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Coder Camps JavaScript instructor Nick Suwyn first learned to code when he was 11, and although he pursued a career in music education, Nick eventually got a degree in Computer Information Systems. After working as a software engineer for a number of years, he was able to combine his tech and education skills and join Coder Camps in Phoenix as an instructor. Nick tells us how he relates to his students who are switching careers, why his teaching style focuses on best practices, and when students should go the extra mile to get ahead.

Q&A

Tell us about your background and experience before you joined Coder Camps.

I started programming when I was 11 years old. I found a book on C++ at the library, thought it was cool, and started programming console applications. Once I learned the basic constructs of programming, a friend introduced me to an IDE called GameMaker, and I started to make computer games, which was how I developed my first love for programming.

As an adult, I had 10 years of teaching experience in the music industry, but decided I should find a more stable career. I returned to programming and got my Computer Information Systems degree at DeVry. I took 24 credit hours a semester, so that I could get my degree in under two years– it was a sprint marathon. So I can relate to my Coder Camps students who are working hard to shift their careers. When I graduated, I did some work for Honeywell and was a Java software engineer at Choice Hotels International. I’ve now combined my love of teaching with my love of programming, and I’m in the best possible place.

Did you learn everything you needed in college to be a developer?

Before college, I had picked up some PHP, C#, visual basic, and other languages. So when I started my degree, I was already ahead of the curve, and kind of floated through classes. It got hard towards the end, which is where I honed my skills. My real experience started once I got into the workforce– I was able to take everything I knew and really build upon my skills. For example, in a previous role, I was transitioning into being a full stack developer, so I had to work more on my Javascript skills. To practice, I wrote an application using Node.js on the back end and React.js on the front end. In writing that application, I was able to read hundreds of articles, go to conferences, and really grasp more about JavaScript. That’s something I really like about bootcamps– you get immersive technological training that you don’t get in a traditional four-year degree.

How did you become aware of the bootcamp model and what did you think of it at first?

I said to my wife, “You know what would be cool? A job where I could do a lot of research and teach, I would love that.” Two days later a recruiter called me and told me about a job available at Coder Camps, and that’s when I first heard about bootcamps. I’d used online sites like CodeSchool and Codecademy to pick up new skills, but I wasn’t aware of the 12-week immersive bootcamp model. So I heard about bootcamps when I got hired by one. I started in February 2017.

I was pretty awestruck– the ability to take someone who has never heard of programming before and mold them into a developer, and teach them those skills– I wish I would’ve done that either in place of, or on top of my degree.

What made you excited to work at Coder Camps in particular? There are a number of bootcamps in Phoenix– what stands out?

When I came here and interviewed, I saw the curriculum and the way they approached education. It wasn’t stagnant or just there to push people through. Every staff member here is constantly looking to change, evolve, and make the teaching process better.

You mentioned you had experience teaching music. Can you tell me about that experience and how that has prepared you for teaching at Coder Camps?

I started teaching private piano lessons when I was 13 years old, then I added guitar, saxophone, and trombone. I then started setting up music programs in charter schools. It was a neat experience to teach children from ages 4 to 18.

That teaching experience definitely prepared me well for Coder Camps. When I taught music, I always emphasized the importance of practice, which I now emphasize to the Coder Camps students. I’m also a wrestling coach, and that also has a lot to do with my style of teaching. I talk to my students a lot about putting in the extra mile. For wrestlers, going to practice is the bare minimum and practice isn’t easy. The extra mile it takes to become a wrestling champion is running home after practice and cutting weight, and the same can be applied to software engineering. You can show up to work or school and do the bare minimum. If you want to succeed and step out above the rest, you have to put in extra, learn on your own time, and constantly build new applications. That’s my mentality when it comes to success.

Can you tell us about the structure of the Coder Camps JavaScript curriculum?

Coder Camps is 12 weeks long, and we teach class from 9am to 5pm. We are in the middle of launching the new curriculum, and that will change the structure for the better. The first six weeks covers JavaScript, typescript, Angular, then we get into back end with Node, Express, and Mongo– basically one new technology per week. Then the next six weeks we are building group projects. We also cover concepts like data hashing for security, JSON web tokens, and we sprinkle in other important things you need to know going into an interview or your new job.

What is your personal teaching style?

