My dev experience at The Collab Lab

As a self-taught developer, there are 2 things that I always missed during my learning journey: building projects in a team and getting feedback. I thought that both things could help me improve my coding skills much faster so I started to look for any kind of experience or community that could provide me that. And one day I luckily came across The Collab Lab.

The Collab Lab is a place to collaborate in a group project remotely with other early-career developers. It was a great opportunity for me as I did not only have the chance to gain practical experience on a real project but I could also get immediate feedback and support from professional developers.

Collab Lab admission Tweet

I was extremely excited when I got offered a spot! It would be my first and closest experience to a real developer job: I would be working for 8 weeks on a project within a team of 3 other developers and the support and guidance of 3 mentors.

1st week experience Tweet

What does a week look like at the Collab Lab?

Our main goal was to build a smart shopping list app. The tasks were split into 13 issues. We started solving the functionality issues and finished with the design/styling part.

Every week I was paired with a colleague to work on an issue. This was a great experience as I had the chance to do my first pair programming sessions with 3 different collabies for 8 weeks.

After solving the assigned issue, we did not only have to submit a PR (pull request) but also do a code review of our collabies task and receive a code review from them and our mentors. At the end of the week we had an online sync all together to demo our tasks, go through a learning module and do a retrospective.

2nd week experience Tweet

What did I learn?

In terms of coding skills, I did not only learn a lot about ReactJS (I had previous experience but it helped me refresh some concepts again and learn new ones), but also about other technologies I had no experience with, like Firebase (collections, local storage, etc.), Tailwind CSS and Git.

3rd week experience Tweet

The Collab Lab experience helped me specially improve my Git skills. As I had previously worked alone on my own projects, I only knew the basic git commands to push my changes to GitHub. This time I had to use all necessary git commands when working on a team project to create a new branch, pull, push, merge, etc. And because mistakes happen on the way and are part of the learning journey, I faced situations where I had to learn commands that I never thought I would use, like git rebase and git rebase interactive.

4th week experience Tweet

Regarding non-coding skills, The Collab Lab was an amazing experience that also helped me grow my communication skills. On the one hand, writing was very important (submit well explained PRs, asking the right questions or suggesting code ideas on the code reviews, writing understandable commit descriptions, etc.) On the other hand, oral communication was equally important (sharing ideas during pair programming sessions, doing weekly demos explaining your code and problem-solving approach, etc.)

5th week experience Tweet

What I found great of the whole experience was the combination of technical and soft skills. In both situations I often felt challenged and had to step out of my comfort zone.

There were tough tasks, frustrating and self-doubting moments where my collabies and I felt we wouldn't manage to find a solution but this is always part of the learning path. Instead of panicking, taking breaks and not being afraid of asking for help were very useful to beat imposter syndrome. Our mentors were a big support in this sense.

6th week experience Tweet

What would The Collab Lab be without its amazing mentors? They were not only our 8 weeks support, but they also shared their expertise with very insightful learning modules (about technical writing, accessibility, pair programming, code reviews, devs communication, etc.) and retrospectives.

7th week experience Tweet

Retrospectives were a very important team exercise, which consisted of reviewing performance of the previous weeks. This allowed us not only to share feedback on how to improve the collaboration workflow but also to praise the whole team. For example, in the beginning pairing sessions worked quite well although there was still room for improvement (deliver a task faster, ask questions earlier, write better PRs, solve merging conflicts, etc.).

Nevertheless, every feedback was a new opportunity to learn. For example, there was one occasion during the last two weeks, where everybody was a bit tired and sick, so I decided to jump in and prepare a Wireframe proposing some design ideas to make the whole process a bit faster and easier. I also split the design issue into smaller and more digestible issues so that we could split the tasks between us. This helped finish the project faster.

After 8 weeks, my team and I built the amazing Shoppr. app and wrote a recap about the work process and our experiences. Check it out here.

8th week experience Tweet

Next steps: The Career Lab

The project was over so what's next? The Collab Lab also offers an optional 2 week program that helps rock the interview process. I decided to participate and had the opportunity to:

  • get great tips to update my Linkedin profile and get it reviewed by a mentor.
  • assist to a Q&A session with a technical recruiter.
  • watch two mentors practising a team fit and a technical interview.
  • work on a take-home-assignment and present it at a technical mock interview.
  • practise a job fit mock interview.

After this amazing experience and as a self-taught developer, I can only recommend anyone to participate in The Collab Lab or any similar group project. Transitioning into a new career is tough and when you do it alone, it can be very scary. Learning to code can be a more gratifying, fun and less frustrating experience when you have others alongside you. The Collab Lab can also help you find out what you are good at or you like the most (frontend development, accessibility, technical writing, UX-UI design, project management, etc.) So what are you waiting for?