In 2014, Adam was working as a business trainer in the restaurant industry, but kept thinking about how much he enjoyed coding as a kid. After going through the software development program at The Tech Academy in Portland, Adam was hired as an instructor. Adam tells us about his path back to coding, the learning structure and curriculum at The Tech Academy, and why he finds teaching so exciting and rewarding.
Tell us about your experience before you became a teacher at The Tech Academy in Portland.
In my prior life, I worked in the restaurant industry. I spent a lot of time on the road training owners and staff on the operations of the business. I came to the Tech Academy looking for a career change. It was fantastic. I think I am the poster child of code schools; with the right attitude and aptitude, I'm living proof that anything is possible in the tech industry. When I finished the courses here at the school, I moved right into a role as an instructor.
How did you hear about coding and decide that it was the industry that you wanted to move into?
When I was a kid, I had an old Texas Instrument. It was one of the first consoles that Texas Instruments brought out. I was really young, and I remember as a kid coding programs all day long and how much it kept my attention. I truly remember how enjoyable that was. I fell back on that when my friend told me about The Tech Academy. I was in a career where I was never home, and wanted to change the pace. The tech industry allows me to have that flexibility.
How did you find out about The Tech Academy?
My friend was with a company that does placement in the tech industry, and she told me about this wonderful new school that opened here in Portland. I did some investigating on my own for what would work for me and my schedule. Here in Portland, we have several excellent bootcamps, but the one thing that stood out for me about The Tech Academy was I could do the courses in my own time. I had a very busy schedule and their philosophy was, “life happens”. If you needed to have a day off from school, you take it. For other schools, this was not the case. If I was not able to make it, I would get behind in my studies.
Tell us about your experience teaching or training before The Tech Academy.
I taught people how to run the operations side of restaurants. I would teach employees and the owner or franchisees on how to run their business all the way from operations, to the build out, to food purchases. I also consulted with the architects in creating these restaurants throughout the nation.
What is your role at The Tech Academy and what classes or lectures do you teach?
I am the Lead Instructor, and I oversee a team of instructors. I make sure instructors are sitting down to meet with students and that our remote students receive answers and help with any problems that they're dealing with on a daily basis. We encourage each one of our instructors to sit down with our students. I also help with projects and job placement.
What have you found is your personal teaching style at The Tech Academy?
My teaching style is not judgemental; I’m very goal focused. I also like to be humorous. I think my own personal teaching style is as such, because I have walked in the students’ shoes. I've gone through the course, and know the course. I also know that there are some struggles. I like to point students in the right direction and not give them the answers. If they're completely stuck, we like to get together as a team and really help them through the process. Sometimes it’s just about letting students talk about the problem and guiding them to the answer. Every single one of our students is brilliant and very dedicated to this program, it's so exciting.
How does The Tech Academy’s self-paced style work?
Currently, we have the course set up with students that are beginners. The Python, C#, HTML, CSS, and database students sit together in a group, and we have instructors who are focused on them. We then work separately with the students who are moving at different paces. We have several instructors who are available at all times to actually sit down with the students one-on-one and work through any issues they might have.
We use a learning management system where the whole program is online, so students can progress at different paces. And we're able to keep track of where each student is at, how they're doing, and see daily reports so that we know their main struggles. We’re also on the phone with our students daily.
What's the structure of learning used at The Tech Academy?
The learning management system is a neat process because it starts off with computer basics. There's a lot of learning in that first course and a lot of updates for people who are familiar with the system. The structure offers a good pace for learning as it walks you from one course to the next course. We take small steps. For example, we teach WordPress so that students are able to develop their own websites. It’s wonderful because people that are new to this industry have often never built anything. Then we have drills, which are tasks or exercises to reinforce the learning material. They show how the students progress and learn through C# and ASP. There are drills in every course, including real life scenarios with Python and C#. It's pretty exciting.
Do students come into the space everyday? How does scheduling work?
It really depends on each student’s schedule. We're open from 9:30am in the morning until 9pm at night, Monday through Friday. We always have instructors on site. We're even open on the weekends for those that can't make it because life happens, or people have to work. The students have my number if they find any problems; we're always there to help them.
Every morning at 11am we have a standup, and focus on any challenges or any problems that students might have with a particular course. We ask them what they were able to accomplish yesterday, what they're going to accomplish today, and if they have anything that's been preventing them from moving forward.
Do you have a remote only option at The Tech Academy?
Yes. We have students who are in Europe as well and a lot of students throughout the United States. They're able to Skype, or they're able to talk on the phone, pour things out, send in their code, send in their solutions, and they're able to follow the learning management system.