At Coder Camps, I have a lot of liberty to talk about best practices, which I think is so important. You can learn how to do something in programming, and do the same thing over and over, but best practices are what sets developers apart from great developers. So I’ll teach the content, and explain when you use it, why you use it, where you wouldn’t use it, and how to use best practices to increase efficiency, and optimization.

As an instructor, I’ve also been writing a lot of the curriculum, and that’s been an awesome part of this experience so far. I’ve been able to teach, write curriculum, write articles, speak at events and record visual tutorials.

How many instructors, TAs and/or mentors do you work with? Do you think there is an ideal student:teacher ratio?

I’m the main instructor, and I have a TA/mentor who helps me out. During class time, I’m teaching and we are all helping the students. When the students move into their group projects, the mentor leads them through the SCRUM/agile process, and helps them get set up. The mentor doesn’t do the work for them, but guides them with methodology about how to build the product.

Right now we have 9-15 students in my class, and 15 is the maximum. In our next cohort, I have 13 students starting, that’s the largest class I’ve taught. So we usually keep a 6:1 ratio, and everyone gets everything they need. The students really seem to like it.

How do you assess student progress and make sure students keep up? Do you give assessments or tests?

We track progress through tests and quizzes. If at any point students are falling behind, I'll come in early, and the mentors will stay late to help them get caught up. If the whole class is struggling, we step back together, but we can’t slow down the rest of the course for one student.

What is the process if a student is really falling behind? Are people ever asked to leave?

There is a delicate balance there between our business model and the academic model. We don’t want to just take everyone's money. We’re not going to let someone stay in the course for the whole 12 weeks, and then tell them they can’t graduate but still have to pay the full fee. With our Coder for Life program, any student who has taken the past curriculum has free access to everything we teach forever, so it’s really cool for past and future students. We never tell them to drop out. With our Coder for Life program, we let students take the course as many times as they need. If they need to work a little slower, then they have the opportunity to continue getting that support. We are here to help them and work with them.

Do you have a role in helping your students get jobs?

I do. When students graduate, we do mock interviews, and I participate in the technical and HR interviews. I have a deep appreciation for HR soft skill interviews, and I’m able to help them there.

My greatest advice is to put in the extra mile. When I graduated college, a lot of my classmates graduated with me who had not done anything outside of their coursework, and it took them a while to find a job. Employers want to see that you are doing extra– that’s what sets you apart.

Focusing on programming best practices during Coder Camps really helps the students’ careers as well;  once they start a job, they not only know how to code, but also know what industry best practices and standards are. When I started at Choice Hotels, I knew how to code but I was behind with how everything worked. In my first 6 months, I was learning how to actually use code within a business, so I really try to prepare my students for that.

What sort of projects are your current students working on?

We have a group right now working on their final project. It’s the coolest thing ever– they are using Xbox Kinect to keep track of a real ping pong game. It keeps track of the scores and the player stats. It’s pretty impressive and creating quite a buzz right now around the classroom. I have no doubt those students are going to do some pretty amazing things.

What’s the goal for a student that completes the bootcamp? Will they be prepared for a junior developer or senior developer role?

The goal is twofold. First, if a student had no prior experience and successfully completes Coder Camps, then they should be eligible for a junior entry level developer role. Secondly, we don’t want them to only be equipped for that role; we want them to be equipped for successful progression in their career. If you learn how to learn, and how to progress, that’s our major goal. We’re not just trying to place graduates into jobs; we’re trying to get them into their first job, with good knowledge, and put them on the right path to rapidly move through that career track.

Why is JavaScript a good language to learn in Phoenix, AZ? Are there a lot of jobs available in Phoenix using JavaScript?

JavaScript is the number one language of the web. If you look at any customer-facing product, the front end is all JavaScript. You have to know frameworks like Angular, which we are teaching at Coder Camps, and React (which we are currently writing a curriculum for). Those are in high demand. JavaScript is a really great language, and I see jobs for it all the time in Phoenix.

For our readers who are beginners, what resources or meetups do you recommend for aspiring JavaScript coders in Phoenix?

Coder Camps offers Byte Club every third Friday. That is a great place to get resources, ask questions and meet people. For learning JavaScript yourself, I would suggest the same path I took– build something. Start with what you know, build it, and read hundreds of articles to find out how to make things work. The best way to learn anything in this industry is to do it.

Find out more and read Coder Camps reviews on Course Report. Check out the Coder Camps website.

About The Author

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Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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