Welcome Home, Colin Hart!

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Teaching and learning at General Assembly

From classical ballet dancer to software engineer and instructional leader, Colin Hart transformed his life and career when he graduated from General Assembly’s Back-End Web Development course (BEWD) and Web Development Immersive (WDI) in early 2014. He came back to GA to teach WDI and was recently snatched up by the new WDI Remote team to be a lead instructor for the pilot course, which launched on May 16. Colin sat with us to share his story about teaching and learning at General Assembly.

Tell me about your journey.

I spent my youth training to be a classical ballet dancer. Even though I wasn’t able to do it professionally, it was like my first career because I would spend five, six hours a day training and performing. Getting injured led me to attend college instead, and I ended up majoring in media and communications and focusing my studies on digital communications. I interned for the United Nations writing a preliminary literature review around rights and dangers for youth online in Malaysia.

I wasn’t a technical person by any means, but my studies were always in and around the digital space. My manager suggested I look into coding. At the time, I just needed a stable job. Maybe I’d end up hating it, but I needed something. I ended up coming to GA and took BEWD in the evenings while I was dog walking for money. I realized quickly that it was super hard but also something I enjoyed. I ended up taking WDI in the spring. Post-WDI, I was hired as a backend developer building APIs for iOS and Android apps for an agency in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Coming out of WDI, I felt an obligation to give back in some way, and to continue learning, so I taught several two-month cohorts of an Intro to Ruby course that ran in the evenings once per week. Even though I had a 60-something-hour work week as a developer at the agency, I quickly realized that teaching that one day—despite making my day super long—was also my favorite day of the week. I got to teach, and I loved it. I did that for a little over a year, and then Urie Suhr, a Talent Acquisition Specialist for GA, asked if I wanted to teach WDI. I said “Hell, yes!” And here I am now, teaching full-time.

What’s it like going from student to alumni to full-time employee of GA?

For one, it was interesting to see the curtain pulled back. As a student, there’s so much you don’t see, all of the work that goes on behind the scenes.There are discussions about things like: How should we teach objects this week— this way, or that way? So many people have different opinions about which one is going to be better and how the students will absorb the information. There was so much specific discussion about how to teach even very simple things. That was very eye-opening for me. That compounded why GA is successful and why WDI is successful as a program.

I also have been thrown into a crisis of interests. At one point, I considered programming as an interim thing before getting my Masters in a foreign policy area. Then I took WDI and thought maybe I’d get my Masters in Computer Science. As I’ve gotten further into teaching at GA, I’ve started thinking about getting my Masters in Education. I don’t have to decide right away.

Colin Hart General Assembly

Photo: Danielle Rutherford

That’s a great point – you don’t have to decide right away. When you think about your career path, how will teaching as a stage in your career influence what comes next?

Being an instructor right now, I get three really great things. One, even though I’m not actively working as a developer, I am solidifying so many of these core concepts. For example, every developer can write an each loop. But how many people have the opportunity to spend multiple days just sitting and thinking about how a single each loop, in a single language, breaks? And how does it break? And why does it work the way it does? From a technical perspective, I’m diving much deeper into very fundamental programming concepts. This is something that you can’t get while you’re working professionally, because there’s no room for it when you have real deadlines and product to ship.

The second aspect is the soft skills. I wasn’t a manager, and I don’t have managerial training, but I have to manage thirty people in a classroom every day! I have to make sure they’re happy and making progress. Being able to read body language is also part of being a teacher. I’m now able to look at thirty people and say those five are super tired, that person’s really stressed, those three people look super happy, and that person’s on the brink of tears. You learn to do that in the first minute of class then figure out ways to address it and work it into how you’re engaging people. You say okay, let’s break up into groups, and then pair people in a way that’s going to help them without them even necessarily realizing that it’s happening.

Third is public speaking. I have no fears now about being able to talk in front of people. I feel like if someone told me to come and give a talk for four hours I’d be like fine, got it, I can talk for hours.

Why GA? Even if you know you want to teach, there are many options out there. Why did you choose to come back to us?

It wasn’t something I had to think a lot about. This was my school and where I spent three months of my life in WDI. It’s where I spent countless evenings programming and studying. I had a lot of good experiences and an emotional connection. It was familiar to me.

Now that I’m being pulled more and more into the education field, I realize that as instructors, we aren’t just web developers pulled in to impart knowledge. We’re also trained as educators, and we’re observed every week. We get feedback and iterate on it over and over again. I didn’t know this when I was a student, that’s some of what’s behind the curtain.

To me, it’s being able to be trained as a developer and improve my skills as a developer in having to study and teach my students. It’s also spending time becoming a better teacher and learning real education practices. It’s thinking critically about issues that the education field really wrestles with, like how do you teach computer science? There are all kinds of programs all over the country trying to come up with the answer.

It’s amazing to be in this environment where I am practicing it, thinking really critically about it, and making changes. This to me, is the really amazing aspect of GA.

You’re teaching the pilot instance of WDI remote, our new immersive thirteen-week online web development program! How are you feeling about that?

I’m so excited. I’m a performer at heart. Teaching in the classroom is like theatre and teaching online will be like acting on TV. I was concerned about moving from the classroom to having a screen between me and the students, that it might feel impersonal and kind of weird. But I’ve realized that teaching online is almost overly personal because you see everyone’s face right there and it feels like you are teaching to thirty individual people instead of a group. It’s going to be tricky and will lead to a lot of unique challenges, but I’m excited about it.

Best of luck to Colin with the pilot instance of WDI remote. We can’t wait to see him on our laptop screens bringing an incredible experience to students all over the world. Thanks Colin!

Interested in teaching at General Assembly or in working full-time in any other roles?

Learn about careers at General Assembly

This is the first blog post in our “Welcome Home” series. It features alumni of our immersive and part-time courses who have recently joined General Assembly as full-time employees.