december 31, 2023

{ how to prepare for a software bootcamp: the non-technical aspects }

tags: learning

A software engineering bootcamp is an exciting moment in your career. Congrats on making the decision! Congrats on the studying you've done, the technical interviews you've endured, the work you've had convincing your family and friends.

But it's also going to be a challenge. A bootcamp takes over your life for a few months. It will be time consuming, push your intelligence, and probably cause not a little stress.

As important as it is to make sure your JavaScript skills (or whatever language you'll be using) are ready, you also want set yourself up to maintain your mental, physical, emotional, social, and financial health along the way. This is what I did to prepare and what I wish I had done.

Getting Ready for a CS Bootcamp

This post is not about getting into a bootcamp. There are dozens of those already, including many from the programs themselves.

It is also not about whether or not you should do to a bootcamp. Again, there are dozens of posts about that already and I'm very likely biased on the matter.

Instead, I'm focusing on the work I did outside of coding to get ready. This is a guide for those who have been accepted to a bootcamp and are wondering what to do in the coming weeks to prepare. It's also a worthwhile read for those considering a bootcamp and wondering if they can fit it into their life.

My Situation and How It Influenced My Prep

Software bootcamps are known for causing burnout, imposter syndrome, and general stress. A quick search on Reddit will confirm this, and I went into my bootcamp with a fair amount of anxiety about the months to come.

I wanted to set myself up for success. This was a huge investment in my future after all and I wanted to get the most out of it. I did not want to miss something because of burnout or feel overwhelmed and distracted.

My bootcamp was full time and 16 weeks through Rithm School. This is a little longer than many bootcamps that are 12 weeks. As a result, the days are shorter. The Rithm schedule is Monday through Friday, 9:30am to 6pm Pacific time. There are weekend assignments that take about 8 to 12 hours. This leads to a more balanced schedule that I knew would help with burnout. And honestly, once you've spent that much money and that much time, what's 4 more weeks?

But that's still far from relaxed. That's approximately 50 hours of learning and coding a week, plus any necessary review time. Even if that is a normal workweek for you timewise, learning that constantly is going to be a lot more exhausting.

Your experience will likely depend a lot on your situation and your program. I am single and live several states away from my family, so I knew I would be mostly fending for myself during my bootcamp. I was leaving my previous job on Friday and starting class on Monday, keeping me from any recharging in between.

Strategies for Prepping for a Software Engineering Bootcamp

Here is what I did to get ready. For the record, I was never burnt out and my 16 weeks at bootcamp were some of the best of my life. I give Rithm and my amazing cohort mates most of the credit, but I like to think these tips helped too.

Scheduling During a Bootcamp

A bootcamp is a big life event. For this reason its probably a good idea not to plan other big life events during it. For instance, it's not really a great time to get married or move cross country. Either push those things back or delay your bootcamp start date.

What you do have time for will depend on you and your program. I ended up having most evenings open and about 0.5 to 1 weekend days free. The only thing on my schedule when I started was a one night trip to another state to get a tattoo. I didn't have to miss class for it. I know others in my cohort who took a 3 day weekend to go to a wedding.

As I got further into my program and had a better idea of time, I was able to head up to the mountains to snowboard on three different Sundays. I'm glad I didn't plan out anything like this ahead of time however.

So a weekend away might be doable and of course you may have to account for unexpected absences. But I would limit your schedule otherwise.  And if you're going to miss class, it might be worth rebooking. Literally, each class day likely averages out to a couple hundred dollars, not to mention hours of content that you will miss out on.

Plan Out Your Social Life

Tell your friends you'll see them in a few months.

But in reality, this will also depend on yourself and your program. I was able to hang out with people about 3 to 4 days a week and this was a lifesaver. I've worked from home for several years and getting out at the end of the day to hang out with people, even if I've been talking on Zoom all day, is a must. Hanging out with friends is also a great way to give your brain a break from coding.

I was very upfront with friends about my schedule and the uncertainty of it. Some weekends I wouldn't know until last minute if I'd have enough homework done to hang out. For friends who needed more advanced notice, we planned a hangout once my class was over.

