Week 10 at an Unbootcamp

My 10th week at Learners Guild was a reminder that software development depends not only on the human mind, but also on the human body.

An unexpectedly short week

We Learners at Learners Guild in Oakland, California, are expected to be present, physically, at least from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (with up to 1.5 hours for lunch). There are, however, exceptions.

As reported a week ago, the week ending on 7 July included 2 days of holiday, so it was abnormally short. The week ending on 14 July was a normal week for most, but turned out to be short for me, because of an upper respiratory infection that filled my week and the weekends bordering it. With 3 days of fever and other bothersome symptoms, day after day I was compelled to notify the Guild I was taking time off, a half-day at a time, for the Guild’s own protection.

In principle, a person can do nearly the same work at home when ill, but my condition clearly dampened my productivity. As witnessed by Github, I made 46 “contributions” the week before, versus only 27 during the week in question.

How does the Guild deal with such frailties? It offers a standard allowance of 8 days of personal time off during the 40 weeks of enrollment. Having just taken 4.5 days off, I was now left with 3.5 more days to last me through the middle of February. Once that time is exhausted and starts to be exceeded, a review is triggered. The Guild’s decision could vary from termination, in a case of callous truancy, to the granting of a leave of absence to permit recovery from a lengthy illness. I have, of course, not yet experienced such a review, but I know the people who would conduct it, and their capacity for sensitivity and empathy makes me a cold-hearted ogre by comparison, so I’m not worried.

The Guild is particularly responsive to emotional afflictions. Life can be traumatic, and life as a Learner can be particularly traumatic, given that some Learners have quit real jobs to join the Guild, most find it hard to make ends meet in the Bay Area even with stipends received from the Guild, and for many it’s a radical change from the kind of work and the kind of thinking they have done heretofore. Knowing that one is being periodically evaluated for one’s rate of progress and runs a risk of being found too slow to stay makes some Learners express insecurity. Some Learners have also testified that they have had trouble coping with disrupted expectations arising from the Guild’s recent curricular overhaul and those preceding it. The Guild holds discussions focused on stress, anxiety, disempowerment, the imposter syndrome, and other emotions affecting current Learner life and the future work lives to which Learners aspire. A psychotherapist on the staff offers group and individual counseling for all Learners.

But the Guild’s posture is also tough and demanding. While offering support to cushion the impacts of physical and emotional impairments, the Guild reiterates that its Learners must develop their own resiliance, adaptability, and skill in figuring things out for themselves, and they must participate in the delivery of support, not only its consumption.

Oh, yes, the work

My lethargic progress during the week was confined to one “module”, for which I developed a demonstration (to myself, really) of the use of “callbacks” in JavaScript to manage data in a file. The ostensible purpose of the application was to manage a list of tasks. The user can add tasks to the list, declare them completed and thereby cause them to be removed again, and display the list. A few other embellishments allowed me to give it my own personality.

But at the heart were “callbacks”, one of the main elements in the thought reform I’m undergoing at the Guild. A callback is a routine that waits for something else to finish before it runs. It has to wait, because it needs the result of the other process before it can do its work. Meanwhile, however, the main program is continuing to execute instructions. It is the callback that waits, not the program as a whole. This exercise allowed me to work on learning and obeying the rules applicable to callbacks and, finally, produce a simplified application in which callbacks operate properly. Given the tendency to forget the details (something widely admitted by Learners and not only the geezers among us), such a working template is a reassuring crutch we can return to when facing similar problems again.


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