9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Data Science Bootcamp

9 useful tips for any prospective Data Science Bootcamp student

Jeff Spagnola
9 min readDec 7, 2020

Like many people across the country and the world, I suddenly found myself in a “career limbo” in the spring of 2020. Without much warning, the COVID-19 pandemic had swept through America and entire industries were swept up in it’s wake. Prior to the pandemic, I was in the middle of a fun, exciting, and financially comfortable career in festival production & brand activation events. Literally everything revolved around large public events…so needless to say, I almost immediately found myself going from 60 hour work weeks to having no work indefinitely.

I’ll spare you the deep dive about how and why I came to the decision to enroll in a Data Science Bootcamp (or you can read about it here), but in July of 2020 I started in the full time Data Science program at Flatiron School (07062020 cohort, represent!). This may start to seem like a long form advertisement for Flatiron School, but I assure you that this is just one student’s take on the experience as a whole. I’ll be using examples pulled specifically from my experience at Flatiron School, but I would imagine that other Data Science bootcamp experiences would be similar.

Prior to enrolling at Flatiron, I had no prior coding experience, no experience in tech…I didn’t even know anyone else who had ever gone through a program like this. To say that I had no idea what to expect would be a huge understatement. After what was a rocky adjustment period in the beginning, I started to find my footing and get comfortable with the pace and the material. Five long months later, I can officially say that I’m a Data Scientist. While I would consider myself a bootcamp success story, there were definitely several things that I wish I knew before starting. If you’re thinking about enrolling in a Data Science bootcamp or have already enrolled and want to get a glimpse at your future, hopefully this can be a bit of a guide to what to expect in the coming months.

So without further ado, here are the 9 things I wish I knew before starting my Data Science Bootcamp. Because lists that go to 10 are lame.

1) They Call it a Bootcamp for a Reason

When I first enrolled at Flatiron School, I told the people around me that I was “going back to school”. Though this wasn’t technically wrong, the idea of calling the bootcamp “just a school” is like calling a hungry tiger shark “just a fish”.

I’m not going to lie to you. The bootcamp is HARD. There were several moments over the course of the program where I would stare at the errors on my screen and think “maybe I can learn to make meth instead”. In the description of the class, they do mention that it’s fast paced and has an intense workload but I definitely didn’t properly grasp how fast the pace would be or how intense the workload is.

You WILL get through it and after an adjustment period, the pace and the workload will start to seem like second nature. Eventually, you’ll even start to develop some great habits that start to spread into other areas of your life. Speaking of…

2) This is Your Life for the Duration

Let’s pretend it’s Python

Not everyone who started the bootcamp with us in July was able to finish the bootcamp with us in December. Fairly early on, there was a pretty clear line between those of us who were fully immersed in the program and those who were treating it as a part time thing. While I understand that everyone’s different and each person has their own particular set of circumstances, the way to get the most out of the Data Science bootcamp experience is to make it your #1 priority for the duration.

Personally, I knew this was an all-or-nothing line in the sand, so I was all in. The more I put into it, the more I started to become mildly obsessed with Data Science. After putting 10 hours into lessons/labs/projects, I’d unwind by watching a Data Science documentary. My Spotify playlists started to fill with Data Science or Python Development podcasts. Not joking…I even started to dream about coding. My singular focus definitely lead to my success in the program.

3) It’s NOT a Python Coding Course

Prior to starting the course, I didn’t fully grasp what Data Science even was. I knew that it involved coding in Python, I was going to work with data, Facebook steals my data, and that the word “science” is in the name and I like science. That was it.

To try to get a jump on things, I started to go through YouTube tutorials on Python coding. I figured this would give me a little bit of a competitive edge when the program started. Finally, the first day comes around and, to my horror, LEARNING PYTHON WAS ONLY THE FIRST DAY. There were still 149 more days in the bootcamp…

While prior Python experience is great, it is NOT the focal point of the program. Python is the backbone upon which the Data Science curriculum is built. My advice for what to bone up on prior to day 1? Statistics, Algebra, & Calculus….and maybe a little bit of Python.

4) Find a Routine that Works for You

Like I mentioned earlier, a Data Science Bootcamp is an insane endeavor for insane people. The pace is insane, the workload is insane, and the amount of time that you have to put into it is insane. However, it’s the most rewarding insanity that you’ll ever come across.

