“I want to see more women in the tech industry, because the more women who work in this field, the safer and better it is for everyone.” Kate Humphrey has a background in technology consulting, and enrolled in Fullstack Academy to solidify her skills for the New York market. With her tech experience and teaching experience, Kate was well qualified to become an instructor for The Grace Hopper Program. Kate tells us about her quirky and interactive teaching style, the difference between teaching all women versus co-ed classes, and why she feels it’s so important for more women to learn to code and break into the tech industry.
Tell us about your background and experience in programming before you became a Grace Hopper Program instructor.
At first, I was intimidated by my move to New York. My sister suggested I apply for tech jobs, but I thought, “There’s no way I’m qualified to work in New York tech.” I actually took the Fullstack Academy program to solidify my knowledge and to meet local New York companies. I’m really glad I did that, because at a time when I felt like an imposter, Fullstack helped me build confidence again. I looked at Course Report for reviews on Fullstack Academy, Flatiron School, and App Academy. Fullstack Academy seemed the most rigorous to me, which is why I went for it.
How did you transition from a student to an instructor at Grace Hopper?
When I graduated, Fullstack Academy hired me to be a Fullstack Fellow, and then I interviewed for an instructor position. I also had a job offer at a larger company, so there are some things I gave up to work here, but the idea of being able to be technical and social and touching people’s lives makes me feel so fulfilled, and I enjoy that in a work environment. In college I was a TA for three years, and the professor I worked with got to teach code – I knew that was what I wanted too. It never occurred to me it would actually happen: to get a job as an instructor.
Tell us about what you teach at Grace Hopper and Fullstack Academy.
I’ve taught both Junior and Senior Phases at both Grace Hopper and Fullstack Academy. Senior Phase is project-driven, so it’s more fulfilling because it’s interesting to learn about new technologies. I don’t know everything about every programming language, so I’m sometimes learning with the students, which I enjoy a lot.
I primarily teach at Grace Hopper, but I also understand the benefit of having more female leadership at Fullstack Academy, so I teach cohorts at both Grace Hopper and Fullstack Academy. I also just taught a Fullstack Remote cohort, which was very different than anything I’ve ever done.
What have you found is your personal teaching style?
My teaching style is a little quirky. I like to engage the class as much as possible, which at times they hate me for! I get them to answer questions, and tell me what they think is going to happen next in a problem. I do use slides at times to walk through high-level topics, but I really like using coding examples and live coding. It’s always fun for them to watch me run into a bug and work through it; then they feel a little less intimidated when they run into something similar. I like to be as interactive as possible.
When I taught at a university, everything moved at a slower pace; it was much more relaxed, which meant there was more time to review things, meet with students, and teach classes. It felt like I could wander through a subject. At Grace Hopper, I’m trying to give the students as much information in as short a time as possible, so I’m finding better ways to be more ways to be efficient.
When you teach Fullstack Remote, how do you have to tweak your teaching style to teach students remotely?
There was a learning curve: I realized I can’t walk over to a student’s desk, or point to two things at once on the screen during a presentation because there is only one cursor.
But otherwise I often found students to be more engaged. I had fewer students – the on-campus class is usually around 24, but the class online was around 10. I set up many monitors so I could see all the students while teaching them. So at a glance, I could see who was spacing out and get them to engage more.
One thing I enjoyed about the remote group was the wide variety of students. People were coming from different locations and different points in their lives. If you have a family, it’s easier to do an online course if you need to be at home with the kids. The variety of students made everyone more driven to pay attention.
Do you think your experience teaching remotely has changed any of your in-person teaching methods?
Teaching remotely has definitely made me more aware of how important it is to cultivate a class culture, which is more difficult to do in a remote environment. I was more conscious of that during the remote course, and would enforce hanging out for 30 mins every other day so we got to know each other. On campus, I expect the students to go to lunch together, and hang out naturally. But my remote teaching experience has made me more keen to do retrospectives with my students more quickly and more frequently.
How does teaching an all-women class differ from teaching co-ed classes?
Every single cohort I’ve taught has a slightly different culture. But I frequently find that women in both settings are more prone to feeling under qualified, even when I tell them they are on track, or doing better than average. If they don’t feel like they can explain every single aspect of a technology, they say, “I don’t feel like I know this.” That’s not true for all women, but more frequently I find that men think they understand a topic even if I’m spending more time trying to help them. It’s very interesting to see that.
I find a cohort also becomes more competitive when it’s male-dominated. Sometimes it gets this very intense, winning focus, and the students get a lot done, and work so hard. That can be great for some personality types, but it can stress out other personalities. At Fullstack Academy, when a third of the class is women, then that competition decreases.
At Grace Hopper I more frequently see supportive competition, where students challenge themselves and others, but when someone else is falling behind, they’re supported by their classmates.
If a woman is deciding between The Grace Hopper Program vs Fullstack Academy, what’s your advice?
It totally depends on the student – I made this decision too! I decided that I wanted to prepare myself for the work environment I’m most likely going to be in. So I did the Fullstack Academy program, because it’s more similar to what the tech world looks like, which is ~20% women. When I was in Fullstack, I had some friends in the Grace Hopper Program, and sometimes I was really jealous of their learning environment!
