How to work the LC101 program

These study tips will set you up for success

The folks who run LC101 want you to succeed. And unlike other code bootcamps, it isn’t just so they can collect your $8k$10k, or $20k at the end.

I would imagine that, because LC101 is (blessedly) free, their turnover rate is somewhat higher than programs that charge tuition. (Though I’ve seen plenty of college students blow off $5,000-semesters).

To give us students the best chance at sticking with the program, LC101 does a good job of encouraging helpful study habits in the pre-work they require before accepting anyone. That advice boiled down to:

  1. For the love of goddess, please sleep every once in awhile
  2. Spend some time coding every day
  3. The sun will come out tomorrow (this tip is for when you haven’t slept and you waited until the last day to work on that week’s assignment)

They gave you the basics, now I’m going to give you the real low-down. It took me a month to hone this strategy, and I’m hoping to save you the trial and error so you can just get down to nailing LC101.

Without further ado, my three tips for how to make LC101 work for you:

Your code should look like this:

blog post - make your code like this
I stuck with LC101 because, even though this code is so frigging simple and I understand maybe 25% of what we’ve learned, just seeing my code all color-coded and fancy-looking makes me feel like a bad ass.

If I had seen this image five weeks ago, pre-LC101, I would have thought, “Oh Lord, I’ll never get this.” But DON’T WORRY. You don’t need to understand this yet — not what the colors mean, not what the different lines are saying, nothing. (This is just a draft and completely off anyway!)

All you need to notice about this image are the lines in green. Those aren’t code, they’re comments, which are always written in Python with either the “#” or triple quotation marks “”. They are doing absolutely nothing in here except telling my future self exactly what needs to happen for my code to work.

From your very first baby “Hello, World” code to the final project of Unit 1, you need to get in the habit of using comments to 1) describe what your task is in general and 2) break the code down into steps.

I don’t know how many times my mind blanked at a problem — just no clue even the first step to take. But there’s something about re-writing the problem in your own words, then jotting down the one little piece that you ACTUALLY KNOW how to do, setting yourself the task in a comment, and then writing that bit of code. Then you can make a comment of the next little piece you know how to do. That little spurt of pleasure at getting something down in the editor spurs you on until, next thing you know, you’re halfway done with the assignment. This strategy works: fill your code with comments.

Your homework sesh should look like this:

blog post - split screen
I definitely double checked to make sure I didn’t have a tab open to anything embarrassing. And I’ll leave just what my browsing history contains to your imagination.

This is what it looks like on a 13″ Mac when you have your Chapter text open in a large browsing window and the week’s homework assignment open in a smaller window. If you have a large screen or, better yet, TWO SCREENS, this works even better.

See, I have a binder full of notes on the first four weeks of class that I will probably never look at again. No one learns coding by reading about how it’s done — you just have to get in there and do it yourself until some of it sticks.

What I’ve found works best is to open a small window to the week’s homework assignment and practice problems. I read the instructions, make a couple mental notes, and then start reading the chapter. As I find information relevant to the homework, I’ll start plugging away at the assignments. BAM — instant practice.

You will waste time (just like I did) if you try to read through the chapter and then start on the assignments. This material is dry, so it doesn’t tend to stick in my mind much longer than the time it takes to read. I end up flipping back to the text as I’m working on the problems anyway. Just start there and save yourself some time.

Do not hesitate to consult Stack Overflow (your peers or your teachers)

I had a homework problem where I had to figure the length of a string. If you’re a complete n00b and don’t know what that means, don’t worry — I didn’t know how to do it either! So here’s what I Google’d:

blog - use Stack overflow

You aren’t in school anymore, you’re in LaunchCode. And that means, when you come to a tricky problem, you get to throw those instructions, verbatim, into Google and select the first Stack Overflow result that pops up. This isn’t cheating. This is using your resources.

You will find a whole lot of help on Stack Overflow — but you’ll also find a lot of noise. There are some very experienced coders on there answering simple questions with complex-looking code. If you encounter this, don’t get intimidated. Just Slack message your TA with the same question (after making a good-faith effort to find the answer yourself first, of course).

My TA has been so wonderful at helping me out via Slack. He gives just the right amount of info to nudge me in the right direction without revealing too much.

I hope these tips make it clear that, though LC101 is challenging, everyone who wants to complete it can if they use their resources.