Life as a Mom and Flatiron Student

Ries and I after his first week of class.

Ries and I after his first week of class.

I’ve been wanting to write about the reality of being a web development student and a mother for some time now, but I’m just now getting around to it.

Gus in Colorado. This is pretty typical of him.

Gus in Colorado. This is pretty typical of him.

What We’re Working With Here

If you’re new here, I’ll give you some context: My husband, Ries, is a masters student at Indiana University, studying Human-Computer Interaction and Design. In addition to being a full time student, he works thirty hours a week: twenty hours in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering (SICE) Career Services department, and an additional ten hours a week as a UX researcher on an NSF grant two of his professors procured.

We have a two year old, Gus, who is the size of a four year old, and thinks he’s simultaneously Buzz Lightyear and a T-Rex. He’s “very active.” That’s my polite way of saying that he hurls himself at the walls of our 700 square foot apartment if he hasn’t sufficiently run himself ragged outdoors. He is the best and my favorite, but he’s a lot.

We also have a Maine Coon cat, Whimsy, who is almost two. She is a big baby and recently learned that if Gus isn’t around, she can be a lap cat which she prefers over being wrestled by a forty pound boy child.

My husband and I also (try to) write 2-3 articles a week for our own website, and I’m starting a photography business on the side, because it’s something I love and we need the additional income.

So that’s what we’re working with before I even mention the whole Flatiron School Full Stack Web Development student thing.

My friend and study buddy, Clara, keeping me company while I learn JavaScript.

My friend and study buddy, Clara, keeping me company while I learn JavaScript.

My Course

I started my Flatiron School course—I’m a self-paced Online Web Development student—in July 2018. (If you want to read about my long journey up to that point, you’ll find it here.)

Now, Flatiron School does immersive courses, where you go to a campus and work really hard for three months, and then—BOOM, you’re done. If you have the opportunity to do an immersive class, I highly recommend you figure out how to make it work, because it’s something I wish I could have done. With Ries being a student, and having a toddler with no available childcare (the demand is higher than the availability where we live)—an immersive course was not an option for me, so I decided to pursue the self-paced online course.

I had been working in hotel management for the previous year, and my mother-in-law and husband were watching Gus while I was working. I decided to quit my job so I could pursue my course full time. I planned to finish the course in six months, which was over-ambitious for a number of reasons:

1) I had very little knowledge and understanding of programming or computer science when I started my course,

2) I was relying on my mother-in-law to watch my toddler for 30 hours a week (which was an unfair expectation for someone her age—even though she wanted to do it—it did not happen, and she ended up being out of the state dealing with health problems from July 2018-January 2019),

3) I didn’t understand that my life and responsibilities had completely changed since being a single, undergraduate student almost ten years ago,

4) I had never attempted to learn something I wasn’t naturally talented at,

5) and my husband and I share a computer.

Yeah…that six month goal sounds belligerently optimistic now.

Sixteen months later I’ve learned a couple things that I wanted to share with other moms who might be considering or currently enrolled in an online bootcamp.

My workspace on a Saturday morning.

My workspace on a Saturday morning.

My Week

I briefly want to talk about what my week looks like—because it’s taken a long time to get a a schedule nailed down that feels right.

Mondays & Wednesdays: I work on class while Gus is at school. That time ranges from two-four hours both days, but sometimes there is no school, sometimes I help in the classroom, etc. That time is set aside strictly as class time.

Fridays: 12:30pm-5:00pm Ries has a standing meeting at noon for his research, but after we pick him up, I go work for a solid chunk of time. Sometimes that’s only until 4:00pm, but sometimes I stay out and work until 6:00pm.

Saturdays: 8:00am-2:00pm I try to get up and out of the house (it’s easier on Gus) early, grab some food, and work at a cafe for a solid chunk of time. If I get done earlier, we try to do something as a family together, since Ries is working on homework, work, or research Sunday-Thursday.

Outside of these work times, I don’t work on class.