Choose Your Physical Activities Now

There are probably a thousand studies that indicate why it is a good idea to get exercise in while you are pushing your brain this hard. I won't go into them here. But walking from your bed to your desk is not enough.

You may or may not have time to go to the gym. I personally really enjoyed rock climbing after class twice a week. Nothing put the stress of coding in perspective like being 80 feet off the ground and hoping you tied the knot on your harness correctly.

Even if you can only get 15 minutes of activity in, that's going to help. This could be:

  • Walking the dog
  • Yoga
  • Several pushups and situps
  • Walking to the coffee shop
  • Mowing your lawn
  • Shoveling snow

One student in my last cohort put a picture of stretches as his desktop background so he was reminded to move every time he saw it.

If you can combine exercise with social time or outdoor time, that's even better. Two birds and one stone and all that.

Food and Meal Prep for a Software Bootcamp

If you live with family, a partner, a benevolent roommate, or someone else who has agreed to cook for you for the next 3 to 4 months, congratulations. Do a grocery shop, take them out to dinner, or come up with some other way to give them a pre-thank you. This person is going to save your life.

For the rest of us, make a plan now for how you are going to feed yourself, especially if you are like me and won't eat when you're stressed or if food is not readily available. You need to eat and you need to eat well while you're in a bootcamp. You are about to force your brain to learn faster and for longer than is sustainable for the average person. Healthy energy will make this less impossible.

Depending on your situation, you may or may not want to be paying a lot for takeout/eating out during this time. Most bootcamp students are temporarily without income after all.

I've always meal prepped on weekends. However, I knew I wouldn't want to spend my weekends stuck in my kitchen when I wasn't coding. I decided to precook a lot of frozen food in the weeks leading up to bootcamp. I spaced the grocery shopping and cooking out over about a month.

Some of the foods that are great for making ahead and freezing are:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Enchiladas
  • Lasagna
  • Fried rice
  • Casseroles
  • Daal (or your preferred lentil dish)
  • Falafel
  • Chili
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Waffles (heat them up in your toaster so they stay crispy)
  • Shredded chicken
  • Cookies (freeze them raw and bake before eating)

Some things I made in batches, like this lentil and brown rice casserole and enchiladas. I would defrost one every few weeks and that would make up the majority of my meals for the week. Other things I portioned out in my giant ice cube trays, like the chili and the daal, so I could just eat it once in a while. This is especially great if you get bored of leftovers quickly.

I also raided the Trader Joe's frozen food aisle and bought a few other of my favorite frozen foods.  It helped to make a list of everything I had in my freezer since things tend to disappear in there.

Outside of frozen foods, I bought a lot of pantry staples and snacks like:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Ramen noodles
  • Boxed mac and cheese
  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Goldfish (which are a category unto themselves)
  • Oatmeal
  • Bread (will last for weeks in the fridge)
  • Peanut butter
  • Tuna
  • Nuts and dried fruits
  • Favorite candies
  • Boxed brownie mix
  • Sparkling water
  • Coffee and tea

This meant that I only had to go grocery shopping once every two or three weeks for things like vegetables, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. and to replenish any snacks I ran out of. I also only spent a couple hours each week in my kitchen, usually either putting something in the oven or cooking up some rice or spaghetti.

I spent about $500 on groceries the month prior to bootcamp, but only about $200 in total over the next 4 months, so it balanced out. I also ate out about 3 times a week. I rarely ordered delivery, which I actually look back on with disappointment.

I never had to think about food though, and that is the important part. Additionally, I enjoyed this approach to meal prep so much that it is just how I manage my food now.

A few other things I bought that helped with meal prepping and stocking up were:

  • A mini freezer (I have the world's smallest freezer and this thing was one of the best $200 investments I've ever made)
  • Souper Cubes(ideal for portioning things out; I freeze things and then pop the cubes out and store them in freezer bags)
  • Aluminum baking trays (this way, I could just throw them out when I was done and not worry about dishes)

Whether your plan will also have a lot of upfront prep work or you are just going to order takeout everyday, at least have a plan and maybe an idea of the cost.

