be a little more rigid so that people know that they’re not in Dharamshala for a vacation and that they have only six months to pick up the difficult skill of full-stack development. I see people fooling around and whiling away time without a care in the world or without any guilt whatsoever about not completing the projects assigned. I strongly believe that I need to complete assignments every day in order to be at par with learning the skill on time, but perhaps everyone else does not think the same way. Using the pain and pleasure methods to our advantage is a good thing and I think AltCampus could use this better to ensure higher quality of graduates and higher satisfaction among graduates.
I do not wish to give any conclusion to the story perhaps because it is a work in progress but soon, I know that I will benefit from this coding school called AltCampus as I deeply needed such as school myself and it never existed but now it does. If you are interested in coding and would like to invest six months of your life to change the rest of your life, I would suggest you apply to AltCampus.
If you wish to apply to AltCampus, you can go to AltCampus.io and click on Apply. There is a batch starting every month as of now, you could get into the next batch at the earliest.
I was asked to clone a website, I started with the usual way. Begin with the header and go down, but midway, I had to scrape whatever I did and start again. This got me thinking on an important subject, figure out the big parts first.
What I was doing is jumping into the nitty gritty of the work rather than focus on the big picture that is the whole page. If I had focused on the whole page, my code would have been far cleaner and easier to read in addition to being easy to write.
Let me take an example. If I jump into the code and start from the header without considering the entire page, I end up repeating many elements. However, if I take a few minutes to look through the page and find common elements and a main structure of the page, I would save an enormous amount of time during the coding.
This just happened to me today, after my first div soup, I took a step back and looked at the whole page, I got a sense of what was required where and wrote it down. Turns out there were only three major elements. A header, a main and a footer. Only after I did this did I continue to make the page and guess what, it was very easy after that.
Learned a lot today, practice makes man perfect. Or perhaps I should say perfect practice makes man perfect.
After having read several hundred books over the years, I have found a few that are particularly important for certain phases of our lives.
If you are going through a phase where you must learn a lot in a short span of time such as an AltCampus coding program, you need the right frame of mind and these books will get you there.
I’ve listed the books in order of importance.
Mindset by Carol Dweck : There are Learn it Alls and Know it Alls, which one are you? Based on hundreds of experiments on people of all ages from kindergarteners to graduate students and beyond, Carol Dweck has given us the tools of thinking which allow us to either grow or stay where we are. If you’re in a state of mind that is not allowing you to grow, it might be impossible for you to learn something as difficult as computer programming.
Grit by Angela Duckworth : Thousands of students every year apply to the prestigious West Point academy. Few hundred get through and make it into the program but several quit in the first month. Why? The answer is Grit. Possibly the single most influential book I’ve encountered in my life, Grit has changed my mind and my actions in ways more than I can count. After you invest your time reading this book, you will have a different outlook on everything that you’ve done so far and you’ll begin to find patterns that you’ve never seen before. You will also find patterns in lives of others and you’ll be able to see why some people go the distance and some just do not. Furthermore, you’ll know exactly how you can end up on the side that goes the extra mile. Grit was particularly influential on my life because I had a lot of hiccups in my journey and Grit helped put things in perspective and allowed me to stick to things and get results.
Deep Work by Cal Newport : In the world of constantly increasing interruptions, we have lost the art of being able to focus on one thing and one thing only. Deep Work attempts (and succeeds ) in convincing you that going deep is the only way to go far and my friend Cal has done a splendid job of making the case for Deep Work and how to go deep. This book is particularly important for people learning a skill like coding as you can perform well only if you go deep.
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: In my personal opinion, this book should be of significant importance to every computer programmer and to any student at AltCampus. The Lean Startup is a book that transformed the startup world with its revolutionary methods and things have never been the same since the book came out. Even if you do not want to be an entrepreneur, by learning the Lean method, you will develop a mental model that allows you to save yourself countless hours of frustration and pain if you only do a few simple things to ‘validate your assumptions’ first. The phrase Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was coined in this book just FYI. This book had a significant influence on my business thinking, I would recommend that you read this one.
As I near completion of my first month at AltCampus, I see that there are people with different schools of thought present here. Some have clear focus and clear ideas about why they’re here and what they hope to achieve through the program while others do not. Reading these books will get you on the path that will ensure a fruitful experience at AltCampus.