And here’s why: For the first year I was working on the curriculum, I felt bad every second of every day that I wasn’t working on the course, rather than focusing on the progress I was actually making. I wouldn’t let myself do anything that wasn’t for the course, because I felt it was a poor use what little time I had. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I felt like I was constantly behind, like I wasn’t going fast enough, like I hadn’t met my goal, and I was exhausting myself to the point that when I did have time to work on my class I either didn’t have the brain to work or didn’t want to work on it.

I have a weekly goal of 15 lessons / labs a week (and that number was determined by how many lessons I knew I could realistically accomplish in the time that I have guaranteed to me.) If I exceed that goal, it’s awesome. I work until I don’t have a brain left, but I take breaks when I need to. I got a lot done on Saturday this week, so I took Monday off. Because I’m here for the long haul, and I don’t want to burn out. Which is a real challenge as a mom, because there are so many balls to juggle.

Gus “working” on a toy laptop at Crate and Barrel.

Gus “working” on a toy laptop at Crate and Barrel.

Tips from a Mom

Teach Yo’ Self First

The women I follow on Twitter that seem the most successful have experimented and taught themselves code before they started a bootcamp. (A great place to start is the Free Bootcamp Prep course Flatiron School offers.) If you’re planning to do an online, self-paced program, I think that’s extremely valuable. 1) You have more knowledge going into your bootcamp, 2) You can see if you actually have the self discipline it requires to be a self-paced online student. Because let me tell you, as a mom, there are so many things that come up in a day that make it difficult to get your class done. You have to fight to get through lessons and labs on the good days. On the bad days, you have to be willing to cry on a conference call with a technical coach or start from scratch.

You have to really, really want it. Because guess what? Quitting is as easy as closing a tab on your browser and opening up something different—Netflix, Facebook, anything.

(I will say I now have the self-confidence that I can teach myself anything. Except physics.)

Be realistic with your time

If you are not going to wake up early, don’t plan to work before your kids wake up. If your kid is a stage five clinger and won’t nap without you, don’t plan to work during nap time. If you don’t have a brain at night, don’t plan to stay up and work at night. It won’t happen, and you’ll feel guilty about it. Block out times to work, and stick to it.

And while this may sound cynical, no one is as invested in your success as you are, so you are the only person who can make this happen for yourself. I rely on my husband to give me weekends to work, and he respects my work time. But not everyone will understand why you need to stick to a work schedule—”Isn’t your program flexible?” “Can’t you just work on it later?”

Be realistic with your goals

Learning to code is difficult, and it takes everyone a different amount of time. I struggled on labs that were easy for most, and flew through labs that were really challenging for others. You will not know how many lessons / labs are a realistic goal for you until you have worked on it for a couple weeks. You also need to be able to adapt if things don’t go according to your original plan, and learn to let go of “where you’re supposed to be by now.” It’s not serving you.

Personal Growth + Fun

Regardless of whether or not you want code, something I think is important for all moms is to work on one project that is for personal growth or career development and work on one project that is for self care or pleasure. Moms spend so much time taking care of people outside of themselves, that it’s really important to feel like you’re not a rag that’s wiping the counters. I’ve found that I feel most sane when I’m working on my Flatiron course AND something that I want to do—whether that’s running, blogging, photography, sewing Halloween costumes, etc. I made it through most of this class trying to work on only the course, and I think that singularity actually slowed me down, because I felt like I was constantly working with no breaks.

Connect Online

I was never a fan of Twitter until I got an account because it’s advised by Flatiron School’s career service team. The tech community on Twitter is amazing and has been so encouraging and helpful since I started. Plus, Avi and Adam are the best, and I always get a huge confidence boost when one of them likes, comments, or retweets my tweets. I feel supported in a way I didn’t know was possible for an online, remote student like me.

There are other communities that offer access to Slack channels (I believe!) so get out there and start talking to other people who also work in web development.

I have a lot more to say, but I’m going to cut myself off for now. If you’re a mom considering a programming bootcamp, or a mom in a programming bootcamp, leave me a comment to let me know what you’re working on, or hit me up on Twitter.