Life as a Teaching Assistant at the Software Guild

Disclaimer: I am writing this on my own accord, because I love working with such a talented group and hope we can grow with more people like us. 

Imagine a day where you wake up, excited for the day ahead.  You know that you’re going to impact people’s lives, showing people what’s cool about our field.  Whether it’s talking about fundamentals or showing off how to put the building blocks together and build a fort, it’s a day of educating and learning ahead.  You are working with people who want to learn – they have a thirst for knowledge that needs to be quenched.  They are inquisitive, curious, and extremely ambitious.  They come from all walks of life with all sorts of stories.  They want to join us in the software development world.  They want to come play with us!

On that same day, you are working with fellow instructors and staff who want to see these people succeed and will do everything they can to help them become successful.  Your teammates share that same passion and energy that you have.  They are creative, innovative, thinking outside of the box.  They are constantly striving to be the best.

This is why I am so happy.  This has been my life, coming in unofficially in June 2013 to see my friend Eric Wise’s dream come to life and meet his first group of apprentices.  After taking a break for other projects and maternity leave, I’ve been here officially since August 2014 – helping apprentices learn Java or C#, web technologies, and database development.  Since June 2013, I’ve watched it grow from the Software Craftsmanship Guild to being bought by The Learning House and now rebranded as The Software Guild.  It’s grown from one .NET cohort to a .NET cohort and Java cohort to overlapping .NET and Java cohorts.  It went from one location to 3 locations – and we’re continuing to grow!  With this growth, we have a need for more teaching assistants.

A Day in the Life…

So what’s a typical day like?  No two days are alike!

As a teaching assistant spread across multiple cohorts, I currently go between our .NET and Java cohorts, assisting the apprentices with questions about concepts and assisting the instructors with supplemental materials and an extra set of eyes to watch the apprentices.

Early in the cohort, I’m learning new personalities, new learning behaviors.  They’re adjusting to the instructors, staff, and to my fellow TA and myself.  We’re earning their trust in a short period of time, so that they see us as people who will be instrumental in getting them off the ground running.  We’re working together to make sure that the start is a solid start.

In the dark ages, we’re going through new technologies while revisiting the pre-work.

Towards the end, we’re going through mock interviews, whiteboarding exercises, and learning how to manage team projects while dealing with personal issues.  We’re dealing with interviewing and sometimes missing courses/team meetings to get stuff done.  We’re dealing with communication skills – both in terms of interviewing and how to work with teammates when they aren’t necessarily physically present.

Supporting the Instructors and Other Staff

Part of the role of a teaching assistant is to assist the instructors.  Everyone here comes from all walks of life, with most of us having 15+ years of practical experience in the tech realm.  As we come from different backgrounds, we have different teaching styles, different analogies, and different ways of relating to the material. In the classroom, as an instructor may have a hard time getting a point across, the teaching assistant can chime in and offer some other examples or stories of applying these concepts.

The teaching assistant is also a separate set of eyes for the instructor to rely on.  We are constantly scanning the rooms, reading faces and body language, and picking up when apprentices may get a concept well or when they are struggling.  If we see a group of apprentices looking like they’re falling behind, we can speak up and have the instructor slow down or rehash a topic.  If we find that the apprentices aren’t responding to particular teaching styles, we can talk with the instructor and let them know our observations on what works and how to improve.  If we find that there are a group of apprentices all struggling with concepts, we can lead review sessions to cover these topics and have more candid discussions than those that we have in class.

Supporting the Apprentices

In addition to review sessions with groups, teaching assistants can be used in other roles.  We can do mock interviews – technical, non-technical, or a mix of the two. When it comes to managing expectations, we offer real world perspective of what’s going on and how to balance transitions.  From code reviews to user experience reviews, we can explain what doesn’t work, why it doesn’t work, and how to attack things in another manner.

Sometimes, we’ll find our apprentices have issues that need to be dealt with – homesickness, anxiety about the future, or maybe some history that’s preventing them from moving forward.  While the instructors can help with that, the teaching assistants can be another one-on-one touch point for apprentices if the apprentices feel more comfortable dealing with the teaching assistants instead of the instructors.

We’re Hiring!

As we are growing, we have a need to bring in more teaching assistants. We’re looking for candidates with mid-level developer experience who would love to make an impact on our future developers.  We have openings in two of our locations at the moment:

Does this sound like a fun adventure?  If this is something you’re interested in, then apply today!  I’d love to see more passionate techies come and impact our future developers.  Let’s show them what tech is truly about.

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