Instructor Story: Life-long Coder Teaches WDI In Chicago


James Traver, WDI Instructor for General Assembly in ChicagoJames Traver is a WDI instructor in Chicago. Having learned programming on his own from a very young age, James enjoying helping his students avoid the pitfalls that he endured as a new developer.

How did you get into web development yourself?

My grandfather encouraged me to get into computers at a young age. I was really interested in creating video games at the time; my first experience with code at all was trying to modify the QBasic “Gorillas” app (where you throw bananas at your enemy). During the modem era I learned HTML and inline styling thanks to Netscape Composer and started building websites for friends. During my teenage years, I wanted to create dynamic websites – forums, blogs, shopping websites, and more. To create these, I learned a little bit of PHP and started modifying open source software (such as phpBB, phpNuke, and WordPress). Eventually, I wanted to store persistent data that users could submit from anywhere around the world without relying on pre-built software and I started building my own applications.

What is your favorite thing about knowing how to code?

While this may sound cliche, knowing how to code has changed my life. Having the ability to program has opened an entirely new world to me. Understanding how the software that I use daily works under the hood gives me a greater appreciation for all of the apps and devices that I use daily. The skills I’ve picked up throughout the years also help me look at large problems and then break them into sizeable pieces. Learning how to code certainly sharpened my ability to logically work through problems step by step.

Why do you think there is such a demand for web developers in the Chicago area?

Chicago is one of the largest cities in North America. There are countless companies that are growing or moving to Chicago and their business needs are evolving. Those needs now include mobile apps, websites, internal infrastructure, and tools. They also need to automate roles and tasks to remain competitive. This is where the need for web developers come in – they’re needed to build out the interfaces and APIs to meet these business needs.

Why did you decide to become a WDI instructor?

The thought of passing my knowledge on to new developers is exciting. When I started writing software I didn’t have someone to lean on for support or help answering my questions. It was a struggle to learn on my own, but I didn’t give up. I wanted to be able to give to others what I didn’t have available when I decided to get into programming. I felt that development isn’t always taught in a way that is easily understood. To solve this problem, a few friends and I started to teach a free set of intro to programming classes here in Chicago. Eventually, that led me to General Assembly.

What are the major topics covered in WDI and how relevant do you think those topics are to the industry today?

We cover many topics; some of my favorites are building APIs, applications for maintaining and updating data, and creating interactive web applications. These are all skills that are extremely desirable in the industry. Jeff Bezos infamously threatened to fire any developer who doesn’t make data and services accessible through APIs and the industry has followed suit (which is great). WDI Students are able to write their own APIs in the first six weeks of the class! They’re also becoming familiar with a variety of front-end frameworks (such as Backbone and Angular) and building applications with them. This exposure is extremely valuable as websites become more interactive over time.

What is your favorite thing about teaching WDI?

My favorite aspect of teaching WDI is helping new developers understand the craft and teaching them best practices. When I started writing software I fell into a lot of pitfalls; teaching WDI allows me to warn students of those pitfalls so they don’t have to experience them. My students make me proud – they work extremely hard and watching them evolve as the class progresses is extremely rewarding.

What is your proudest moment (or moments) so far as a WDI instructor?

One of my students had trouble feeling comfortable writing Javascript. Once we began learning Ruby in class that student would tell me that they didn’t think they’d ever fully feel comfortable in Javascript. After a few lessons on Backbone.js, this student came up to me and told me that they don’t hate Javascript anymore – Backbone had helped him feel comfortable. For his second project in class, he used Backbone.js to build an interactive restaurant point of sale application on top of a Ruby based API. This student went from having a hard time learning Javascript to enjoying working with it.

What do you think sets WDI apart from other “coding bootcamps”?

I’m not entirely familiar with other coding bootcamps beyond what I’ve read online or heard from others. With that said, I believe in the curriculum that we teach in WDI. All of the topics that we cover are valuable for new developers. We (the other instructors and I) really care about our students and classroom; we want the best for them. I feel like that creates a unique atmosphere that isn’t always easy to find in an educational setting.

What defines a “successful” WDI graduate, in your opinion?

A “successful” WDI graduate is a student who walks away from the course ready to learn something new. Maybe they’ll want to dig into the latest Javascript framework or a new NoSQL database. Perhaps they want to brainstorm a new app idea and start writing it? I’ve had many students already express interest in learning Python, C#, or other languages once the course is over.

Anything else you want to share about your experiences so far as a WDI instructor?

Being a WDI instructor is a humbling experience. The support I’ve received from other instructors around the world has been amazing. WDI has been an extremely positive experience so far. I can’t wait to see where it goes and be a part of it.

Learn More About WDI at General Assembly