Written By Liz Eggleston
Josh Mejia is a true example of a bootcamp success story: when a traditional college education wasn't an option, Josh decided to shape his career by attending gSchool. When Jeff Casimir left gSchool to start Turing, Josh saw an opportunity to be involved in a new type of education. He is now a full-time instructor at Turing, and talks to us about what motivated him to be part of this community, how Turing adapts the curriculum to changing technology and learning styles, and the ideal Turing student.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My background is actually non-traditional compared to most of our staff. I was a graduate of the first gSchool program in January of 2012, which Jeff was associated with in the beginning. Before that, I had some design and programming experience.
I was good at getting projects done but I didn’t really know how to program. I had some experience building Rails apps and things like that but it was more of a “copy and paste” approach. But I did know HTML so I wanted to expand those skills so that’s why I signed up for gSchool.
After gSchool I worked at a company in Denver that partners with energy companies to adjust the flow of electricity on the power grid using Ruby on Rails among other things. It was a really fun place to work and I got to solve challenging problems.
How did you get involved with Turing?
While working in Denver I was mentoring with Turing- actually gSchool before Turing started- and I really enjoyed it; even during my own experience through the program, I really liked helping other students out.
Did you get an undergrad degree?
No, I didn’t. Growing up, we were below the poverty line so going to college just didn’t seem like a possibility; I ended up working in construction for a long time and I was introduced to programming through some close friends who I played music with and I took a strong liking to it.
I’m very passionate about these kinds of programs for that reason. I feel that there are a lot of improvements that can be made to education. I enjoy having a part in reformation. Plus, I like teaching – it’s surprising how much I actually learn teaching.
Did you consider working with a different bootcamp or were you really drawn to Jeff Casimir and Turing?
Jeff and the staff here played a huge role because I got to see very closely how passionate they are and their drive. That was something I wanted to be around. I knew that if I had the opportunity to work with Jorge or Jeff, I would want to take the opportunity. It was a good fit and it seemed like the timing was right for it.
Having gone through gSchool, I have a very strong empathy for the students and what they’re going through and how to maximize their learning.
How many cohorts are going on at a time at Turing?
Do you teach one cohort at a time or are you teaching the same thing to the four classes?
It depends; every six-weeks-module, there’s a one-week break and we have a new class come in and another class graduates. At that point we’ll reshuffle things to see what can be tweaked and improved.
Right now I’m bouncing around between two of the cohorts.
Do you think that style is effective?
That becomes the question because for a staff it’s probably more efficient for us to focus on one cohort; but for the students there’s different learning styles.
If someone doesn’t learn from my particular teaching style for example, then for me to be with them the whole six weeks is probably not going to be effective. So we try to balance out the teachers’ time and also the learning styles.
Can you tell us how Turing iterates on the curriculum after each cohort? What goes into that process?
We’re definitely trying to keep up with new technologies and things that employers are asking about during interviews; that’s a very big driving factor. We get a sense of the skills that they’re looking for.
Additionally, we have our curriculum set but as things change we’ll present certain topics and we’ll find that the students have already approached these topics naturally through their projects, so we probably don’t need to spend time discussing them in the class unless there’s confusion about it.
Sometimes we’ll move lessons earlier in the program; it’s a constant juggle. When is the right time to teach something? If we teach it too soon, there’s no context for how to use it. But if we’re too late then the students have already seen it in a project. So it’s trying to find that balance, which is tricky.
Each class is different, so it's very much about trying to gauge the group, trying to figure out what’s appropriate for them at what time.
Since you teach full-time, do you have time for other projects or do you have time off?
That’s a really good question. We’ll usually have a couple of days off, and during that time I’ll work on things I want to work on.
The other thing we’re doing is we try to arrange for instructors to learn from other instructors. Each of the instructors have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a good time to utilize each other’s knowledge. There are some things I’d like to teach but I don’t feel comfortable with right now so we’ll spend those off-weeks building sample apps as a team to try to improve each other’s skills.
Several of our instructors used to be teachers so they’ll teach pedagogy topics; I personally would not feel comfortable teaching something like that. It’s a great way to pick up on new skills.
Do you have a hand in the admissions process?
A little bit. It isn’t my primary role but I have sat in on some of the interviews and given my opinion. It’s not one of my main tasks.
Have you noticed an ideal type of student for Turing? What type of person have you found really excels in the class and vice versa?
That’s a tough question. I think one of the most important things is just having a very strong drive because it does take a lot of work to excel. Sometimes you just get a sense of a person’s drive by the types of questions that they ask; whether they like to figure things out on their own or be given an answer.
During the interview process I think we get a good sense of how a person thinks about a problem and the types of questions that they ask and whether their thought process is logical; does it follow a straight line or does it bounce around and is it hard to follow?
Are there technical requirements for Turing? Are you looking for people with a background in coding or technical experience?
No, not at all. Our interview process is not focused on technical skills, it’s focused on logic. The technical side of it can be taught but the logic side of it has to be there before we can teach that.
How many instructors are teaching at any time?
We’ve actually experimented a little bit with that recently and have had a couple of instructors in our classroom sessions. It’s worked out really well because we’ll do live coding in front of the class with two instructors.
The students seem to really like it because they get to see how two people working together might have different approaches but can come to a conclusion between the two. I think it’s actually a really cool exercise that I want to work in a little more.
Does Turing give pre-work and what does it look like?
I think we are leaning more towards pre-work now. One of the things we want them to do is work on typing because we spend so much time typing so we send them to Typing.io.
The other thing that we’ve been doing recently is ask them to work through the Pragmatic Studio’s Intro to Ruby.
Tell us about the curriculum and how the 7 months are broken down.
There are four modules. The first module is all Ruby. They’ll use Ruby to run reports on data from CSVs, and get the concepts of how you would structure a Ruby program. So the first portion is to get the broad concepts down that they’ll be using later in the program. They have to get to know it on a very intimate level.
The second module starts off with Sinatra and introduces them to Sequel. After that we get into the beginning Rails projects.
At the end of each module are there assessments? Can people pass or fail?
Yes. At the end of each module we have assessments. We have a certain rubric that we follow that basically tests where their skills should be at that point in the program. If they pass the assessment then obviously they move on.
If there are areas where they should have reached a certain point by the end of the module and they haven’t then we’ll ask them to repeat the previous module. Instead of falling behind and staying behind, this structure actually allows them to be the student that has the most experience or knowledge by repeating. It actually works really well because they end up teaching more and actually solidifies their knowledge.
What is your personal teaching style? How hands-on are you?
It’s interesting because before Turing I hadn’t really had much experience teaching groups. I was very involved in teaching small groups and individuals. I think that I work well in a smaller setting; that’s my strength. In a group setting, I think I’m pretty good at pinpointing whether people are following along and keeping up and where they’re struggling… it’s almost like having empathy for the audience.
But I think my strength is more so in the smaller setting. Some of the other teachers are very engaging in a large group.
Liz Eggleston is co-founder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students choosing a coding bootcamp.
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