05 Dec An Review of Institute of Code • Alex in Wanderland
Confused on where we are? I’m taking this moment while my travels are grounded to care for my mom to catch up on my black hole of un-blogged content. Here, I’m digging back into my trip to Bali in March 2017 with a review of Institute of Code — which I know from your messages on social media a couple of you have been curious about! My apologies for the delay and for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.
As I packed for Bali, I thought to myself, “what a low-key trip this is going to be!” I envisioned myself getting tons of reading done, catching up on sleep, and writing tons of blog posts all alongside my coursework at Institute of Code.
My nearly three weeks in Bali were some of the most intense I’ve experienced in years. I met people I hope to know for the rest of my life, I learned so much I felt like new parts of my brain were actually flexing, I danced the nights away harder than I had in a long time, and despite a clinical deprivation of sleep, I somehow left more energized than I’ve felt in ages.
In a way, the experience reminded me a lot of a mini snippet of college – playing hard, working harder, and absolutely marveling constantly at the beauty of my surroundings (though Brooklyn and Bali have different charms, admittedly.)
One of the things I was most curious about going into Institute of Code was what my fellow students were doing there. I knew my reason for going – I felt frustrated with my lack of knowledge when working with developers and web designers regarding my blog, and I wanted to feel more empowered to discuss the technical details of the website that makes up my business. Plus, Bali. So when the Institute invited me to come give one of their bootcamps a try, I was thrilled to add an educational experience to my year.
I soon learned that there were as many reasons for attending as there were students in my session – one was a nurse with a killer idea for an app, one was a travel agent who was exploring career options that would allow her to work from home, one was a grad student about to start a degree in user experience, one was an event planner hoping to walk away with a website built for her new business and have a vacation at the same time, another was a travel addict looking for a way to fund a location independent lifestyle. No one was mad about spending ten days in Bali.
Ours was the first all-female session of Institute of Code, and the fourteenth overall. The goal of the Institute of Code, we were explained, is to replicate the conditions of the “flow state” – remove commuting and chores, add in healthy eats and physical movements, blend with the company of other creative minds, and watch the magic happen. It emphasized a lot of lessons that at the time, I really needed to hear: Take care of yourself first, work second. Avoid the glorification of burnout.
Days start early at Institute of Code, with yoga generally kicking off the day at 6am and breakfast at 7am. Getting up at that time was a struggle for me, and I definitely learned to ask about the schedule ahead of time for future retreats and trips like this, so I can adjust my sleep schedule a little bit so I don’t spend the first few days groggy.
In fact, the early (for me) call time combined with my after-school adventures (okay, I was going out) meant that I rarely made it to yoga — surprising! One thing I never missed, however, was a meal. The Indonesian staff at our villa were absolute sweethearts — one of the highlights of the week was when we saw them out on the dancefloor one night at Sandbar — and also made some gorgeous food.
Examples of the kind of meals we had were colorful smoothie bowls or corn cake avocado and poached eggs for breakfast, buddha bowls for lunch, healthy Indonesian buffet spreads for dinner, and chia pudding or fresh banana bread for snack. I really enjoyed getting to know both the coding mentors and my fellow students over our communal meals — such an interesting bunch.
Class generally began at 8am. I felt like a baller on day one, when we covered HTML — oh, how I’d be humbled ahead. However, even though I’d been using HTML for years and took basic web design in college, I still soaked in plenty of new information. By the end of the day, we’d built a very simple HTML portfolio site for ourselves, which was a cool way to feel accomplished right out of the gate.
Our instructional time at the villa was broken up into a few different iterations — all the students gathered around the dining room table, soaking up focused lectures on specific coding topics from the mentors; work time, in which we broke into groups and had a mentor floating around helping us tackle our projects; and masterminds, where we spoke about a specific topic that interested the group.
We actually ended up just having one formal mastermind topic our session, which may have been due to our particular group’s proclivity for enjoying downtime. Downtime is, in fact, an important structural component to Institute of Code — jumping in the pool rather than buckling down when you hit a coding snag is highly encouraged, and sometimes you return to your computer, wrapped in a towel, and find the solution was there all along.
In the afternoons, generally, we set off to explore Bali. Like I said, not only is taking a “brain break” and finding inspiration away from screens an important aspect of the learning experience at Institute of Code, but you also simply do not host a bootcamp of any sort in Bali without taking some time to explore all that is magic about the Island of the Gods.
Pretty much our every excursion ended up in my list of My Favorite Bali Things. While some were iconic Bali stops I’d visited before on previous trips, others were new discoveries for me — like the enchanting La Laguna, where we enjoyed dinner, cocktails, and an incredible sunset.
I briefly considered skipping the trip to Ubud — where I’d been multiple times — to stay home and code. Then I came to my senses.
Similarly, I wasn’t too fussed with the beach day in Sanur, which I’d breezed through a few times catching a boat on my way to or from Nusa Lembongan. But it turned out to be a blast — zipping around on a jetski, teaching an impromptu paddleboard headstand workshop, and mostly rolling around laughing with the smart, funny girls that had become my classmates and teachers.
Oh, and the nightlife! While I don’t think the founders had planned, exactly, for us to spend so much time on the dancefloor rather than at a desk. But, in our defense, maybe then they shouldn’t have chosen such a fun nightlife destination, or attracted such a fun crowd of students!
Okay yes, I’m being silly. I did let loose quite a bit more than planned, but it all ended up being part of the incredible Bali experience.
After our daily excursions, we often fit in a bit more work time before breaking for dinner. The final days of the bootcamp became a bit more unstructured as we worked on finishing our portfolio projects and working in a more one-on-one capacity with the mentors. On the final day we presented our portfolios, talked about our highlights and lowlights (a Wanderland conversational prompt favorite) and we had a cute little graduation ceremony with bubbles (another Wanderland fave).
