Parent Programming

While researching the decision to attend a bootcamp I used blogs and sites like Quora to investigate what life might be like at Flatiron School’s 12 week intensive program. A friend had completed the part time, 24-week program at another bootcamp, but I had no personal insight to the more condensed type of program I was interested in.

Along with the often asked, often answered questions most students have about campus life, preparation and so on, there was a big question about a little (7lbs, 10 oz) topic that was going to be very important to my bootcamp life.

What’s it like for a parent to go through one of these programs?

And not just a parent, but a first time parent to a very new (8 weeks yesterday!) baby!?!?

You see, for our family the only way this whole thing was ever going to work was to start and finish my course before my wife’s maternity leave ends. This meant if I didn’t participate in a bootcamp that ran from April to July other considerations would have to be made about child care, which is expensive anywhere but could probably be called extortion here in New Jersey.

So for us, the “only” chance to attend Flatiron School was the April 2016 cohort. So here I am! And I’m surviving! Some days even thriving!

They say at Flatiron that now isn’t a good time to take up new hobbies, and to just focus on coding. But parenting is not optional. I can’t just be absent for 3 months from my baby’s life, and wouldn’t want to be if I could. So how can I make it work?

It takes an incredible support structure, lots of discipline and time management, and a real commitment to the core studies.

For starters, it would be entirely impossible in my mind to do this without my amazing wife. Her commitment to my success at Flatiron is equal to my own, and Monday through Friday she cares for our baby, runs the house, and does lots of work that help keep me on point. You and your partner need to agree in advance on the importance of your focus on coding and learning, and keep a constant line of communication open for when more time is needed. The reality is attending bootcamp means both my wife and I are in bootcamp, and without her help I would’ve already starved AND died from sheer exhaustion. Without a partner willing to carry an extra share of the work at home, you’ll never have the time or energy to bear down and get the work done.

Its also a devil of a thing that my classmates are so awesome, creative and fun. Striking a balance between building relationships with my first group of  programming peers and being home to take over the childcare at the end of a long day of school is a real challenge. Being part of the social fabric of my school is important to me, and I anticipate great friendships and professional relationships with my classmates, but you can only slice the pie so many ways (a problem you face when attempting to serve birthday cake to 31 classmates!)

This means I swing by happy hour for a drink with my class, but after one I’m on the way home to relieve my wife and give her a break from the baby.

It also means setting boundaries on your time and being focused. Goal one is to learn to build amazing web applications, so that has meant a lot of working lunches for me, as well as pulling the laptop out on a crowded train to try and finish up that last lab without missing the last express train home.

Hopefully your commute is shorter than mine (from Northern New Jersey to NYC) but if you’re on a train for 45 minutes like I am that’s another opportunity to focus and continue learning. If you can’t stay late, work on the way home. Typically in the morning I’ll read Rails Guides or other documentation, then on the way home I’ll pull out the laptop and try to wrap up some labs

For me, it’s an important part of being a parent and partner to be home when I walk in the door. That’s the agreement my wife and I have on weeknights: school has already had me from 7:30 am when I start reading on the train, to 7:30 pm when I put my laptop away and get ready to walk home from the station. The time in between is for my wife and baby. Of course, there are exceptions to make for project due dates and for nights like Flatiron Students Present. We also agree to plan for at least one late night a week where I will stay on campus to finish up any lingering work. Here communication is key, so that while your partner carries the brunt of the burden of parenting, you get some cuddle time in with your baby as well.

This, to me, feels like the hardest compromise. I’ve wished for days to be a few hours longer many times already, wanting more time for both home AND to code. The program asks for workaholic levels of time, and with a baby that’s something I simply don’t have to give five days a week.

This opportunity for a career change is for the benefit of my whole family, but I’m not willing to mortgage off even more time with my baby to achieve it. In exchange, I skip the daily ping-pong tournaments in the student center and miss out on the occasional group gathering, but in the end it will be worth it! This journey will be a hard one, but with the support of my family and the amazing staff and classmates at Flatiron School it’s a journey worth taking.