Coding bootcamp enrollees are often tempted to put the rest of their lives on hold in order to fully immerse themselves in the process of learning how to code — but that can be a mistake.
Although it’s tempting to try and get through the entirety of a 14-week-long coding bootcamp at full throttle, absorbing as much information about web design and programming frameworks as possible, that kind of approach can lead to burnout.
Last year, when David Chung enrolled in the full-time coding bootcamp offered by Flatiron Academy, his plan was to work flat-out for the entire 15-week period, to try to get as much as possible out of the course. His background was in medicine, and the bootcamp was his chance to transition to an engineering career.
“In the beginning, I was fine,” Chung said. “My mentality was, ‘I’m going to do this. I paid a lot of money for this bootcamp. I’ve got to do well’ — it’s a do or die kind of thing for me.”
He pushed himself to work hard every day. During the week, he woke up at 7 a.m., spent two hours before classes looking through code, then continued programming after classes ended at 6 p.m., only pausing for a late dinner before stopping at 11 p.m. On the weekends, he studied and worked on projects for eight to 10 hours a day.
“I’m going to do this. I paid a lot of money for this bootcamp. I’ve got to do well.”
The strategy seemed to work well for a while — he was at the top of his class, and proud to be the go-to person other students asked for help when they got stuck.
But by week 10, Chung had burned out. He failed a comprehension exam during that learning module and had to retake the test.
“Usually, I was one of those students in my class who would study a lot,” he said. “The teachers were surprised when I failed the first test. So when I failed, it just was like a wake up call.”
Tips for Staying Healthy During Coding Bootcamp
- Consider part-time rather than full-time bootcamps. Part-time bootcamps can provide more flexibility and time to absorb course material.
- Find bootcamps with good support systems. Make sure the program will provide support if you struggle with the pace and material.
- Set expectations for social engagements. Let family and friends know ahead of time when you’ll be busy with coursework.
- Maintain healthy habits. Get plenty of sleep, make time for relaxation, and eat healthy.
- Find goals to look forward to. Whether it's a milestone in the course or a favorite meal after class.
- Stick to a schedule. Extra time spent studying every day can add up.
- Ask for help. When you get stuck, ask classmates or instructors for help.
- Lean on your cohort. Classmates can be great at providing academic and emotional support.
Looking back, Chung said he pushed himself too hard, without setting clear parameters on the time he spent working. Although it may seem like a good idea to go all in on your investment, overdoing it can make it more difficult to internalize new knowledge.
Reaching a breaking point during bootcamp can be avoided if you know what to expect and plan ahead of time. Here are some strategies for setting boundaries and maintaining healthy habits to prevent burnout while going through intense coding bootcamps.
Consider Part-Time Bootcamps
Many bootcamps are full-time engagements — they require as much time commitment during the program as a full-time job. Classes take up around eight hours each weekday, and students spend additional hours learning the material, studying for tests and working on projects. Full-time programs are geared for people who can devote a significant period of time to the program, since there’s not really time for much else.
“If you are working, you have to do a night shift,” Chung said. “But to be honest with you, it’s almost impossible to do the bootcamp while working.”
A lot of students prefer full-time programs because they’re shorter — students can complete the program and hopefully get a job within just a few months. But part-time programs should be considered as a good alternative, even though they take longer. In addition to giving students room for other activities, the pace is less hectic, and students have more time to absorb the material before more is introduced to them.
Look for a Bootcamp With a Good Support System
In addition to choosing bootcamps based on which programming languages they teach and which companies their graduates go into, also check out the program’s support structures for students. Programs that acknowledge the intensity of bootcamps and work on ways to support students can provide them with a better experience.
Galvanize’s bootcamps host Q&As twice a year for current and prospective students, where former graduates are invited to give advice on how to maintain good mental health while going through the program. At Flatiron, there is a weekly “Feelings Friday,” where participants talk about their experiences during the week and share the challenges they’re going through.
“Everyone just talks about their stresses and what went wrong,” Chung said. “It got pretty emotional for a lot of people.”
Coding bootcamps try to ensure that only students who master the material graduate from their programs, but that rigor can also be balanced with care for participants and room to fail and grow. At Flatiron, the program is structured into three-week modules, with a comprehension test during each second week. Students who failed that test take a retest at the end of the module, and failing again requires redoing the module.
Set Expectations for Family and Friends
It can be hard to balance social obligations alongside the workload of a coding bootcamp — especially a full-time one. Before starting a bootcamp, it can be helpful to let others know about your new schedule so as not to get stretched too thin.
Chung said committing to too many social events on top of his busy study schedule contributed to his burnout.