A learning environment is always going to be different from a work environment. At Grace Hopper, you’re able to focus on learning in a space where you feel comfortable, and that can be very helpful at the time.
I have a friend who is one woman in a tech department of 50 people, and she doesn’t even notice, so she would be fine at Fullstack Academy because it doesn’t phase her. But for other women who feel a little unsure about their technical skills, Grace Hopper can be a better environment to feel unsure and grow.
Having been a student and a Fullstack Fellow, how has that put you in a unique position to iterate on the curriculum as an instructor?
Because I was a student, I’m often able to be a very strong student advocate. When I work with Fellows, I can help them figure out what their focus should be and how we can best assist them to become better developers during their time in the fellowship. My experience as a student definitely makes me much more aware and empathetic to everything that’s going on, and much more prepared to give a lot of specific details about my expectations from students and their code.
Grace Hopper is always a work in process, and we always take notice of student feedback and iterate on it for the next cohort. If you do decide to attend Grace Hopper, feel free to always give feedback. We constantly change our curriculum and how we teach it; we’re always looking at the languages we teach based on student feedback, what we’re seeing in the industry, and the jobs our alums are getting. Last year we switched from using Mongo to using Sequelize, and from Angular to React, which are pretty big changes. As a result, it keeps the curriculum updated for students and makes it fun to work here as an instructor.
Last year, Fullstack introduced “CS Saturdays” to give students an edge in the job market; do you continue to see employer demands changing? How is Fullstack ensuring that your grads remain competitive?
We introduced CS Saturdays to give students the ability to talk about computer science subjects, so that when they are asked a question in a job interview, they can talk at a high level, and help calm any fears employers have about bootcamp grads.
We are constantly iterating on our curriculum, and changing what we are teaching in CS Saturdays. For example, right now we’re adding in a lesson on microservices, and we just started covering web security topics. During my time as a technology consultant, I worked on some security and penetration testing, and that’s something I’m trying to push into the curriculum. During Review Week between Junior and Senior phases, I work with another instructor to give an optional web security workshop for a full day. We are constantly iterating, not necessarily with what employers explicitly say that they want, but towards helping our students become more prepared to jump in and quell the fears of employers.
Is there an ideal instructor:student ratio that you aim for in Grace Hopper Academy and Fullstack?
We’re talking about that as a staff, and there is no general consensus. Most instructors want a high number of instructors per student. I find that 12 to 16 students to 1 instructor is a very nice ratio. When it comes to the Remote cohort, there are fewer students right now, but we’ll get to that ratio. And in our Senior Phase, we usually have 10 to 15 students with one instructor and a fellow, and that’s my favorite ratio.
Fullstack Fellows are so important when we have a large cohort. We usually have about six students to a Fellow, and every week they get lunch together, do retrospectives, bounce ideas off each other, debug together, or talk about technical or non-technical problems.
Do you find that there’s an ideal type of student who does well at Grace Hopper?
The students who excel the most are fast learners. Everyone knows you’re going to be doing a lot every day, it’s going to be fast, and you only have three months. But there are still some people who are surprised at how quickly it goes by, and how much material is covered. Fast learners who are okay with not mastering everything they learn the first time tend to do well. Some people try to internalize everything we teach them every day, which is not what we expect, and probably not possible. We just throw so many things at you – it’s great if 60-70% sticks, and then you keep iterating, and building on it.
Students who are able to collaborate also tend to do better. We focus a lot on pair programming, teamwork, and collaboration.
Tell us about your biggest student success story!
Caveat: I sometimes spend way too much of my personal time helping students. I had one student who was amazing. She had been in a car accident and had to relearn how to walk, talk, and write. A year and a half later, she’s at Grace Hopper. I didn’t know that background when we started meeting one-on-one, so I just thought she needed a lot of repetition. Once she shared that with me, we started to work one-on-one. She was so driven, and worked so hard. I was a little nervous about how she would do in Senior Phase, but she just killed our hackathon with a VR project that she built in four days. She won People’s Choice Award for it and I loved it. It can be hard when someone doesn’t want to fail. But she said, “As a woman of color, I think people expect me to fail, and I just cannot fail.” It was all her.
For our readers who are beginners, what resources or meetups do you recommend for aspiring bootcampers in NYC?
The Women Who Code meetup hosts an algorithms meetup every week, where you can talk to people about how to get involved in code, and what languages to learn. Everyone comes in with a different level of experience. Most people are very supportive and share how they solved a problem and the resources they used. I’ve found it supportive, with a variety of levels of difficulty.
At The Grace Hopper Program, we host events with Women Who Code and Girl Develop It. We also host admissions prep workshops, which are specifically designed for women in the applications process because we found that women were less likely to take our admissions test. Once we started offering the prep workshop, we’re able to connect with those applicants and give them the confirmation they need to get started.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about becoming developers?
Do it! Know that it’s not always going to be an easy path. Some women find a job and don’t experience much bias, but that’s not everybody’s story. It’s important to know what can happen, and you may run into situations where people are consciously or unconsciously biased against you, oftentimes in the hiring, performance, and promotion aspects of your job.
There is a great support system for women in tech in New York. Sometimes we talk about issues that have happened at work, or things we’ve seen; sometimes we code together, and go through algorithms. I want to see more women in the tech industry, because the more women who work in this field, the safer and better it is for everyone.