So, aside from the excursions and the pool breaks and the gorgeous meals, how did I do with ya know, the actual coding? I have to admit that overall I did exactly what the mentors were trying to coax us not to do and spent less time coding and way more time having fun drawing up a business plan and choosing fonts and color schemes and writing website copy and designing products for a dream business that I’d someday love to launch. Basically, I focused on the things I’ve always loved and kept finding myself wishing I could outsource the very thing I was there to learn to do — code the website, ha!
We were learning so many great resources (Codepen, etc.) and getting a very detailed, very hands-on explanation for how to do exactly what was promised — learn to code a website from scratch — and I was sitting there having the epiphany that well, maybe it’s not something that is, or is meant to be, in my wheelhouse.
I also realized that there was some disconnect between what I’d hoped to get out of Institute of Code and what they were actually specializing in. This site is built on WordPress, and I’m always going to be a WordPress girl. So when I’d decided to attend Institute of Code, I starting compiling questions and pain points I was having regarding my own website. What I found upon arrival was that there was very little overlap between the list I’d compiled and the curriculum, and most of the mentors weren’t specialized in blogging or WordPress. In the end, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t even totally finish my portfolio site.
I realize that, based on what I was looking for, I probably would have been better suited to an SEO workshop or a WordPress specific bootcamp. And while I was told you could build a site at the retreat and hand it to a developer to convert to PHP for WordPress, honestly, I would not recommend this for a WordPress blogger. Still, despite having made a significant investment of time to attend Institute of Code, and realizing I maybe miscalculated the curriculum, I still got a lot out of the experience. Lifelong friends, a beautiful ten days in Bali, and a reminder that a nonstop grinds leads nowhere but burnout. And while I don’t really feel any more knowledgeable when speaking to my WordPress developers, sadly, I do have a better conceptual knowledge from the design end — how something I’ve sketched on a piece of paper can come to life on a screen by typing a bunch on seemingly nonsensical characters.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the mentors, but I was impressed – they are working coders, so they have worked on some major projects and they know their stuff. The curriculum was written by one of the founders, who is a talented coder. However, most don’t have formal teaching experience, so expect more of a, well, mentor relationship than a traditional teacher one. Their lectures were well put together, however I did find that sometimes when working one-on-one, some mentors were more apt to kind of just do it for you rather than teach — which depending on your goals might be just fine by you (if you’re attending to get a website off the ground for your new business, for example.)
Right now, a ten day coding bootcamp with the Institute of Code is $4,250USD. This is cheaper than other more established courses, and is also cheaper than having a custom website created by a web designer and developer. But to figure out if Institute of Code is right for you, you’ll really need to spend some time on introspection and figure out what your goals are.
If you want to build a new career in coding, or get a website built for your business while taking a ten day vacation and learning new skills, this might be right for you. If you put in the work, you will walk out with a website built, and there is an impressive amount of post-retreat support offered. If you stay in Bali, as many digital nomads do, you can always pop-in for help (I saw one alumni do it while I was there), Skype in with one of the mentors, or use your lifetime access to the course materials.
Of course, as with any retreat-style experience, I found the networking to be the biggest plus. Students from Institute of Code hire each other (and the mentors!), start businesses together, and stay friends for life. While in the end, it turns out I wasn’t the target audience for Institute of Code, my biggest takeaway from this bootcamp, aside from the new crew and the new love for Canggu, was the reminder of all the elements that make up “the flow state” — it’s not just about sitting down and gluing yourself to your laptop until your brain short circuits.
So, where does all this magic happen? Institute of Code has moved around to several different villas, now. They are no longer in the two featured in this post, and they hopped around for a bit beforehand, so if you look at other reviews or photos online you might see several different spaces.
At the villa for our session I stayed in a private room, which I preferred for, well, the privacy, though it was far less grand than the rooms in the primary villa. One piece of constructive criticism I give to Institute of Code is I’d love to see more clear descriptions and photos of the accommodation ahead of time.
My other feedback may simply be a matter of preference. Institute of Code did have the chaotic buzz of a startup, despite it being the fourteenth session they’d run.
While I don’t mind a more casual learning environment (in fact, I often tend to gravitate towards them), some may crave a bit more professionalism — I would have enjoyed a more formal introduction at the beginning of the week: getting a thorough background on the mentors, hearing the goals of my fellow students, etc.
There were also some organizational snafus throughout the experience: I was told the wrong day for arrival and thus booked an extra unnecessary night at a hotel, I didn’t receive the pre-coursework until the day before arrival and thus felt a bit flustered and behind, and our group never received photos of many of the activities we did or of our final presentations.
Having now begun running retreats myself, I empathize with how many moving pieces there are to making something like this come together, especially as the alumni group continues to grow and Institute of Code does appear very dedicated to fulfilling their promise of lifetime support for past students. That can definitely stretch a team thin, though with a fully dedicated staff the size of the one at Institute of Code, it shouldn’t be a problem. As I am now writing this review far after the fact, some of these issues may be sorted out.
If you do decide Institute of Code is the coding bootcamp for you, I offer a bit of advice: come with a clear portfolio or design idea. Only 30% or so of students do, so you’ll really be ahead of the pack. Make a Pinterest board, take a quick Skillshare design course, whatever — the less time you spend dreaming and designing, the more time you can dedicate to one-on-one time with the mentors learning to actually code.
Oh, and label everything. I’ve never seen more Apple chargers in one place.
Have you ever wanted to learn to code? What kind of educational trips have you taken?
I was hosted by the Institute of Code.