/ coding

Teaching fellowship at Fullstack Academy of Code

This week, a new cohort begins at Fullstack Academy of Code and I begin my first week of a three-month teaching fellowship. I join five other great folks who I graduated with and six senior teaching fellows who are now halfway through their fellowships.

The teaching fellowship, as I see it, is a choose-your-own-adventure focusing on three major areas: mentoring, creating, and learning.

Below are some thoughts on those things. They are only my personal thoughts, and as usual, may be incorrect, flammable, and/or delicious with chocolate.

Mentoring

Fullstack has been an amazing place to learn. It was inspiring to see everyone in my cohort develop their skills so rapidly over the course of three months. Having access to knowledgable instructors and teaching fellows helped us make some extraordinary leaps during class time and in extra study sessions.

I personally benefitted from a private study session with an instructor and a teaching fellow where we covered some Angular concepts that weren’t making sense to me at the time. It’s pretty amazing to think that level of attention was available to us.

So I’m looking forward to passing that on to the new cohort as a teaching fellow. I want to help new students get over the wall they may be struggling with on a particular day.

This isn’t pure altruism; it’s a symbiotic relationship. Fullstack encourages learning through teaching, and teaching fellows learn a lot from the cohorts they interact with. As one of the instructors recently told the new teaching fellows: “Expect to get really good at debugging over the next three months.”

Additionally, the teaching fellows lead whiteboarding problems that the senior cohorts do every morning. I suspect that leading these whiteboarding problems is going to be quite informative for the leader, as it is for the students working on the problems.

Creating

Teaching fellows at Fullstack work on a thesis project during their three-month tenure. We submit written proposals for projects we want to build out. Once the proposals are approved, we each begin work on our respective projects.

Teaching fellows are given the time, space, and access to knowledgable people to build their ideas and push their limits:
– Want to build an app?
– Maybe a library?
– Want to create new workshops for learning programmers?
– Or how about building out a new feature in Fullstack’s larger-scale internal app?

Having this block of time to work on projects we feel passionate about is quite exciting. Choosing just one idea as the focus of the thesis was a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to getting started with my project.

Learning

Teaching fellows also must complete a number of “elective” challenges, like giving tech talks, writing, leading workshops and so on.

These electives encourage continued learning beyond the scope of our thesis projects.

David, one of Fullstack’s co-founders, often reminds us of the difference between “lateral learning” and “vertical learning” (hope I didn’t botch those terms, but they are something to that effect).

Both types of learning are valuable to a programmer, but it’s good to keep in mind the difference: vertical learning is about depth, or digging further into things you are already familiar with, taking strides towards mastery of a particular technology.

Lateral learning (not to be confused with lateral thinking) is about learning how to do what you already know, but in another way, likely using different tools.

Opportunities for lateral learning in programming are seemingly infinite; there is always another language/platform/framework/you-name-it:
– Learned server-side JavaScript? Now learn Python.
– Learned Bootstrap? Now learn Material Design.
– Learned Angular? Now learn React.
– Learned to make a web app? Now learn to make an iPhone app.

The results of laterally learning another technology will often appear quite similar on the surface, but having a new way to accomplish a job gives you another tool in your belt.

I see the thesis project as being about vertical learning, and the electives as being about lateral learning.

Building with the MEAN stack is fun, but there are a lot of other great technologies out there too. I’m really looking forward to using my lateral time during the teaching fellowship to expand the breadth of technologies I am familiar with.


These are just my thoughts on the Fullstack Academy teaching fellowship in the context of mentoring, creating, and learning.

We may all have different ways of looking at the fellowship. In fact, I hope we do. I can’t see what my fellow, uh, fellows do with their time.

Here’s to a great three months!