When Roniece first signed up for Flatiron School’s Access Labs bootcamp, she wasn’t sure there was space in the coding and development world for a queer woman of color like herself. Now, she’s paying it forward in Atlanta as a Teaching Fellow at the newest Flatiron campus. We chatted with Roniece about how she got into coding, her love for teaching the next generation of developers, and why she’s passionate about breaking down stereotypes of who can be a coder.
Tell us about your background and how that led you to enroll at Flatiron School?
I was interested in coding when I was young, but it never really stuck. I felt discouraged because I thought “I’m a girl, I’ll never be able to pick up all this math.”
I studied early childhood education, but ended up becoming a sex educator. At my previous job, a coworker wanted to create an app as a bridge between sex educators and individuals living in more remote locations who may be in need of education, assistance, or someone to talk to. I started thinking about whether this was something I could take on and learn how to do.
A friend of mine who went to a different bootcamp encouraged me, so I researched different types of bootcamps and ended up at Flatiron School. My main goal was to be able to live in New York City (which is funny because I now live in Atlanta), but I also wanted the skills to be self-sufficient in a way that I couldn’t find in other fields.
When you were comparing different coding bootcamps, what made you choose Flatiron School’s Access Labs program?
I had applied to a ton of bootcamps but I picked Flatiron School because my interactions with their team on check-in calls were really friendly, the process seemed a little bit more intuitive, and it didn’t require a ton of background knowledge. I felt like other bootcamps expected me to know a bit more than I did at the time. Flatiron starts from the ground up – I found that to be really helpful and the whole process made me feel better about the people I’d be working with at the bootcamp on a day-to-day basis.
The cool thing about Flatiron’s Access Labs in Brooklyn is that it has a deferred tuition model. I had saved up enough to put down a deposit on a bootcamp, but they were willing to stick their neck out for me. Knowing I would join other people from a lower income background made me feel like I belonged in that space.
What was the learning experience like at Flatiron School?
Access Labs was hard. It felt like a firehose of information coming at you every single day, but the community really made it possible. There was always somebody to talk to or to hang out with after hours. I felt like the friendships I made in the first two weeks were equal to what other people make over four years of college.
One thing that was really amazing – I get choked up thinking about it – was that my cohort was made up entirely of people of color. As a woman of color entering tech, it was something I never expected. To be honest, I thought I was going to walk in and be super uncomfortable – I’m black, a woman, and queer – I didn’t know if I belonged in this space. But I felt like my cohort really embraced me, and the fact that my Module One instructor was a young, black man was really meaningful for me. I finally felt like I could be in this space, and that this career isn’t exclusionary for people like me.
Congratulations on landing a Teaching Fellow position with Flatiron School! How did you get the role?
People sometimes become teachers at the campus they graduate from, but my experience was unique in that I finished Access Labs at the Brooklyn campus, then I helped open the Flatiron campus in Atlanta. After graduating, I was invited back to Brooklyn to give a talk at a She Geeks Out meetup where I discussed the intersection of sex, education, and technology and what it could look like in the future. Tammy, the new Atlanta campus director, was there – when she heard my talk she asked if I’d be interested in moving to Atlanta. So I applied to become a Teaching Fellow!
The application process involved a couple of culture interviews and a technical interview which was similar to the code challenges I did as a Flatiron student. The person who ran my technical interview was one of my teachers – that was a nice surprise! I started on the same day that the campus opened – I graduated from bootcamp in August, and my first day of teaching was October 29.
How’s it going so far at the Flatiron Atlanta campus?
I started teaching with the very first cohort and it’s sad because they’re going to be leaving soon – it feels like I just met them. I really love my students, and I think that Tammy did a phenomenal job in selecting dedicated people for the first cohort. I can tell everyone wants to maintain the Flatiron culture and keep the sense of community, even though we’re a distance from New York. It’s such an interesting experience to help open a new campus.
The campus is great. We’re located within WeWork Colony Square in Midtown, so students have full access to our WeWork common area and community. There are two full sized classrooms, a mini-classroom for students to have small review lectures, and groups of desks equipped with a display for collaboratively solving problems. On a fully ramped up campus, the average class size is over 20 students. Right now, we’re aiming to have about 15 students in a class.