Liz Anaya Ramos, who attended Galvanize, said preparing for a bootcamp by talking to family and friends about the workload and your limited time is a great way to reduce stress later on. People will probably understand, and might become additional cheerleaders for your bootcamp journey.
“That way they know how to best support you when you are going through that experience,” Anaya Ramos said.
Maintain Healthy Habits
During Anaya Ramos’ first few weeks at bootcamp, she put all of her energy into the program and didn’t give any serious thought to maintaining her healthy habits.
“I was basically eating vending machine snacks all day, because I did not want to walk away from my computer,” Anaya Ramos said. “The staff was telling me to go take a walk, take a break — I kind of felt that I needed to be on a computer, and that was more of a self-imposed expectation.”
“I was basically eating vending machine snacks all day, because I did not want to walk away from my computer.”
But slowly, she began to take the advice more seriously, taking breaks and introducing other healthy habits into her schedule. She took walks during lunch while listening to audiobooks, and she found healthy food options and set time aside for doing things that she enjoyed.
Those activities weren’t wasted time that ate into her learning like she thought — instead, they rejuvenated her and made her a better learner.
Find Something to Look Forward to
One of the habits Anaya Ramos developed during her bootcamp was getting sushi on Saturdays after class.
“I think I ate more sushi during this bootcamp than I do now,” she said. “I think during those times that were hard in class, I always had that to look forward to. Like, ‘I just have to get through this and then I can go out for sushi.’ Just having those little things.”
Chung said setting time aside each week to unwind and have time for social interactions outside of programming is beneficial.
“Building a good plan where you give enough time — realistic time — for rest and play and food, I think is the most important aspect,” Chung said.
Set a Schedule and Stick to It
The competitive environment, the thrill of learning new skills and the hope of getting a job at the end can lead participants to put in more hours into programming bootcamps than even they expected. Chung often found himself at the computer screen long after class, trying to master concepts or tweaking lines of code to get his program to run just right.
But in hindsight, Chung figures he should have stuck to the schedule he initially intended to keep, rather than pulling late nights that eventually caught up and exhausted him.
“But those hours add up — every time I went past two hours, those are 10 hours total per week that I went over.”
“I always went over, I kept pushing myself too much,” he said. “If I told myself that I would end at 7 p.m., I would go until 9 p.m. just because I felt like, ‘I can do more each day, just a few more weeks.’ But those hours add up — every time I went past two hours, those are 10 hours total per week that I went over.”
Instead, he recommends saving that time for relaxing or spending with friends and family, so that you can get back to learning feeling refreshed instead of tired.
Ask for Help When You Get Stuck
A big part of learning to program is about being resourceful and figuring out how to navigate technical issues on your own. But too much of that mentality can also cause developers to spend too long on problems that others could have easily helped with.
Anaya Ramos said the bootcamp she attended encouraged self-sufficiency, but also introduced students to timeboxing: a strategy for setting boundaries on the amount of time spent on a problem before asking for help.
“Timeboxing is where I figure out this problem for the next 20 to 30 minutes, and if I feel like I’m not making any progress, that’s when I’m going to stop and I’m going to ask for help,” she said.
It’s helpful to develop a sense of self awareness around when you’re really stuck and should ask for help — otherwise, students may always spend longer on problems than necessary and be more likely to burn out.
“If you feel like you’re getting really frustrated, or you just want to get to the answer and are just rushing into it, then it might be time to step away for a little bit, go grab a drink of water, and then come back,” Anaya Ramos said.
Lean on Your Cohort
The other students in a bootcamp program can be great sources of support, both academically and emotionally. Chung’s experience was unusual because his bootcamp took place during the pandemic, when everyone was remote, but students were still able to collaborate and share the ups and downs of the program together. During their last week, all the participants met up for graduation in D.C.
“We were all like, ‘Man, why don’t we meet up earlier? It would have been so much easier to learn together,’” Chung said.
He felt the people in his cohort grounded him and pushed him to study harder.
“If they struggled, I wanted to study even harder, to be that person that they can go to if they needed help,” he said.
Anaya Ramos said she not only studied with her cohort, but that they also found time to unwind together. They discussed the program, went out for food and even held a pingpong tournament. Bonding with other students made working together more fun and less stressful as well.
Although coding bootcamps can be an intense and sometimes overwhelming experience, Chung said it prepared him well for the ups and downs of working as a developer.
“A lot of programmers, just as part of their careers, experience burnout,” he said. “And knowing how to go really hard in one moment and then not going as hard and taking a little bit more relaxing approach to a subject, it’s good to know.”