Course Report recently chatted with student-turned-instructor, Martha Berner of Galvanize. Martha shares her experience at 3 Galvanize campuses and why she turned down outside job offers and instead joined Galvanize as an instructor after graduation. As a student of Ruby and Rails who later switched to JavaScript and the MEAN Stack, Martha provides insight into her transition and why Galvanize made the switch.


You’ve worked and learned at Galvanize in San Francisco, Boulder and Denver. Which campus was your favorite?

I was a student in Boulder, taught in San Francisco and now Denver. At each campus I had a different role. Here in Denver I’m coming into my own, but I think that’s just because of where I am it in my career. As a student you freak out, but you also learn so much.

Then, as a TA I had to work really hard to shed my student complex like most young engineers who have imposter syndrome, so I was still working that out.

Then I came here to Denver, and with more teaching experience and being on my second language, you just get more comfortable and your knowledge grows.

What were you doing before you went to Galvanize?

I was a touring musician for over 10 years and a freelance videographer. But oddly enough that’s how I found software development - because being a musician doesn’t pay very well! I thought, “What job can I do to make money on the road?”  I started to teach myself really basic front end development. Then I began to freelance, building websites and stuff.

I got to the point where I realized that I love music, but not being a professional musician anymore so I thought about what career I wanted to do. I really liked programming, but I didn’t know enough to get a job. It just so happened that I moved to Denver, unrelated to Galvanize. But I was really looking for a career change and I did a Google search and found Galvanize. Now there’s Turing, but there wasn’t anybody else around then.

So you were a student at Galvanize when it was called gSchool. At that time, the full stack program was teaching Ruby on Rails, right?

Yes. Now the classes are called Galvanize Full Stack, but the reason they started the numbers is because in programming array indexes start at zero. So the first class was G-0 then G-1 and G-2.

I understand now that it’s switched to MEAN Stack. Why was that decision made and how does a school like Galvanize choose to make that decision?

Our mission here is outcomes. So really, we’re committed to adjusting things as necessary to stay relevant with what the needs of the field are.The demand for jobs on JavaScript developers is now outpacing the demand for Rails developers.  JavaScript is having this rebirth – it’s definitely on this huge upswing with Node and the variety of Back End Tools being developed for it.

I was a student that went through Rails curriculum and now I’m an instructor (this is my third cohort). I’ve witnessed the evolution in student growth, and I’m a huge fan of teaching JavaScript. Ruby and Rails are a  great language and framework but I think for beginners, there’s too much abstraction. Students don’t get enough experience with what’s going on under the hood.

What did this change mean for you as an instructor? Did you have to learn how to teach JavaScript, changing everything that you had experience with?

Yeah, it was a real hustle. I got my feet wet when I graduated and started teaching. At the time, we called it a TA role so I didn’t have as much responsibility. I saw the curriculum swinging towards JavaScript so I began to teach myself and do whatever I could to learn it.

How did you decide that you wanted to teach after you graduated?

I share the values of Galvanize and its leaders about disrupting the education system. I agree with that because you’ve got numbers and numbers of young people going to college to get some degree and paying astronomical fees for that. Sometimes those educational experiences are really valuable if you’re in a specific field. A lot of them are getting generalized degrees, coming out with 100,000 of debt and finding themselves unable to get a job.

I was really passionate about the vision, and it’s still a growing thing, but I want to be part of this change. It was a tough decision because I went to the program to go out and get a job as a developer. I did have offers.

What led you to accept the instructor position over your other offers?

I had other offers, but when it came down to it I thought “I like this teaching thing because I am also passionate about people who decide to make the kind of commitment to “clear my plate, quit my job and do whatever takes for 6 months to dive into this.” That takes a lot- it’s scary.

I wanted to support those people. And also, as a woman, I wanted to be a role model for other women so they could see that this is something they can do. You need empathy for teaching.

What do the classes look like? Are there a lot of women?

Since I’ve been here most of the classes, save for one, have been almost 50-50.

That’s also a big part of the Galvanize dream; diversifying the tech world. So we definitely - through scholarships and partnerships with strong female leaders and ambitious women - have worked hard to reach that demographic.

That’s awesome. Realizing that you’re going to be taught by a graduate and a woman who went to Galvanize, I think that’s huge for potential students.

It is my job. It’s all of our jobs to be doing that. You know, we’re all evangelists; I hope that everybody working here would be an evangelist.

What’s the leadership structure like at Galvanize?

It’s evolved since I started. Now each class has a lead instructor, an instructor and an associate instructor. We have a new role, FSR, which is a “Full-Stack In Residence.” It’s a role that we sometimes offer students. This role is different in that it is a contract hire position helping out part-time in class but also part-time working on coding projects.

Now, it would be a rare case if a student were hired as an associate instructor. Senior Instructors  typically near a decade of working experience. It’s really important that the lead instructor be a senior, seasoned developer that’s been out and working in the world.

What are your future plans? Do you want to transition to a full-time programming role at some point?

For sure. I’m also working on production code right now, in addition to my teaching. As part of Galvanize, we’ve got this internal “level up” program. Instructors are able to continue to do production work while teaching.

So I’m doing a client project unrelated to Galvanize as well, which is an awesome balance.

Interested in learning more about Galvanize? Check out their CourseReport page or the Galvanize website.


About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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