“You get hurt, hurt ’em back. You get killed… walk it off.”
In case you don’t know, that’s Captain America addressing the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) during the final battle against Ultron (I’m a huge fan of pop culture references). No, attending a coding bootcamp was not like trying to stave off a million robots trying to erase the human race. But yes, there is the notion of getting beaten down and then moving on. During my time at App Academy, I got the opportunity to do something Marvel-related for my final project, so in a similar vein, I’m going to describe my time at App Academy in NYC using a number of Marvel Cinematic Universe quotes. Note that this is my experience, and absolutely does not represent the experience of every student who has gone through App Academy, or any bootcamp, for that matter. Also, please forgive me if you haven’t watched any of the Marvel movies; I promise the non-Marvel content is still worthwhile.
(SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched the movies, I may mention some plot details in explaining the quotes. Consider yourself warned.)
“I am Iron Man.”
(Tony Stark, Iron Man, 2008)
Okay, this is THE QUOTE of the MCU. It eventually came full circle in Avengers: Endgame. And it has nothing to do with what I’m talking about in this article. What can I say? I’m a nerd.
“I can do this all day.”
(Steve Rogers, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)
Being in a rigorous, high-intensity, fast-paced software bootcamp sometimes feels like someone beating down on you. It’s called a bootcamp for a reason. Bootcamps are not for the faint of heart. I myself was not a computer science major, and therefore, had not even an inkling of an idea of what Big O or merge sort was. I started from scratch. However, throughout the whole course, we received nothing but encouragement and support from the instructors. It’s normal to experience imposter syndrome, especially if we were switching fields. Even those who were computer science majors felt at some point that they were lacking or inferior to the rest of the class in some way. So on those days when the material felt more foreign than usual, or the concepts felt more above my head than ever, I kept a hold onto whatever can-do attitude I could muster. “I can do this all day.”
“I’m gonna need a rain check on that dance.”
(Steve Rogers, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)
I am not sure about how much time other students put in, and I don’t know what it’s like in other bootcamps, but I averaged around 75–80 hours a week of work. That consisted of both classroom time and self-study at home. Throw in 6–7 hours of sleep a night, 1 hour of commute per day, 1 hour of meal time per day, and I was left with about 25 hours to myself in any given week. And that is not including grocery shopping,doing laundry, cleaning the apartment, etc.
“Your ancestors called it magic, and you call it science. Well, I come from a place where they are one and the same thing.”
(Thor, Thor, 2011)
It did feel like magic, and it was exhilarating. I remember our first day on recursion, my pair programming partner and I were trying to solve a question on our daily assignment: “Given a list of coins, what is the minimum amount of coins needed to make a target amount of change?” We spent quite a bit of time talking through the logic of our solution. We came up with diagrams, illustrated our solution with circles and arrows, and finally came up with a viable solution. Then, after typing out our code, and running the examples, it just worked. IT JUST WORKED. I was flabbergasted. That was probably the first time I became hooked on coding.
“The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more.”
(Nick Fury, Avengers, 2012)
Over the course of the bootcamp, I got to know many remarkable people. During the first day of the bootcamp, we all went around and introduced ourselves to one another. It was astounding to hear from where people were coming, and their goals in enrolling in the bootcamp. I was a full-time staff member for an undergraduate Christian group for two years. Someone else worked in a National Laboratory doing research with lasers. Another student was a chemist at a startup. There were students who were still finishing their Bachelor’s; there was a grandfather. I can’t name all the fields or occupations that people came from, but they included: economics, fashion, journalism, biology, marketing, publishing, finance, and bartending.
“I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”
(Tony Stark, The Avengers, 2012)
This quote should be pretty self-explanatory, but basically, if I had a bug I couldn’t find within 30 minutes, I turned into the Hulk, inwardly. I must confess I had fleeting thoughts of smashing my keyboard, or throwing my computer out the office window. Then again, when faced with annoying bugs, who doesn’t?