Health Concerns

Keeping as healthy as you can is important. This will look different by person, but be honest about what you will need over the coming weeks. Maintaining your health will be key to maintaining your learning.

Meet with your doctor, start talking with your therapist, make sure you have your prescriptions filled, and plan how you will handle any ongoing appointments. Plan on extra sleep. You'll need more than you usually do.

For me, I chose to take a break from therapy and set up visits with my therapist on an as needed basis. This worked for both of our schedules and gave me the support I needed.

I also did not drink alcohol during class. Alcohol interrupts sleeping patterns and prevents you from getting as much REM sleep despite making you tired. I wanted all the sleep I could get so alcohol was out. I used these weeks as an excuse to try many of the non-alcoholic beers and drinks that I seem to see everywhere lately. [Better Rhodes]( is a great place for NA drinks if your local stores don't have enough selection. I also opted for kombucha, sparking water, etc. when I needed something fun to drink in the evenings.

You do you though. Know your limits and plan accordingly. Talk with your instructors if you have any concerns.

Financial Concerns and Income Ideas

I get very anxious when I am not making any money. It probably has to do with capitalism and the constant threat of a $20,000 medical bill if I trip on the stairs.

I was lucky enough that my previous company kept me on contract at about 3 to 5 hours a week which gave me a few extra dollars. I also picked up a dog walking job, walking a few dogs during my lunchbreaks for $15 a day. I was definitely still spending way more than I was making, but at least I was making enough to pay for more fun experiences, like eating out.

I highly recommend the dog walking idea as it provided money, outdoor time, exercise, and dog cuddles all in one. Dog sitting is another favorite of mine. (Just don't sit for a 10 week old puppy. I did. Trust me, you don't have the time.)

You obviously don't want earning money to take away from learning, but if it is a concern, gig based jobs where you can set your schedule and make a few bucks a week can help with stress. Try to avoid anything that has deadlines.

Plan a Reward (or Several)

I do best when I have rewards to look forward to. I know becoming a software engineer is a reward in itself, but I also wanted a few more tangible things. What this looks like should depend on who you are. Maybe you're not even a rewards person. For me, this looked like booking a trip because after all the months of studying and having no life, I had enough airline miles to go for free.

Even if you don't have an end goal reward, I would give yourself permission to buy a few things for yourself. I originally was trying not to spend any money, but the wind chimes I bought halfway through my class bought me far more joy than they cost.

You're doing a lot of hard work. Treat yourself. Or, my new favorite way to describe it, keep up morale.

Update Your LinkedIn and Your Network Now

When bootcamp is over, the next challenge will be to find a job. Starting now will mean more traction when you're in the thick of the job search. This doesn't mean you should be sending out job applications. In fact, definitely don't do that yet.

But making sure your resume, LinkedIn, and any other profiles are up to date is a good idea. You might also let your network know that you are making this career switch. By the time you start applying, you'll already have several people watching for opportunities for you.

Marketing yourself while you're in class should not be your focus, but it can be worthwhile if you have time. One of my cohort mates kept to a content plan during our cohort. A student in another cohort made a Medium blog about their bootcamp experience and added a post every week to talk about how it was going and what they were learning. Like alerting your network, this starts building traction before you even begin your job search.

Things to Handle Before Bootcamp Starts

The month or two before bootcamp is also a good time to handle any tasks that might be due in the next months like:

  • Annual physicals or dentist appointments
  • Oil changes, tire changes, or other car work
  • Renewing a license or other ID
  • House repairs

Basically, anything that you have been putting off, consider this your sign to get it done. Worrying about this while you try to wrap your head around database structure and recursion is not the move.


A bootcamp will be challenging. It is not for everyone, especially when you remember that a bootcamp is only the beginning of your learning in this career and the job search afterwards is going to be a grind. But I've also seen people of all different backgrounds do it successfully. The three or four (or longer for some programs) months will be long. They will also go by incredibly quickly and, with the right prep, it will be a fantastic time.