Beth Adele Long was an actor, author, and writer – not to mention an experienced developer – when she moved to Portland and began working as an instructor at Code Fellows, and as a developer at Planet Argon. Beth tells us about the biggest changes to the Code Fellows curriculum this year, how diverse classes are strengthening the Portland tech community, and her favorite meetups for beginners looking to break into tech!
Tell us about your background before teaching with Code Fellows.
I have worked in web development full-time for the last 10 years, but for the last two years, I worked in a small consultancy in the Tampa Bay area.
I really enjoyed that, but I was itching for a change of scenery and just a few months ago, I relocated to Portland. I work with Planet Argon, a local agency that develops Ruby on Rails apps. At this point in my career, I’ve worked through the entire stack – front end, back end, database and more.
Did you get a Computer Science degree as an undergraduate?
No; my undergraduate work was in engineering. I only took one Computer Science course, but I was able to parlay that into an internship. I did an internship with a defense contractor, so all my work experience was in the software realm.
Did you have any teaching experience before Code Fellows?
Yes; I taught acting techniques. I did community theater and have always been interested in acting and psychology. My business partner and I taught several courses around those topics, which were both popular and a lot of fun.
I knew I liked teaching so when I connected with Code Fellows, I was really excited to be able to combine my lifelong love for software and web development with teaching.
How did you find you about teaching at Code Fellows?
I went to a tech event in Portland called ACT-W , which is for women in the tech industry. I connected with Stephanie, an instructor at Code Fellows’ Seattle campus, and Jordana, Campus Director of Code Fellows’ Portland campus. Jordana connected with me a few months later when they were looking for instructors. I remembered how much I enjoyed my time with them so that was one of the things that drew me to Code Fellows as opposed to other bootcamps in Portland.
Did you have to be convinced of the coding bootcamp model at all?
Not long after I graduated from college, I went to a six-week workshop for fiction writers, the Clarion Writers Workshop, which actually follows the bootcamp model. I had a fantastic teacher there who said that she felt a lot of people got more out of that 6-week writing workshop than an MFA program at a university.
I was sold on the bootcamp model because I had seen it work so effectively in a completely different field. As critical as it is for us to have Computer Science degrees and engineers with that level of understanding, if you want to get out into the workforce and get a job, bootcamps are really effective for getting into the industry.
What courses do you teach at Code Fellows?
I teach the Code 101 course, which is our introductory course. I really enjoy it because I get to work with people who have never seen a line of code before and help them figure out if web development is for them.
Starting January 4th, I’ll be teaching the Code 301 course, which is Intermediate Software Development. That takes students through front-end development and prepares them for the Code 401 course where they’ll delve into a specific language.
Code Fellows has recently changed the curriculum and course format. Did you help develop the new curriculum?
I contributed a little bit, but I wasn’t involved at a deep level. As strong as the curriculum was before, when I saw the revamped curriculum, I was blown away. The team took all the lessons learned over the last three years of teaching and revamped it into something that was much more effective—focusing on what people need to know and at what level they need to learn it. The curriculum is well-organized, while still retaining the flexibility to adapt to specific student needs.
What was the biggest change that you saw in the curriculum revamp?
There were two things that leapt out at me. One was the way that they sequenced the material. In the past, sometimes students were frustrated with the pacing of the course. I feel that they got the sequencing and the pacing nailed down beautifully in the new curriculum.
The other thing is the depth of preparation for the instructor. The instructor doesn’t have to focus on creating code samples or exercises; everything is in place. This frees up the instructor to focus on teaching the material and fine-tuning it to their class, rather than spending energy developing materials.
Do the students also have access to that curriculum ahead of time?
Yes, which suits my learning style because I’m the person who wants to look at everything in advance, and get a sense of the lay of the land. In class, I’m actually refining rather than being introduced to it. I find that to be really important.
What’s the end goal of the Code 301 course?
The external goal is that by the end of Code 301, a student is prepared for an entry level front-end development position.
Are job placement services available for Code 301 graduates?
