Coming from a background in the performing arts, Tech Academy Instructor Mike Shapiro made a big career change when he moved into tech. Starting at The Tech Academy as a student, Mike is now one of the bootcamp’s instructors at their Seattle campus. In this interview he shares why he chose to attend The Tech Academy, what it’s like instructing at a coding bootcamp, and surprising similarities he’s found between working in the performing arts and working as a developer.
1. Tell us about your background before getting into programming.
I was mostly involved in the performing arts, a lot of acting - some writing, some directing, as well as some restaurant management. But I fell in love with technology, coding, and development in general while I was tinkering with HTML & CSS. I realized that all coding is, is the programmer putting on a performance for the user. I was really drawn in after I noticed that, and decided I wanted to devote the rest of my life to technology.
2. How did you get into programming? You mentioned you were tinkering with HTML & CSS at first - was that for work, or for a personal project?
I was actually in a 4-year college degree program for traditional computer science after I graduated from acting school, and I learned HTML & CSS there - but I never ended up graduating because of the number of things I was learning that weren’t practical - at all - which is why I ended up veering towards the bootcamp route.
3. What made you decide to attend The Tech Academy as a student?
I did a lot of research when looking into which bootcamp was the right fit for me. And because they have very different styles, I wanted to make sure that the environment and the learning style was something that would fit me personally.
When I was looking around, The Tech Academy was offering a hybrid program that allowed you to do a lot of the work online and remotely, while still giving you the option to go in and talk to a live instructor or call in for help. The self-paced aspects of it, and the ability to do it anywhere, really drew me to The Tech Academy in particular.
4. How did you come to work at The Tech Academy as an instructor?
During the job search, I got a call from Adam (the CTO of The Tech Academy) letting me know that they thought I would be a good fit for a position with the bootcamp, due to my passion, the work I was doing at The Tech Academy, and my ability to help students through the curriculum because I’ve already been through it.
I was very interested because it gave me another opportunity to really get to know the curriculum very well and practice the skills I had already learned. And the reality is there’s no better way to learn than to teach. I was immediately drawn to the opportunity.
5. The Tech Academy’s program is self-paced and mostly online, a very different structure than most schools with a typical class structure. Describe what a normal day instructing looks like.
A normal day instructing includes making sure the students are on track to finish on time, that they’re doing well, and that they feel they are getting the support they need. It largely involves looking at their work and grading it, making sure everything looks good, following up with any students that need help in the course room, and monitoring the inbox to answer any questions students might have. Really just offering the students the maximum amount of help that they need, whether it be technical or - in all reality - emotional, given the nature of learning the skill.
6. Does being a graduate of the bootcamp help when instructing? If so, how?
It absolutely helps when instructing because I know exactly what is being taught to each student. And I went through the same struggle that each student is going through in order to learn the material and the information needed to be able to have these marketable skills. So given that I’ve been through the same experience, it gives the students an extra layer of trust because they know that I’ve been there before.
7. Is there a common struggle you see students run into, and how do you and the other instructors help them through it?
A lot of students that attend bootcamps aren’t aware of what the true journey looks like and what it entails. So a lot of them end up feeling very discouraged, because they feel like they’re struggling so much with this. They’ll often feel like they’re struggling much more than others are, or they think that they need to know absolutely everything about a subject before they’re able to move on.
But learning to program doesn’t really work that way. One way I try to remedy this is by reminding them that every single student is going through this alongside them. This skill doesn’t come easily to anybody. It requires practice and hard work, and comes with emotional ups and downs - and they’re not alone in going through that.
I also offer them the comfort in saying that when you’re learning to program, you’re never going to be able to memorize every library of every language. That’s just not the way it works. Programming has a lot more to do with looking up how to complete something and carrying it out, no matter how advanced you get. I use this analogy: You can have a library full of books. Librarians don’t know every piece of information in every book, but hopefully they know where to look for it.
8. Do you have a student success story you’d like to share?
This might seem like a cheating answer, but every student that has a small success in their day is something that I feel is a celebration for me and a celebration for them.
Because what really keeps you going in this industry are those little wins that you’re getting here and there. So the more of those moments I can provide for students and that they can provide for themselves, the greater the momentum becomes toward their tech goals. So I see those as huge successes.
9. You used to teach a little in the performing arts. Do you find that the skills you learned teaching performing arts carry over to such a different field?
Yes, very much. Performing arts are very, very subjective. And so is programming. You wouldn’t think of programming as subjective, but there are thousands of ways to accomplish something through code, and the same goes for performing arts - you can do something an infinite number of ways. You just have to find the right way for you and the right way for your project. That really helps me when it comes to giving students a comprehensive view of how they want to tackle a programming challenge.
10. What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the tech industry?
Definitely do a lot of research. There are so many options out there, it’s very easy to get lost. The way you can minimize the number of paths, and narrow down the ones that might be right for you, is by doing a lot of research and figuring out what is right for you before making any of the big decisions.
So my advice is to do a lot of research, take your time, and occasionally take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember that you have got this.
This post was sponsored by The Tech Academy.
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The Tech Academy’s Software Developer bootcamp prepares students to become junior developers and assists with job-seeking. Participants can study entirely online, attend classes in person, or do a mix of both. The program is self-paced and offers open-enrollment, so students can start whenever and work full- or part-time.