As a seasoned professional in her field, Sandy Seay, sales manager at Georgia Tech Global Learning Center, stepped out of her comfort zone when she signed up for the intensive, 24-week Full Stack Web Development Program offered by Georgia Tech Professional Education. With this rigorous learning experience behind her, and a certificate to show for it, she shares the challenges she faced as an adult learner and how she overcame them.
Why did you choose to take the Full Stack Web Development Program?
My primary reason was to improve my overall understanding of website design and functionality. I previously only had experience in HTML and CSS. I was managing a website for a family business, and it was increasingly hard to determine what changes and updates to make. I now have a better understanding of current technologies.
What did you expect to gain by taking the program and did it meet your expectations?
First, I wanted to discover the coding I was willing to do myself. Second, I wanted to decide on the parts I am willing to pay someone else to build. In building and managing a website, it is hard to know what services you are getting for your money if you have little to no understanding of the technology.
What were the top three challenges you faced by taking the program and balancing work and personal responsibilities? How did you overcome them?
My top three challenges were humility, homework, and study time.
I am used to being a top student, but the material is complex and the pace rapid. I quickly learned that for everyone in class, except for two or three students, some topics were difficult to understand. You have to set aside your ego and be willing to say you do not get it – and ask questions. Our best learning experiences came from understanding why the code did not work. I also had to go back over some class video and listen to lectures a second time.
The homework is not easy, and you can spend days on your response. You need to think through the steps you need to take and the in-class assignments that are relevant. I do not recommend trying to do it in one sitting. I struggled the first few weeks and then joined a study group. We met on Sunday, the day after the homework was assigned. I knew I had to get the homework mapped out on Sunday to ensure I would have it completed by the following Saturday morning. The study group was key. You need to give yourself several opportunities to ask questions before and after class to make sure you are on the right track. I spent several late nights that were wasted because I got stuck or veered off track and could not ask questions and expect answers at 2 a.m.
I can usually do reading before a class and pick up the concepts. Not with coding. You need to spend time chatting with others about how they do things and then decide on your coding style. You really do need to set aside seven to ten hours a week to study outside of class separate from completing the homework. This rarely happened for me. I would fit coding in before work, during lunch, and nights I was not in class. If I had to do it over, I would have gotten on a schedule of coding one hour a day, 30 days before the course started.
How did you manage to balance work and a rigorous program such as this one?
I did not fully get the time commitment required until about three weeks in. At that point, I joined a study group, took some vacation time from work to catch up, and put all of my hobbies such as reading, running, and volunteering on hold. I cancelled any out-of-town trips for the full six months since I do not do well studying away from home.
What did you find most valuable about the program?
The sense of accomplishment. I stuck with something that was really hard for six months. I confronted my fears that I might not get the material and kept at it. I also learned to sit next to and talk to people that supported my figuring things out. The first person I sat next to did not talk much. I moved and sat next to someone who got what the teacher said and would share it with me if I needed it.
How has the program helped you advance your personal or professional goals?
The program has given me the know-how to build my own website for a non-profit company. The non-profit I plan to start is a long-term goal I have been working towards for more than five years.
What advice would you give to someone considering taking this program?
My favorite teaching assistant told us on the first night of class his key to practicing code, “If you have 10 hours a week to study, study as frequently as you can 20 minutes to one hour at a time, rather than in two five-hour sessions.”