Written by Lindsie Canton. This article first appeared on Bridge's Medium page

Now that Bridge applications are open again, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about what it’s like to be in the program. So this week we sat down with three alumni to chat about their Bridge experience. Who better to speak about what it’s really like than the students?

Lindsie: What made you decide to apply for Bridge?

Sarah: When I heard about the opportunity it seemed like exactly the thing I needed. For a long time I’d been struggling to decide whether or not I should take the plunge into a bootcamp — they’re expensive and when you’re working a full time job, it’s hard to know if it’s the right decision, especially if you already have some coding experience. Bridge was free and part-time in the evenings, so I could learn while continuing to work at my regular job and not break the bank. Also, a program dedicated to helping further women in development sounded like an environment I wanted to be in. I mean, Bridge sounded too good to be true.

Jocelyn: I want to echo what Sarah said — what attracted me to Bridge was the idea that you were levelling up, rather than the idea of starting from scratch. I had development experience, and there were concepts I was learning through researching on my own, but it’s tough to learn best practices while you’re coding, and it’s hard to keep up. What I got from Bridge was a set of current best practices that are useful for the industry.

“Bridge seemed like the perfect experience to accelerate and calibrate the journey I was already on.”

Caroline: Yeah, I had been studying on my own for a while, and had put together a curriculum for myself. But I liked the idea of the group support, the structured class, and the handpicked topics from one of the best companies in the industry. I wanted to make sure I was studying the most relevant things to get a good start in the industry. And it was cool to be involved with Rangle, knowing they have a reputation for doing things well and using really modern practices. Bridge seemed like the perfect experience to accelerate and calibrate the journey I was already on.

Lindsie: What was the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Bridge?

Caroline: I developed the habit of approaching difficult things and pushing through until I made sense of them. And that’s something I’ve applied to many areas, from my learning to fixing bugs. When learning on my own before Bridge, the narrative in my head was I hope I can do this. By the end of Bridge I came out of it thinking I can do this. It was life changing.

“When learning on my own before Bridge, the narrative in my head was ‘I hope I can do this.’ By the end of Bridge I came out of it thinking ‘I can do this.’ It was life changing.”

Sarah: Before Bridge, my experiences in education (coding or otherwise) had consisted of large class sizes and keeping questions to myself because I didn’t want to waste other people’s time. So it was kind of a revelation for me when I found how a learning environment could be fun, efficient, and interactive. The instructors and mentors were not only super talented developers and teachers, but they also put in the effort to foster a safe learning environment for us. As a result, I learned at a much faster pace than I usually do when self-studying. It was also really valuable to be able to connect with other devs who were in a similar position as me. Finding that sense of community at Bridge was monumental in giving me the confidence that dev was where I wanted to be.

Jocelyn: It was really valuable to have a structure around my learning. I was trying to learn best practices and Bridge provides a structured set of incremental lessons that took me from where I was to where I wanted to go. It took the guess work out of choosing what to learn and how to learn it as well. Even if you narrow it down to, for example, learning Redux — do I watch videos? Do I read articles? Do I just start building? Bridge was great at making sure I had the fundamentals to start right. So — even though I had a great job — I learned so much so quickly in Bridge. Also, the collaboration process in Bridge was amazing, and you can’t get that from watching online videos.

Lindsie: What mistake gave you the biggest learning opportunity?

Jocelyn: Process-based things. When we were working as teams — the shaping ourselves into a cohesive team was something that took time, and figuring out what worked for all of us, and how we were able to take tickets. There were no mistakes, but it was definitely a process of collectively self organizing a team through trial and error.

Sarah: Just being able to make mistakes and getting constructive feedback was great. If I did something wrong technically it was ok, and everyone was giving feedback for the benefit of me, so it felt good. It’s a fast way to grow and learn.

Caroline: There isn’t one big pivotal mistake that stands out, but there were many minor mistakes and inefficient pieces of code that prompted learning opportunities through discussion, homework reviews, and team code reviews. Lots of, “Oh, I didn’t know you could do it that way. I get it now.”

Lindsie: What was your favourite personal or team “win” in the course?

Caroline: There were so many. Sitting in the Toronto Reference Library for 5 hours troubleshooting a redux-observable issue and finally getting it working. Struggling to understand Redux for a solid week, reviewing my notes, asking questions, attending classes, reading documentation, and then finally thoroughly understanding it was really rewarding.

It was also amazing to have the experience of building a real live app with my team — and everything that entails — using GitHub, code reviews, merge conflicts, and the rest. On my own I never would have been able to engage in this kind of collaborative learning.

Jocelyn: Once I knew I got into Bridge it already felt like a win. I knew I would get a lot from the program, and it didn’t disappoint.

Sarah: My favourite thing was how much fun we ended up having as a group while we were learning. It never felt like we were doing a homework assignment or chore. We got to really learn from each other every step of the way and celebrated all of our little wins along the way. Getting an app off the ground was really cool, and being able to demo it was a nice ‘we did it!’ moment.

Lindsie: What surprised you most about your experience?

Sarah: I was surprised with the amount I was able to learn and incorporate into my programming practices. I didn’t have to overload myself with dense reading and unengaging material. Having knowledgeable people there to answer all of my questions on the spot and hearing the discussions surrounding other students’ questions lended itself really well to learning speed.

Jocelyn: It was surprising how fast I learned when I was working in a group. I didn’t expect group work to accelerate my learning so much. Functionally, you were learning your piece, plus everyone else’s. I was constantly immersed in code and moving the project forward.

“It was surprising how fast I learned when I was working in a group. I didn’t expect group work to accelerate my learning so much.”

Caroline: I was surprised how much curriculum we covered in 11 weeks. By the end, we were using everything we’d learned, and were comfortable with it. It also surprised me that the teachers and TAs were volunteering their time outside of work for FREE. To learn it was entirely volunteer time showed me that other people were as passionate about helping us, as we were about levelling up our skills.

Thanks for speaking with us, Sarah, Jocelyn, and Caroline!

Would you like to be a student in Bridge for Development Cohort 3? Applications are now open at bridgeschool.io — but only until Nov. 21st! Even if you’ve applied before, or are unsure if you qualify, we encourage you to submit an application.