Finding the Right Coding Bootcamp Teachers

Show a man some code and he’ll be confused for a day, teach a man to code and he can unlock a new career for life, said Confucius. Kind of.  Regardless, learning a new programming language is a bewildering experience that can be more manageable with proper instruction.

Experienced developers who have both the expertise and the capacity to educate are at the crux of coding bootcamps. This rare breed of programmers are tasked with preparing people with relatively no prior tech training for a role as a junior developer in as little as two months.

Therefore coding bootcamps are flexible with precisely what type of background their teachers have. Finding the right teacher isn’t a necessarily a cookie cutter scenario.

“Most of our instructors have a background in technology, although a handful of instructors have formal teaching experience in a university setting. Some have traditional CS degrees; several are self-taught with multiple years of industry experience. We value instructors who have been leads on their dev teams or played an active role in mentoring/training junior developers. Excellent managers are often great teachers,” said Lindsey Owings, who is responsible for talent discovery at Iron Yard.

According to Jay Wengrow, CEO and lead instructor at Anyone Can Learn to Code, a good teacher understands how to dissect topics so that tech that is dependent on an understanding of more rudimentary concepts isn’t introduced too early.

“As coding is based on many technical concepts that are in turn based on even more technical concepts, the skilled programming teacher knows how to break concepts down into their isolated parts,” said Wengrow. “Thus, the number one skill required of a coding teacher is to know how to think like a newbie— to get in their minds and remember what it is like to not have yet learned all of these concepts.”

Coding bootcamps aren’t like a typical college experience. Computer science programs at universities are based on theory driven curriculums. “Coding bootcamps, however, have more of a vocational emphasis, ensuring that its graduates can work practically in the software engineering industry,” said Wengrow.

Students need to be concerned with finding technologies that will ensure they have a professional future. Teachers need to have a firm grasp on industry standards and a steady eye on the direction Web development technology is moving as to best provide their students with employable skills.

As the coding bootcamp industry grows and evolves their dependency on capable instructors will remain at the core of their operation.  Coding mentors and instructors at virtual bootcamps are the ambassadors of their school’s brand and experience. For online coding intensives like Bloc choosing the right candidate for the job is pivotal for the success of their students and their business.

“Extensive professional experience is important. On average, our mentors have nine years of industry experience, but there’s more to mentoring than being an expert at your craft. Mentorship at Bloc requires the possession and mastery of soft skills,” said Chris Courtney, one of Bloc’s lead mentors. “We have to ask ourselves whether we believe that a potential mentor can convey their message and guide a student that they aren’t sitting in the same room with. Will a potential mentor really invest themselves in making a student better?”

Bloc’s mentors provide one-on-one virtual training. Students need 100% of their instructor’s attention and dedication during mentor sessions. The high standards Bloc imposes on their staff is necessary to ensure their students get the dedication they need.  Proven development experience, communication skills and a full understanding of the Bloc curriculum are the standards.

“Our mentors work 1-on-1 with their apprentices, which means they’re able to share detailed accounts of their professional experience and provide guidance to their students. The proof is often in the transformation that we see take place among our apprentices, “ said Courtney.

Having a teacher that can borrow from their own professional experiences and provide valuable lessons based on real life situations is extremely valuable for students. Being able to step out of the curriculum and teaching from experience is a characteristic of an exceptional teacher.

“Teachers, even when required to follow a pre-designed curriculum, perform better if they’re allowed and encouraged to own the curriculum and take a part in helping refine the curriculum further. This empowers them to truly facilitate the learning process, as they are thinking about learning rather than simply delivering material by rote,” said Wengrow

Coding bootcamps also need to be able to identify ineffective teachers. Bloc, for instance, keeps an eye out to see if mentors missed any meeting or aren’t responsive to their apprentices as, “that’s a sign that someone isn’t living up to their end of the mentor/apprentice contract and we take this contract very seriously,” said Courtney.

Rightfully so. What separates coding bootcamps from simple online learning is guidance and support. Struggling with one or two concepts for a long period of time will dam up the learning process and prevent growth.

“If students seem to have difficulty grasping concepts for more than two weeks after having learned them and put them to practice, that’s certainly a red flag. It’s possible that they haven’t been taught effectively,” said Wengrow.

Owings points out  “if someone is inflexible or inpatient, is only interested in a different schedule, is not a good team player or a skilled communicator,” this person is not going to be a successful teacher. Interestingly similar characteristics that make up the profile of an ideal student is what also define a great teacher.

“We look for people who are lifelong learners themselves, those who are innately curious and seek to constantly improve, and who are humble enough to know they can learn from everyone around them, even the students in their classes.” said Owings

If you are already enrolled in a bootcamp or are still scouting the field be sure to inquire about the teaching staff. While it’s acceptable to have alumni and those with few years of professional development experience in TA roles it’s ideal to have head teachers or mentors with a proven career in web dev. The best teachers are those who will break down the curriculum, relate the bits and pieces to their experiences, and walk you through it using their past mistakes and triumphs as examples.



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