Filling your pockets with stones: A letter to future Iron Yard students

Aaron graduated from our immersive Front-End Engineering course in Charlotte, NC a couple of weeks ago. After it was all said and done, he wrote a LinkedIn post reflecting on his time at The Iron Yard and his career journey to date. In the post, he included a letter of encouragement (and a bit of a challenge) to the next cohort of students. Sometimes, it can be really refreshing to hear a student’s perspective directly, so today we’re bringing you the entirety of his post. Aaron is now part of our career support process, and is looking for a full-time front-end web design job in Charlotte.

Click here to read his post on LinkedIn. Aaron – congrats on your accomplishments and we can’t wait to see where your career takes you next. 

aaronMy career path has been anything but linear. I graduated with a BA in Acting with a minor in Art. I went on to spend years as an actor, teacher, road-manager, and many random theatre-related jobs. I then spent several years as a massage therapist. After doing that for awhile, I became a graphic-designer.

And each reinvention of my career has come with no small amount of effort or apprehension, but I believe that continuously challenging one’s self is to be alive as a human being. But nothing could prepare me for the intensity of the growth I experienced during my recent training at The Iron Yard Charlotte.

Being the oldest in my cohort (and the campus) was, in itself, a huge hurdle. And embarking on a path where I had very little experience was daunting. While my other career changes had been somewhat of a logical progression, here I was starting from scratch. Learning the volume of syntax and language and logic all at once was one of the most difficult undertakings of my life to date, but through it all, I was able to combat my doubts and exhaustion with a guiding principle of my life — It is never a waste to invest in yourself.

I want to encourage you, dear reader, to never stop learning and growing. I am proud of what I accomplished in those 12 weeks and I wrote a letter to the next cohort to give them a little advice for preparing for this undertaking. Perhaps you will find some of it useful.

To the next cohort,

I am setting down a few thoughts on the program that I just completed and the one you are about to embark upon. Take what is useful and leave the rest.

What you are about to undertake is difficult and very time-consuming. It is best to have a solid foundation to start from and by this I mean, having your outside life in order. Batten down your hatches! Get a system in place for taking care of your bills, housework, and other outside affairs. Set up a support system with your friends. This is not a time for drastic changes in your lifestyle or living arrangements.

What you are about to undertake is physically and mentally draining. It will be best if you have set up ways to take care of yourself and plan for things that will keep you going. Scheduling time each day for exercise, rest, and good food is important. The natural pattern is to put these needs last and focus on what you have paid so much money to learn, but you will learn better if you are rested, well fed, and not ill. Make time to take care of yourself.

What you are about to undertake expensive —$13,900 to be exact. (That’s roughly 1,160 bucks per week. Of those weeks there are 35 hrs of direct instruction per week. That breaks down to about 33 dollars per hour or 55 cents per minute.) It is best to take full advantage of every moment of this experience. Get your money’s worth! Come early and stay till 5 every day. It is tempting to miss a day or go home early but, when viewed from the perspective of money left on the table, the choice is less appealing.

What you are about to undertake is like drinking from a firehose. It will be best if you find a note-taking style that allows you to write down the core concepts rather than the minutia. Lectures are dense and go fast. I recommend that you do not try to code along with the instructor unless directly asked to do so. With the computer open, it is far too tempting to become distracted by your email or Facebook or whatever. Or you may become so focused on trying to get the syntax exactly right that you miss the main idea of what is being taught. Your instructor will post the code after lecture—look at smaller details then.

What you are about to undertake is often confusing and complex. It is best if you are humble in your learning. Don’t be too proud or too embarrassed to ask questions. If you don’t understand a concept ask for clarification. If the instructor asks “Does this make sense?” and you seem to be the only one who doesn’t get it—don’t say you do if you don’t! Ask! This is your time and you are paying dearly for it—squeeze every dime from your instructor.

What you are about to undertake is challenging but rewarding. It will be best if you also learn to embrace your struggle. A large portion of what you are paying for is to learn how to learn. Utilize your instructor but do not depend on them for all the answers. They have lives they have to balance as well and can’t always be there for you. Learn to figure out things on your own or with the help of the people in your cohort. If you do, you’ll have a deeper understanding and sense of accomplishment.

What you are about to undertake will test your resolve. It would be wise to remember if this were easy to do, you would not be taking a course to learn it. There will be times where you feel utterly lost and doubt yourself. Do not give up. Push yourself but don’t beat yourself up. Do not stare for hours at the code without moving forward. Take a break. Do something else and return. Spinning your wheels gets you nowhere and will drain you of energy.

What you are about to undertake will go much faster than you realize. And so I believe it is wise to leave you to consider “The Parable of the Pebbles.”

“A man was out walking in the desert when a voice said to him, “Pick up some pebbles and put them in your pocket, and tomorrow you will be both happy and sad.”

The man obeyed. He stooped down and picked up a handful of pebbles and put them in his pocket. The next morning he reached into his pocket and found the pebbles had turned to diamonds and rubies and emeralds. And he was both happy and sad. Happy he had taken some – sad that he hadn’t taken more.

And so it is with education.”


  1. Thank you for the encouragement!!!
    Question: Did Iron Yard helped you to find a job? Did they connect you with a company? Thank you so much

  2. I’m glad you found it encouraging. Oliver at the Charlotte campus has been helping me make connections with a variety of potential employers. I’m not there yet but I stay focused.

  3. Thanks for responding. I’ll pray for your new job 🙂

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