“When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?”
(Maria Hill, The Avengers, 2012)
My favorite part of this whole take is when Tony asks Maria, “how does Fury even see these [screens]?” “He turns.” “Sounds exhausting.” But that doesn’t have to do with the quote above. Here, Tony has just explained that Loki needs a power source to maintain the opening of the portal above Manhattan that we see later in the movie. Maria asks the question in the quote, to which Tony replies: “Last night. The packet, Selvig’s notes, the extraction theory papers… Am I the only one who did the reading?”
Of course, at times, what we were learning felt like thermonuclear astrophysics. We received App Academy’s version of “the packet, Selvig’s notes, the extraction theory papers” in the form of readings and lecture videos. I remember on the first night of learning Redux, my brain was trying to make connections between ideas that were still floating within the sea of concepts that made up my consciousness. Astonishingly, the next day, during the projects, certain things would just click. “Oh! After the action is dispatched, it hits the reducer!” It was never all at once, but little by little, the concepts would fall into place. Frequently it was at the comment of another student that these connections would be made. Then by the end of the week, I realized that I indeed had some mastery over the material covered.
“I’m with you till the end of the line.”
(Steve Rogers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014)
Actually, Bucky is the one who says this first to Steve in The First Avenger, right after Steve’s mother’s funeral. Steve returns the line to Bucky in The Winter Soldier, at the end of their climactic fight. The line completely arrests Bucky, and marks the end of an emotional character arc just within this one film.
For the first eight weeks of the App Academy curriculum, we are assigned a partner for the day, with whom we practice pair programming for about 4–5 hours on daily projects. By the end of those eight weeks, each person will have pair programmed with at least thirty people. This was one of my favorite features of the bootcamp. Every day, I got to meet someone new, but still had enough time to get to know a bit about how they worked, why they worked, and for what they worked. Because everyone learned at a different pace, in each pair, one person would always understand the material more clearly. Some days, I was the one who could make sense of the material; other days, I was the one that needed some guidance. It was the job of the person who understood the material to walk his or her partner through the projects, with the goal of arriving at the same understanding. I was fortunate to have had partners where I felt either they were with me till the end of the line (6:00PM), or I felt comfortable being with them till the end of the line. It was really a team effort to solve difficult problems and navigate new material at breakneck pace.
“All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do, is to start over.”
(Peggy Carter, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014)
No one is perfect. Nobody can possibly write the most efficient solution to a problem on the first try, every single time. Getting stuck is an inevitability. We were encouraged to ask an instructor if we had been stuck for 20–30 minutes on a daily project, so that we had time to practice all the material covered that day. Generally, I followed that principle. However, on occasion, I asked my partner if we could solve it for the sake of learning how to get unstuck on our own. I learned from those experiences that problems often have many solutions. There may be more optimal, or more efficient solutions, but there are a plethora of ways to solve the problem. If our current approach wasn’t working, and we had given it our best effort, it was helpful to start over, and approach the problem from another angle. Often times, reframing the problem gave us fresh insight on how to tackle it.
“The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.”
(Clint Barton, Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015)
In the movie, the apparently out-of-place Hawkeye’s line was humorous. But during the bootcamp, it was still easy at times to feel out of place. I recall in the fourth week, we were invited to observe the projects that the previous cohort had completed and were prepared to showcase to recruiters. They seemed so advanced, so complicated, so beyond my reach. From where I was, I couldn’t see how I was going to get to where they were. They were too far ahead of me. As the weeks went by, I was picking up new material, learning new technologies, but I still could not see the gap shrink by any significant amount. It wasn’t until the end of the ninth week that I finally realized I was right where those students had been five weeks prior.
Imposter syndrome is real, and it can be hard to deal with. Luckily, I had a good support system outside the bootcamp to turn to, as well as a good group of friends to relate to within the bootcamp. They may not have known what I was going through, but spending time with them definitely assuaged the nebulous, uneasy feeling of inadequacy.