Honestly, I was just excited about the idea of going on an adventure. There are so many people of color in Atlanta, so what better opportunity for me to be in this position now than to give back to other people of color and invite them into this space in the same way I was invited in. Also, the food here is really great!
How does your background inform your teaching style?
I try to support both visual learners as well as hands-on learners. If I have mix of students, I’ll have the hands-on person diagram things out for the rest of the group and then have them organize the steps we’re going to work on. It’s about working with everybody’s strengths and getting to know them as individuals, so they not only shine in group dynamics but they also get what they need, either alone or together in the group.
I originally studied early childhood education, before I got into sex education. So I think I bring a unique perspective on how to meet people where they’re at in their learning journey. Coming from sex education, which is inherently kind of awkward and weird, I think I’m usually the first person to admit when things are a mess and to encourage everyone that we’re going to get through it together.
I definitely want to continue to grow as a teacher, I really enjoy it. I also want to pivot into a software development role in a couple of years. I may end up returning to teaching but I’d like to have more experience doing the work so I have even more skills to help my students.
How does your role as a Teaching Fellow fit within the Flatiron curriculum and courses?
Is there a certain type of student who excels at the coding bootcamp?
The type of student who excels in bootcamp is willing to be wrong and willing to ask for help. As a cohort grows closer, they become more comfortable with asking questions and raising their hands, and they’ll even talk with each other first. Their discussions show they’re working out the material and they feel comfortable turning to a neighbor and saying, “Hey! I don’t understand how this function is working. You seem like you understand it, could you walk me through it?” Those types of initiatives can create an incredibly successful student.
How do you assess student progress at Flatiron School?
For every two-week module, there’s a mandatory code challenge to see where the student is at, what we can help them with, and what we need to dive into a bit deeper as an instructional team. If you pass the first code challenge, you’re exempted from the second one. The second code challenge is to check in after more review and one-on-one sessions – we’ve worked through anything they were stuck on and it’s really about seeing if they understand the material we need them to get out of this specific module.
If the student passes that code challenge, they move onto the next module – if not, they’re offered the opportunity to repeat the module. If they are still having trouble after repeating, the pacing of the program may be a bit too much for that student. We then offer them the opportunity to move to the online format where it’s at a self-driven pace, there’s more content, and you still have instructors to help you.
What type of career assistance is available at Flatiron School Atlanta?
We have a team of career coaches who help you prepare your resume and LinkedIn, and get ready for your interview. They’re also there if you’re feeling down about job hunting and the interview processes. It’s really great to have someone with you through that process who has worked with numerous students before and they’re able to hold space for you and just listen. We also have prep programs like TIPS – Technical Interview Practice Sessions – where students work through an algorithm as a group and then we talk about it afterwards.
What sort of jobs are available for students who complete Flatiron School in Atlanta?
Atlanta is becoming a tech hub. There are lots of places looking for full stack developers but they can’t find anyone to fill the positions. The graduating students are in a really unique position because their skills are in demand – plus there are already Flatiron graduates in Atlanta, giving them a solid network of contacts.
Ideally, our students would be working in a full-time role doing front end, back end, or full stack development. I have a classmate from New York working at JP Morgan, others are at more data-focused companies. People take really interesting directions that might be related to the industries they were in prior to coming to Flatiron. Someone who might have worked in architecture before might go back and work for an architecture firm, but now as a developer.
What local coding meetups or resources do you recommend for beginners in Atlanta?
Local meetups for beginners include:
We host a number of meetups at Flatiron School, including Flatiron Students Present where students get together and talk about a technical topic of their choice. There was one presentation on my campus about self-driving cars. There’s also a Science Fair where students get to present their projects. Since we’re located in a WeWork building, they can present to other WeWork members and members of the public. It’s a really cool way to see all the things you can do with code. We also host a lot of after-hours workshops like Intro to HTML or CSS. There are lots of opportunities to get involved and meet other coding professionals.