5 Weeks In: Wenbin Zhao’s Thoughts

Wenbin Zhao Group Picture

About five and a half weeks ago, I posted my first thought on starting at the Data Analytics and Visualization Boot Camp at Texas McCombs. It generated a lot of interest, and I often get questions from my cohorts and colleagues about what I’ve learned and how I feel about the program.

Now that we are about 1/5 way through the program, I am writing up a short review from my personal experience. It’s by no means a comprehensive review of everything this program has to offer. There are plenty of YouTube reviews and blog posts on the web talking about coding boot camps. However, there are some pleasant surprises I learned that I felt most of the reviews missed. So here are my thoughts:

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Class Format, Pace, Material, Relevance to Industry:

The boot camp classes are intensive and fast-paced. The material and toolset we used in the class are some of the most popular data analytical tools used by businesses today: Python, JavaScript, Github, VBA, NoSQL, R, and Tableau, just to name a few. We spent about 10 hours per week in the classroom going through several dozens of programming challenges. So far, we’ve heavily covered programming through Python’s various libraries like Pandas, NumPy, Matplotlib, and API. The teacher uses half the class time introducing new concepts, explaining in detail how each function and library works. Then the students use the remaining time working through exercises individually or in groups. Several TAs are available to help students if they get stuck. At the end of each exercise, the instructor will go through the solutions with the class to review coding techniques and concepts again. 

Surprise (somewhat): I ended up spending about 20 hours each week at home reviewing/reworking these topics in order to understand them better. In addition, there is a project due each week that will take another 10-15 hours to finish. So even though it is a part-time program, I still felt like a full-time student.

Level of Support:

There are several levels of support available. First, the instructor and TAs are almost always available to help, even after classes. I often hit them up on Slack for homework questions or concepts covered in class; they are very responsive and helpful. A couple of times I was pleasantly surprised to see them respond to my questions at almost midnight! Secondly, there is administrative support both locally and remotely. Our Student Success Manager has been our advocate from day one. I had a great interaction with him. Every little request, from making corrective changes to my attendance record, to general questions on seeking support for career advice, he’s always responsive and resourceful.

Surprise: The third level of support, which I’ve never thought of, is from my classmates. We quickly formed self-directed study groups to meet regularly and help each other out on tough homework challenges. By contributing to the group with our ideas, we have a chance to examine crucial concepts and pick the most effective way to code and solve problems. Often we have a different approach to solve the same problems. Working together as a team collaboratively is a nice side benefit this class has to offer. And in the long term, this helps us to build good habits in programming. After all, businesses are looking for programmers and analysts who are effective team players, not individual geniuses.

Career Services:

Initially, I thought they merely offer some webinars on how to prepare your resume. Instead, the level of preparation they provided on career readiness is much deeper and individualized. First, they set up different milestones for each student to work through from personal branding statements (aka the elevator speech) to resume writing, job search process, interview prep, portfolio, and beyond. Each student is assigned to a profile coach to work individually on his or her profile (LinkedIn, website, Github, resume, cover letter, etc.).

Surprise: I reached out to advisers during a webinar session for some interview questions, they responded quickly and scheduled one-on-one sessions with me to work through some technical questions. The Technical Interview Coach and the Career Director both provided direct support through phone calls and emails. I was able to ace the technical interview thanks to their encouragement.

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Other Surprise:

I’ve met some great new friends! We all come from different backgrounds, different ages, different career paths, but we all share a passion for learning and coding. That helps us build rapport and support each other. I’m sure some of these friendships will last a lifetime and I would never have met them if I didn’t sign up for this class. For that, I am truly grateful.  

Final Thoughts:

So far, I’m pleased. Sure, there are moments of frustration, self-doubt, and there are little things that can improve, but everyone is invested in themselves to make this a success. The process is hard but fun. That’s what matters. Hope this helps. I’m sure I didn’t cover everything. If you have questions about my experience, please contact me on LinkedIn or email me. Have a great day!

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