How many instructors or mentors do you have at The Tech Academy?
We have two remote instructors who are available specifically for our remote students. We have four in-house instructors including a live project instructor and then we have two job placement directors – one for the specific goals of remote students and the other for in-house students. Then there is me, the lead instructor.
How many students does The Tech Academy have in a class at any one time?
At any one time it all depends on the day. Here in Portland, it could be anywhere from 20 students to more than that. On average, it's 15 to 20 students in-house, and then throughout the remote student population it’s much more. We currently have over 120 students in our curriculum, with half of them being remote students.
How long do students usually take to get through the whole program and how many hours do they normally put in?
If they're able to put in 40 hours or more a week, they can get through our program in no longer than 15 weeks. That includes a live project that is a two weeks spread. If they're doing part time, it's about 30 weeks. Some people take longer than 30 weeks depending on their schedule. Some have fulltime jobs and a family. We accommodate all of our students, and want to provide an excellent service for everybody; that's our goal as instructors. For me especially, if they need to take longer, that's great.
Can you explain The Live Project students work on at The Tech Academy?
The live project is wonderful. We have a few clients who we develop applications for, so students are working with real clients. I think it's one of the best experiences for students because you’re building real life applications, but you're in an environment that is safe. If you break something it's not devastating, we're able to fix it, and it helps them get the background needed. Once it’s done, our students are able to post that code, a block of code, or something that they worked on in their GitHub accounts. They're able to showcase that, which I think is really wonderful. It's cool to see the passion that they have when their projects go live.
Does The Tech Academy give assessments to track people’s progress?
If a student at The Tech Academy isn't keeping up, how do you help them get back on track?
The curriculum is designed to start you off on a pretty simple pace. Each course gradually brings you to an understanding at each point. If we find someone that has not passed a particular course or is behind in one of those courses, we as Instructors are able to see the daily progression. If the student is remote they're sending in their reports and if they're local we're able to sit down with that individual student, and walk through any misunderstandings. Because of the way the program is set up, we can actually go back to something that the student may have missed or not had a clear understanding of; and work through it with them.
What's the application or interview process like for The Tech Academy?
There's no coding challenge. There are two tests that applicants take. One is an IQ test and the other is a personality test. The process is a little different than when I was applying because we were a smaller school at the time, but I did the IQ test and the personality test.
How does The Tech Academy help students find jobs?
We have two dedicated job placement personnel. One is for remote students and one is for in-house students. They do roundtable meetings where they have coding challenges and whiteboard work. The instructors help them with interview behavior and questions, and we also have a fantastic course for the job interview and job placement. Our main focus is to get students an amazing job which they love in this industry. We take that to heart because there are a lot of people like me who wanted a career change. They wanted to do something different, and might have been stuck in their lives and unhappy. When we can place somebody in a job, it's exciting for everybody.
What sort of jobs and roles are you seeing The Tech Academy graduates get?
A lot of students become junior developers. Most are working with .NET, and C#. If they need to perform front end, back end, or full stack, we're able to help through all that. We've had students placed at New Relic, Platt, Salesforce, Mindtree, Nike, and HP. One of my favorites was a student who was placed in Disney, and his story was amazing. I was brought almost by to tears about how he was an Uber driver before he did our course. It's so incredible to see somebody move from being an Uber driver to working with Disney, HP, or Microchip. Those are the major ones that we've placed. Many graduates have been placed at startups and other small businesses around Portland.
What meetups or events in Portland would you recommend to people who are thinking about doing a bootcamp?
There's Calagator, which lists tech meetups here in Portland. There's one or two events every single day if not more that you can go to. Look at each school in the area, look at the offerings, and see if it's a fit for you. Ask all the questions you can think of, go to meetups, and talk to people. You can find a lot of bootcamp or college students at local meetups. If you're interested in doing this, make time to go out and find something that you might be passionate about.
Does The Tech Academy hold meetups that are open to the public?
We have some on Friday afternoons where we give what we call a Tech Talk. We’ll have local students meeting with a business leader here in the area. We also do open houses so that potential students keep coming to see what we do. We're really settling down on doing meetups at night. Next, I think we're going to start working on a Python meetup open to the public. We're really focused on this industry and letting people know what we do.
Anything else our readers should know about The Tech Academy or making a career change?
If you have a passion like me, you don't have to have a background in computers. If you have the drive to learn new things, if you have curiosity, and an aptitude to understand of logic, go for it. There are so many people out there hiring junior developers. You can find a job, and you can be happy. If you have a passion, I would just do it.