Yes, definitely. Campus Directors work directly with local companies, recruiters and the students to find out about job openings and make introductions. There’s also a huge network of Code Fellows alumni and Code Fellows instructors. Both of those resources are available to alumni.
Are the courses project-based or do you find yourself doing a lot of lecture?
Code Fellows is very much based on doing. From day one students are writing code. There is some lecture time devoted to theory and explaining a conceptual framework. A lot of the “lecture time” is also devoted to live coding. We write code together, show some pitfalls and things to avoid, answer questions, and allow the students to write some code themselves.
What have you found is your personal teaching style? What do you do when a student isn’t really getting it?
My favorite mode of teaching is when I get the opportunity to work with one or two students. I’m a pretty enthusiastic teacher so I try to get everybody awake and involved.
If there’s a student who has a question or is struggling, I’ll do my best to carve out some time and sit with them one-on-one and dive into what specifically isn’t “gelling.” I love doing that kind of deep dive with one or two students. One of the great things about the Code Fellows model is that there’s a lot of time and space for that to happen.
One student might be struggling with the basics and another trying to power ahead and learn advanced topics – you get to tailor your interactions to both of those students.
Do you have Teaching Assistants in the class with you?
It depends on the class size. Portland has smaller classes and a more intimate feel. If we have more than nine or 10 students, we have a Teacher Assistant (TA). The TA is a working developer who’s available to students during and outside of class, and online via Slack, Skype or email.
Are there assessments or tests at Code Fellows?
The bulk of the point value goes into actual projects that students work on. There are also quizzes that evaluate ability and check understanding. Quizzes serve as formative assessments for the instructor to determine whether a topic needs review or more depth. We always give people room to retake quizzes. We give people every opportunity to succeed, but we also want to make sure they’re succeeding because they’re grasping the material.
If somebody fails a quiz or a test, do they get kicked out of Code Fellows?
If you fail a quiz, the instructor’s going to ping you and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Let’s sit down and talk.” We’re going to work out a plan for you to get caught up with the rest of the class. Basically, the only way you can fail is if you stop trying.
Students have not graduated in the past, but that was because they weren’t showing up. This is a very self-selecting group. If you sign up for a bootcamp, you’re probably motivated to succeed.
Have you noticed an ideal type of student that does best at Code Fellows? Does somebody need to have a certain type of background in order to do really well?
There is by no means a background that you need to have. We’ve had everyone from people with Computer Science degrees to artists and coffee roasters do great at Code Fellows
To succeed, you need to know how to buckle down and study. You need to be motivated. You also need to have an idea of what a job in tech encompasses and if it suits you.
We’ve had people who were enamored of the idea of a development job, but who didn’t evaluate whether it suited their abilities and interests. When they actually had to do the work, it wasn’t clicking for them. That is a lot more important than background.
We need people with diverse backgrounds to infuse the tech industry with more diverse viewpoints, so I’m always excited when someone joins us from a completely different field.
Have you found that the Portland classes that you’ve taught are very diverse classes?
The Portland classes, I’m happy to say, tend to be more diverse. We have age and gender diversity. The majority of Portland is white, so we don’t have a lot of racial diversity, but it isn’t as homogenous as it could be. We are actively encouraging diversity.
It’s been fun to work with people who don’t fit the young white guy in a hoodie profile – and at the same time, to work with young white guys in hoodies who believe in diversity and are acting as allies.
Do you have some favorite meetups or beginner tech events in Portland that you recommend people start with?
The Portland tech community is so wonderful and there are so many great ones that I haven’t had the time to explore. I always enjoy going to the New Relic Future meetup; they’re very open, welcoming, and well-suited to a newcomer. They give an overview of which topics are hot.
There are a ton of great meetups for women in the tech field; Women Who Code and ChickTech are both fantastic. For any type of job that you want to do, there are two or three meetups that you can go to. I would say those are the ones that stick out in my mind for newcomers.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add about Code Fellows, your experience or bootcamps in general?
It is exciting that the bootcamp model has risen recently. Looking back, it would’ve been great if it had been around when I got my start in web development. I’m honored and excited to be part of the action.