Dedication and Curiosity: The Key to Boot Camp Success in Any Setting — In-Person or Online

Shaking hands with a friend or sitting down in a crowded restaurant were once everyday occurrences. In 2020, the practical implications of COVID-19 dictated almost every aspect of life. Stay-at-home orders and government-mandated lockdowns meant leaving the house — even for work — wasn’t an option. For students, the classroom became obsolete as in-person learning was traded in for online coursework.  

William Jones, who was enrolled in GW Data Analytics Boot Camp just before the global health crisis, became an online learner overnight. His experience highlights the highs and lows of boot camp learning in both an in-person and online setting. Follow his story below. 

Time for a change

After serving in the U.S. army for five years and deploying to Afghanistan as a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) officer, William decided it was time for a change. Protecting U.S. forces from CBRNE threats was fulfilling and important work, but he felt it was time to go in a different direction. “I enjoyed my time in the military and am proud to have served with such amazing people, but it wasn’t right for me or my family to continue down that career path,” said William.

Upon leaving the military, William worked for two years at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a branch of the government’s Department of Defense that seeks to counter any foreign or domestic threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. During his time on the job, William started to recognize his passion for data science. “I really enjoyed the work that involved data,” he shared. “But I also realized that I didn’t have all of the hard skills I needed to solve more complex or advanced problems.” 

A fresh start

Rather than commit to another four-year degree, William wanted to gain hands-on experience fast — without giving up his current position. To see if a non-degree program was right for him, he took a three-month Harvard business analytics course. “I just did that as a sort of feeler,” said William. “But I enjoyed it a lot and immediately wanted to learn more.” 

That’s where GW Data Analytics Boot Camp entered the picture. Eager to sharpen his current understanding of data science and develop the advanced programming language skills needed to move his career forward, William enrolled without a second thought. 

With a full-time job still on his plate, William was looking for something “part-time, in-person, and close by.” No stranger to hard work, he soon found himself balancing his full-time job with 10 hours of weekly classes at GW’s campus in Washington, D.C. “Really, you’re spending between 20 and 25 hours on the boot camp in and outside of class if you want to get the most out of the program,” said William. 

It was hard work, but his greatest challenge was yet to come. 

Welcome to online learning 

Like most people, William didn’t see COVID-19 coming. In a matter of days, he went from spending a combined 60 hours a week in a classroom and office setting…to none at all. 

For someone who had specifically sought out an in-person learning environment, this was a hard pivot. “The in-person experience makes getting to know your classmates and completing project-based work much easier,” shared William. He had wanted the advantages of in-person learning without the financial investment or time constraints of a conventional, degree-based program. 2020 had other plans. 

As remote work became commonplace, however, William started to see the benefits of online learning. “If you’re doing a lot of virtual work, you’re actually learning in a setting that is more in line with a real business setting,” said William. “It’s incredibly useful to learn how to work as part of a professional team in a remote environment — using new, collaborative tools to complete projects. Additionally, if you are interested in a specific program but don’t live on-site and can’t physically be there, the online option is a huge advantage.” 

While transitioning to an online setting, William was concerned that the level of personalized instruction and individual attention from instructors would start to dissipate, but that’s not at all how it played out. “My instructors were just as engaging and generous with their time as they were in person—and the teaching assistants were always there to help. Even after we went virtual, I felt like the level of access remained the same,” he shared.

How to succeed in-person or online

Regardless of which boot camp experience makes sense for you, William says there is really only one thing that defines success in his field: “a sense of curiosity.” There is no substitute for dedication. “As long as you have a great sense of curiosity — and are someone who enjoys the process as much as the end result  — you’ll be fine,” said William. 

Solving complex problems in inventive ways is the backbone of data science and programming. Only those who are excited by the process of continuous exploration will succeed. “You’re never going to feel like an expert in anything related to data science,” said William. “The field is simply too deep — but that’s what makes it easy to maintain that curiosity.” 

A willingness and excitement to learn trumps experience every time. “Some of the best students, the instructors said, are people who have almost no technical background,” shared William. “That was me. I just had the drive and curiosity to learn.” 

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