“He’s fast, and she’s weird.”
(Maria Hill, Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015)
This is Maria’s summary of Maximoff twins for Steve. We learned to be efficient and concise with our code. DRY.
“You know, I think this regulator is holding me back.”
(Scott Lang, Ant-Man, 2015)
Regulations and conventions exist for a reason. Scott learned that the hard way. We, however, face a much smaller consequence than being lost in the quantum realm. One of the key technologies we learned was Rails, an MVC framework for Ruby. Rails has a lot of conventions that we had to learn, such having to match the naming of files, models, controllers, etc. It was very helpful as a starting framework to learn about basic web system architecture, and served as a conceptual base for learning other frameworks. If I had free rein to deviate from conventions from the outset, I don’t think I would have learned the fundamental principles as well. It was a good experience for me to first learn conventions and principles through Rails, and then apply those to other projects. Now, as I’m working through projects using Node.js, Express.js, and MongoDB or Python with Flask, I am relying on principles I learned while using Rails.
“I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’M THE BOSS!”
(Scott Lang, Captain America: Civil War, 2016)
Say this quote before every project.
I’m kidding. But seriously, you’re the boss.
“Does anyone have any orange slices?”
(Scott Lang, Captain America: Civil War, 2016)
Being in App Academy is when I started taking meal prepping seriously. My time was limited, so I needed to plan my meals. I tried the orange chicken from Trader Joe’s for the first time; they’re bomb. Hence this orange slices quote. (Sorry, a bit of a stretch!)
“Hulk, stop! Just for once in your life, DON’T SMASH.”
(Thor, Thor: Ragnarok, 2017)
I totally felt for Hulk here. His whole life, he’d been told to smash. It was an epic moment in The Avengers. And yet here he was told not to do the one thing he was comfortable with, and really good at (well, until he met Thanos), doing. Likewise, during this bootcamp, I felt a little out of my comfort zone. I’ve always walked to or driven to work, but now I was taking public transportation to and from the office. I went from having my own schedule to having my schedule planned out for me. I had spent most of life in California, and now I’m in New York, where I only know a handful of people. All in all, it was a bit uncomfortable, though not nearly as jarring as Thor telling Hulk to not smash.
“What do you know about Wakanda?”
(Ulysses Klaue, Black Panther, 2018)
By the end of week nine, we had completed many of the MVPs on our full-stack project using what we had learned: Ruby on Rails backend with PostgreSQL, and React / Redux. Having felt like I had only a general idea of the material we were covering for much of the first few weeks, having somewhat of a completed project felt like such an accomplishment. On the surface of these projects, they seemed pretty simple, much like Wakanda seemed like a simple country. Many of projects had very clean and minimalist interfaces, with much of the complexities hidden from sight. Yet only we knew the truth behind our projects: “it’s a technological marvel.”
“We’ve come a long way since Budapest.”
(Clint Barton, Avengers: Endgame, 2019)
It’s a bit cheesy, but by the end of the bootcamp, I reflected on all that had taken place within the short span of 12 weeks. I had moved across the country, changed fields, made a number of great friends, and opened the doors to a whole new realm of opportunities. I had learned web development from the back-end all the way to the front. I had picked up skills not just in coding, but also in learning languages. I had experienced collaborative work in addition to solving problems lone wolf. Then as I considered all of my classmates who made it through with me, and the work that we had accomplished, I realized that we indeed had come a long way. (As a sidenote, I hope Black Widow tells us what Budapest is all about.)
So this ends my fun little exercise of matching MCU quotes to my bootcamp experience. I actually compiled a list of 364 quotes for my Facebook cloning project, on which I put a Marvel spin, most of which I did not use, so this put the list to good use. There were other quotes I wanted to use, but it would have made this already lengthy article unbearably long. Thanks for sticking with me this far, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the read!
I’m still currently in my job search, so once that is over, maybe I’ll write about this process. And perhaps I’ll use a different set of quotes.