Benchmarks: Code Schools and Olympic Weight Training

Last week I published a letter that I wrote to our company about disagreements.[1. 1. You can read the letter here.] One of our code school[2. 2. Learn more about The Iron Yard Academy.] students responded both by expressing encouragement and by making an interesting comment about not knowing how to feel about how far his class has come—how they should feel about how they are doing. I wrote a fairly long response that I thought would be worth sharing for other students to read.

Here’s his comment[3. 3. Read his comment on the original post.]:

This article couldn’t have come at a better time. At the risk of sticking my neck out and being the boisterous voice of my cohort, which seems to have become my MO, I’ll fight the tendency to not share how I, & my fellow classmates, are feeling in an effort to start a dialogue.

We are waterfalling it. We should be scrumming it, and we know that. And we want to scrum it. But we are in a pure freefall-waterfall, or atleast that is how we feel. Maybe we are supposed to be waterfalling right now. Maybe we just need some reassurance that we are in fact waterfalling. That we are just going to keep pushing toward our goal without evaluating our progress, and that is cool because that is the plan. Personally I think we need to have some sort of “let’s evaluate where we are” scrum style meeting, but who knows. Nevertheless, communication.

And here is my response[4. 4. Read my response on the original post.]:

Austin, I’m so glad to hear that my words were an encouragement. I’m glad you chose to speak up—we always encourage honesty at The Iron Yard.

First, and most importantly, the discussion about where you’re at will come. You’re halfway through, and over the next few weeks you’ll have reached a point where you have enough understanding about the discipline you are studying for that to be a productive conversation. I know that you can feel like you’re in the dark some of the time, but trust us—we’ve done this before and as I said in this post, our #1 mission is to help you become successful.

As for waterfalling, or, more accurately, it seems, feeling like you are free falling: that is completely normal at this point. In fact, we talk about how our students feel often as a company. That’s why we tell each student in the interview process that this isn’t an easy road.

The core of this issue is that your experience during class (and what that feels like) and the reality of how much you’ve learned and where you stand in the industry are extremely hard to put into perspective.

Our classes are like training under an Olympic weight lifter alongside a dozen other people, all who have little or no experience working out. The trainer doesn’t start light, he starts everyone at the maximum weight they can handle and progressively adds more. It’s painful. It seems literally impossible at times. But that’s not the hardest part.

The hardest part is that weight—how much you can lift—is the measure you use to compare yourself both to the trainer and to the people training next to you. That’s understandable, because weight is what you live and breathe during training. But that benchmark can also be very misleading. Comparing yourself to the trainer is non-sense because they have years of experience, whereas you have weeks. Comparing yourself to the people next to you can be misleading because everyone has different body types and builds, which makes them better or worse or faster or slower at different types of lifting. There’s also the temptation to think that your training regimen is comparable to the ‘average’ weight lifter out there, which it most certainly is not. Still, though, because you are living and breathing amounts of weight, it’s easy for you to feel inadequate compared with both the instructor and the people training next to you, then use that to try and get an idea of where you stand in the world of fitness in general.

When you let your mind travel that path, the monumental misconception is that the training program has nothing to do with how much you can lift and everything to do with how much stronger you are getting relative to when you started. How much muscle you’ve built, personally. How much grit you’ve developed to wake up every morning and keep going, no matter how hard it gets.

The difficult part for us at The Iron Yard is that even if we try to tell you how you stack up in the spectrum of junior-level programming talent, it still doesn’t seem real because the only benchmarks you have to measure yourself by are the instructor and your classmates.

So, hold on tight, keep your head down, keep getting stronger and soon we’ll talk about where you’re at.

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