What many people don’t realise is that if you’re a blogger, web designer, UX designer, digital marketing specialist or basically in any profession that involves working with the world wide web, coding is another feather in your cap. If you’re a blogger but you can also build a site from the ground up, well now you are much more than a blogger, and can offer brands and clients much more than just a write-up. You can even build them a micro-site, and this is what many of the alumni of The Institute of Code are now doing.
Personally, I didn’t attend with aspirations as big as this, which I’ll get to later, but when I saw that on top of all this, The Institute of Code’s retreats take place in an absolutely pimp, luxurious villa with a massive lap pool, and that all meals and activities are catered for… well, they had me at “inflatable swan”.
Aside from wanting to attend to learn as much about the experience as possible so that I could write all about it for my clients, Mamamia and Collective Hub, I had been intrigued by The Institute of Code since I’d first seen a fellow travel blogger post about it on her Instagram account.
Having had my site built by a designer and developer team back in 2015, there had been countless times over the years when I had wanted to make certain changes to the site – be it the font style, size, layout or image presentation –and had not been able to do it without reaching out to them (and paying for it) because of the way it had been set up. They were not things I could easily change through WordPress’s easy interface, without having access to the website’s original CSS.
… and we’ve already entered tech talk.
At The Institute of Code, which is run by Australian co-founders Tina May and her partner, Emile, all levels of coding experience are welcome, and let me tell you that this piece of information was VITAL to my participation because I knew absolutely NOTHING about coding and the idea of learning it was enough to keep me safe and sound in my flat in Bronte. But the folk at The Institute of Code absolutely assure you from day dot that regardless of your coding experience, by the end of the ten days, you will not only have built a working website, but you will understand how the hell you did it, too.
At The Institute of Code, they really mean all-inclusive. Every meal of every day is prepared by the in-house chef, and they are not only delicious but utterly nutritious. When you’re in the bubble that is The Institute of Code, wellness counts, believe me.
So what does a typical day at The Institute of Code look like? The day begins at 6:15am with an hour of yoga (optional, but I highly recommend you opt-in), followed by a scrummy breakky and a quick but focused meditation. Class begins promptly at 8am rain, hail, shine or FORMIDABLE HEAT AND HUMIDITY. But I exaggerate. Well, not really, tbh, this is Bali, people!
There is only ever a maximum of 15 students at any given retreat at IOC, and each class has access to three mentors throughout the coding journey. The mentors are there to teach and guide you, and give you not only practical technological support, but emotional support, too. And I know what you’re thinking. This might sound ridiculous to you now, but trust me when I say learning to code in a short ten days is bound to see you go through a rollercoaster of emotions!
The mentors stress to us over and over again at the beginning of the course that there will be high highs, and very low lows. We all think they’re being a touch dramatic, to be frank, as we sit there in our kaftans sipping our iced coffees with coconut milk (OMG WHAT A REVELATION). And yet, we quickly come to eat humble pie and understand just what they mean.
For me, it doesn’t take long for my brain to reach complete and utter saturation point – Day Two, to be precise – and needless to say I do not feel compelled to use the hashtag #winning and #codinggenius in my Instagram posts on these first few days. I hadn’t been in an intensive learning environment since uni, and it all comes as a bit of a shock to the system!
At around 2pm that day I find myself staring blankly at my screen. I am in a daze. My eyes hurt. My brain hurts. My ego hurts most of all. At this point, my mentor, Simba, suggests (aka. assertively encourages) me to promptly go take a little break, swim in the pool, or do absolutely anything other than code.
A few hours later I am back to being able to compute basic mentor requests like, you know, “Madelin, turn on your computer”and manage to get a little more coding done. You see, it’s never the end of the world at The Institute of Code, and we all quickly learne that the worst thing you can do on a course like this is compare yourself to others and the progress they’re making.
We had a mix of levels on my retreat, from complete newbies like myself to people that work in the IT space already as designers, or in UX, and others who had already done some online coding courses and had the basics down-pat. Oh, and did I mention every single student on my course was female? I thought it was so exciting, actually, that I wrote an article all about how courses such as IOC are actively working to close the gender gap.
In a nutshell, HTML– the framework of a website, CSS – the elements that make a website look pretty and as far from MS DOS as possible – and JQuery, which makes those bits on a web page that move or are animated. Between you and me, I was not even going to go down the JQeury path, and found CSS more than enough to get my head around. CSS is tricky, but also really fun, and I loved working out how to make a website look exactly how I wanted it to look.
In between and around our daily classes, our retreat manager (yes, you have one of those, too) organises amazing social activities like sunset drinks at gypsy-inspired bar La Laguna, and day trips to Bali tourist spots like Ubud and Sanur Beach. Everything is optional, and if you’d prefer to spend those hours lying by the pool with a book or working on your site, that is totally fine too.
On Day 10, the students all present their masterpieces that are the websites they have built in just a few days to each other and the mentors. This is a bit nerve-racking but also so inspiring, and we are all absolutely amazed at what each other has produced. After spending a reasonable amount of time girl-fanning each other and crushing pretty hard on the amazing brains each of us has, the retreat finishes with champagne and an evening out at another great drinks spot, The Lawn, before we say our farewells the following day.
Learning to code was a journey. It was smooth then bumpy, and one minute you want to have arrived at your final destination already while the next you are just enjoying every moment, not wanting the experience to ever end. I came back to Sydney with some amazing knowledge that I’ve already used to make the changes I’ve been wanting to make on my existing site for years, while my peers have gone home and constructed entirely new sites all of their own making.
Don’t get me wrong, there is an awful lot to learn, and if you don’t keep up using the skills after the retreat you risk forgetting some, or all, of what you learned, but I had an absolute whale of a time and was proud of myself for the new mock-up I made on a future site I plan to have one day (ssssh – it’s a secret!).
One of the best parts of all, though, was meeting an inspiring, smart, driven and wonderful group of women. We are from all over the world – Australia, America, Austria, Germany, New Zealand and Spain, but we are are now all connected on social media and share each other’s lives thanks to this experience we shared.
So, you want in? If you’re interested in finding out more about the incredibly rewarding, luxurious, friendship-forming and wanderlustful Institute of Code, you can do so at their website here.