Preparing for an Immersive Coding Program? Don’t Stop at the Pre-Work.


The past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the onboarding experience for students entering General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) program. WDI is a 12-week, full-time program that gives people the foundation and skills needed to become full-stack web developer.

From 9 am to 9 pm on weekdays, and all day Saturdays and Sundays, students are immersed in code. Because the program is so intense and the learning curve so steep, we, along with other coding immersives (also known as “bootcamps”), advise students to start preparing before they arrive on day one.

Pretty standard is the concept of “pre-work”: 50-100 hours of readings, tutorials, and exercises designed to give everyone a foundation in basic web development concepts, as well as level set the class. At GA, students cover Git, HTML, CSS, and Ruby before starting WDI.

Beyond the Pre-Work

A lot of incoming students stop with the technical pre-work. And that’s really dangerous. Because your whether you succeed or fail in an immersive coding program is not just dependent on how much you prepare before you start.

Anything that accelerates your growth in such a short amount of time will ask a lot of you. These programs challenge you to fail and recover quickly. They ask you to meet lots of new people and trust them quickly. They ask you to keep an intense level of focus while learning a seemingly insurmountable amount of material. For goodness’ sake, they also ask you to change your sleeping and eating habits, and see less of your family and friends!

To really succeed in an immersive program, it helps to do a complete self inventory of who you are, and decide how you’ll build upon your strengths on this transformative journey. Here are some questions, resources, and techniques to help prepare yourself mentally, and emotionally, for a grueling but rewarding 12 weeks:

1. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses

  • What are you good at? How can you leverage your strengths to help you succeed in this program?
  • What can you improve on? At work? In your personal life? With others? With yourself?

2. Evaluate your learning style

  • How would you describe yourself as a student? How do you learn best?
  • How is the learning environment you’re joining designed? What part will be most challenging for you?
  • What part of the pre-work intrigued you the most? Which part did you enjoy the least?

3. Identify characteristics for success

  • Think about a time you accomplished something you’re really proud of. What types of behaviors did you exhibit?
  • What types of behaviors contributed to past failures? How did you bounce back from those scenarios?
  • What will you have to change about your current behaviors to succeed?

4. Research and get inspired

  • Watch inspirational TED talks
  • Read about education theory and design to understand the variety and quantity of educational approaches
  • Find & follow industry though leaders on Twitter
  • Read advice from programmers who’ve been in your shoes:
    • How I Became a Programmer
    • Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years
    • Becoming an Apprentice
    • On Being a Junior Developer
    • I Don’t Understand
    • Learning Ruby: Expert Advice for Absolute Beginners
    • Why I am a Programmer
  • Break up your routine; try new things

5. Set goals

(For during and after the program – not only about how you’ll succeed as a develop but also about who you want to be as a person)

  • What do you want to get out of the program you’re joining?
  • Where do you want to be in a year?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What do you want people to say about you at the end of your life?

6. Hold yourself accountable

  • How will you measure and track the goals you’ve set?
  • How will you measure softer goals like changes in your behavior?
  • Who are you telling your goals? How are they going to hold you accountable?

If you’ve been through an immersive, transformative educational experience in programming or another area, let’s talk. What did you do to prepare? Tweet me @mercebent and @GA – we’d love to hear from you.

P.S. All this said, you should still do your assigned technical pre-work! All of it, no matter what anyone says 🙂

Mercedes Bent is the Global Program Manager of General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive Program. She started the program with just 20 students one year ago, and has helped it grow into a program with over 400 students worldwide.

She enjoys learning to code, walks longer than 20 blocks, chocolate soufflés, and dealing playing cards very fast. She can be found opining on tech and self-improvement at