The best way, in my experience, to tackle the pace & workload is to establish a disciplined routine VERY early on. When the program started, I had not been in any sort of a scholastic setting in nearly 15 years. It sounds ridiculous, but I think I actually forgot how to learn during that time. My first week of the bootcamp was a DISASTER. I had a hard time staying focused and when I was focused, I couldn’t seem to retain anything. Worried that I made a terrible choice in starting this, I had a great conversation with my Education Coach (use your resources!) who explained to me that coming up with a routine was key. Also, everyone’s different. Some people make flash cards. Some people record themselves reading their notes and listen back to it. Some people stare at the screen until they somehow understand something. The best advice is to figure out your own style of learning and put it into practice. If you study best at 2am listening to death metal, go for it. Just make sure you put in the work.

5) Make Relationships with Your Peers

I can’t stress this point enough. I’m a pretty outgoing person, so it was natural for me to be friendly and try to get to know my peers in the bootcamp. The part that I wasn’t expecting was the value of developing these relationships. The one point I’ve beaten into the ground already is the pace and workload of a coding bootcamp. All of my peers had similar struggles and being able to talk through certain roadblocks made it so you never felt alone in your despair. A small group of us even started to hold our own peer-to-peer post-class study sessions where we were able to tackle some of the more difficult concepts as a group. I could easily say that I learned just as much from those group sessions as I did from any structured lesson.

I fully credit this as a major key to my success. Not everyone who started the bootcamp with us was still there when we finished, but it’s no surprise to me that every one of us in the “core group” crossed the finish line together. Beyond just having peer support, I also can confidently say that I made lasting friendships and many of us will stay in touch well beyond the program.

6) Take Advantage of Other Resources

A Data Science Bootcamp features comprehensive lessons, labs, projects, and all sorts of other things meant to help you on your Data Science journey. However, there’s a big world out there and the provided material isn’t and shouldn’t be the only material that you use during the program. It’s a science, after all, and there’s a plethora of different theories, different research, and different methods for many aspects of the curriculum.

Personally, there are certain aspects of Data Science that I struggle with on the regular (CALCULUS!!!) and I made use of outside blogs, Stack Overflow posts, and probably hundreds of YouTube videos. If you get stuck on something, google it! Help is out there!

7) Coding Experience is an Advantage…at First

My bootcamp cohort featured a diverse group of people with vastly different backgrounds. There were several of us with prior coding experience and even one guy who was already a full on Python developer. I was not one of those people. The only coding I had ever done pre-bootcamp was for the purpose of customizing my Myspace page (yes, I’m old.). In the beginning, it was very intimidating to be around the experienced coders. I didn’t even understand the questions they would ask during class!

After a few weeks, the bootcamp did what the bootcamp does and introduced concepts that were foreign to all of us. All of a sudden, their coding experience didn’t mean as much as it did in the beginning. The playing field had been leveled a little bit.

If you have experience in code on the way in, awesome! It’s definitely going to make things a bit easier for you in the long run. If you don’t have experience, don’t fret…neither did I. You’ll get there.

8) Push Through the Low Points

At one point or another, things will get rough. Maybe you’ll start to fall behind. Maybe you’ll come across a new concept that you just can’t seem to grasp. Maybe you’ll be banging your head on your desk at 3am asking yourself why you even started this bootcamp to begin with. All those things applied to my experience. They referred to this feeling as the “swamp of despair” and I was certainly knee deep in the swamp sometime in the second month of the program. Several times I questioned what I was doing and even told myself that maybe it was time to try “that whole crack thing”. But I didn’t stop…I didn’t quit…and I pulled through.

With the crazy workload coming at you at such a crazy pace, it’s totally common to feel overwhelmed at times. There were many times that our peer-to-peer study group that felt more like a therapy session than a cram session (Another reason to engage with the class!) and it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in the swamp. The truth is that no matter what you’re thinking or how hard it seems, you CAN do it and you WILL get through the swamp. Keep pushing!

9) It’s a Truly Rewarding Experience

Whew! The rest of this blog really makes the program seem like a downer, so here’s a little ray of sunshine to close it out. I can safely say that my time in the Flatiron School Data Science Bootcamp was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As far as skill-building, I can now regularly do things that seemed like voodoo just a few months ago. I was able to learn to code in Python and became skilled in packages like Pandas, Numpy, Tensorflow, scikit-learn machine learning algorithms, Deep Learning, data visualization and so much more. Beyond just the scholastic achievements, I also learned a lot about myself. The bootcamp pushed me harder than I’ve been pushed in years, perhaps harder than ever. I’ve come out the other end a more disciplined human being with a desire to learn more and more about my new field.



Jeff Spagnola

A mildly sarcastic, often enthusiastic Data Scientist based in central Florida. If you’ve come expecting blogs about machine learning, future science, space, AI