Ryan began his journey with LaunchCode in early 2016 as a student. After graduation he joined our team of Teaching Fellows for the next cohort of students in LC101 St. Louis, and has since begun an apprenticeship placement. Having spent time in all the main facets of LaunchCode, Ryan gives us his perspective on how everything went.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My background is eclectic. I started as a reporter where I won an award for science coverage. After a couple years of reporting, I got an MBA with the goal of working in scientific management. In school, I focused on finance. I passed the first level of the CFA. After graduating, I worked at a biotech company developing a cancer vaccine. I first became interested in programming because of research papers I read on machine learning in biology.
Outside of work, I’m interested in history. I’m especially interested in the podcast Hardcore History and the fall of the Roman Republic. My favorite historical figures are the ones who opposed injustice and include: Cato, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. I also like reading business books. I’m particularly interested in the power of incentives and mental models. In that regard, I’m a big admirer of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
How did you first hear about LaunchCode?
I told my previous boss I was interested in learning more about technology to help the company. He told me one of our investors, Jim McKelvey, had launched an organization to provide free classes in programming near our office. I took an assessment online, and then later, I started the class.
I would say the best part of LaunchCode is the people. In the class, the TFs were more supportive than I expected and our instructor was always available for questions.
Tell us about a highlight or two from being a student.
I would say the best part of LaunchCode is the people. In the class, the TFs were more supportive than I expected and our instructor was always available for questions. Now that I’m a TF, he continues to be supportive. I try to give regular side lectures every week. Recently, I gave a lecture on recursion. I presented my lecture to him before class and he gave feedback that helped me teach. That’s only one example of someone who has been very supportive. Everyone at LaunchCode is like that. At a lot of boot camps once you are out, the support stops. At LaunchCode I feel like everyone in the organization supports me.
What do you do as an educator with LaunchCode and what skills have turned out to be the most useful in mentoring?
I teach the basic concepts of computer programming, collections, loops, control flow, first in Python. Then I teach MVC frameworks in Python and Java.
Having some experience in math and essay writing helps. When students struggle it is often because several discrete concepts are bundled into one in their minds. Using print statements or asking good questions to separate ideas can make a big difference. For example, I recently had a student who was struggling to understand how parameters are passed into functions and output is returned. I had her print inside the function before any operations were performed and again after the function. This seemed to help her understand how functions work.
I would say the non-technical skills are probably more important than technical skills for mentoring. As a reporter, I learned to build trust and ask good questions. I learned to listen. LC101 is a hard class, so it is really important that mentors are aware of their students’ feelings and understand their struggles. Experience with management also helps. Ultimately, my job is to know when to push them and when to provide emotional support. It is a delicate balance.
Can you tell us about the best experience you’ve had in the program?
I had one student who worked extremely hard, but was overwhelmed by the class. She told me she wanted to quit. I told her I understood, but I believed she had the work ethic to succeed in whatever she did. I had no idea if she would quit or not. So when she told me a couple of days later she was sticking with the class I was ecstatic!
Another one of my students got a job at Monsanto. She is young and super brilliant. After her placement she wrote a poem to the LaunchCode staff to show her appreciation. It is awesome to feel like you helped someone like that.
Seeing students overcome their obstacles and ultimately get high-paying jobs in tech is amazing.
What is your favorite thing about mentoring?
As a mentor, you are on the front line working with students, who face adversity. The class is extremely difficult; many students are pushed to the breaking point. Seeing students overcome their obstacles and ultimately get high-paying jobs in tech is amazing. It’s awesome to feel like you helped someone, who otherwise did not have great options, achieve something they absolutely deserved.
How has the teaching experience differed from your expectations?
It is so hard! You are dealing with people fighting to making a huge change in their lives. I want my students to know I will invest in them as much as they invest in the class. But sometimes, I feel I can’t give enough. Concepts that may seem simple in my mind, sometimes aren’t easily transmitted to others the first explanation. It is humbling, and forces me to really understand the core concepts.
Any advice for someone interested in signing up to volunteer or mentor with LaunchCode?
Do it! It’s like Richard Feynman said, the best way to learn is to teach.
Advice for someone considering signing up for a course with LaunchCode?
Do it! If the course is hard, don’t worry. Struggle is the price you pay for knowledge. This is true for everyone.
Overall, how has your experience with LaunchCode been?
Life-altering. I started off as a student, and now I would say many LaunchCoders are my friends.
LaunchCode didn’t just make me a better programmer. It made me a better person. I have learned to appreciate the value of effort above all else.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
I know it is super cheesy, but LaunchCode didn’t just make me a better programmer. It made me a better person. I have learned to appreciate the value of effort above all else. We can’t control how smart we are, but we can control how hard we work. I have seen first-hand that people from unconventional backgrounds can thrive as programmers if they work hard. The students do all the work, but it is awesome to feel like I am a small part of organization that provides them the opportunities they deserve.
/// Stop thinking about it and start getting ready for your dream job in tech! Applications are NOW OPEN for LC101 in St. Louis — apply for your seat in the class that could change your life today!