Meet Brooks Swinnerton, graduate (and now Teaching Assistant) of General Assembly’s 10-week Back-End Web Development course. We sat down with Brooks to find out what inspired him to learn to code, what he’s done with his new skills, and why he returned to GA to pay it forward. — Emily Lu, General Assembly
Name: Brooks Swinnerton (@bswinnerton)
Occupation: Systems Administrator, New York University; Teaching Assistant, General Assembly
1. What inspired you to learn back-end web development?
Whenever I ran into a problem or inefficiency, I found myself thinking, “There should be an easier way to do X.” When I couldn’t find a solution, my next thought would be, “I wish I could just create it”. That’s why I decided to learn Ruby on Rails — I wanted the knowledge and power to simplify my life.
Now with these skills, I no longer have to “wish” for a solution; I can create it. I have the freedom to drive the product to exactly where I want it to go, right down to the buttons.
2. What’s something exciting you’ve done with your new Ruby on Rails skills?
Back in March I participated in a five-day event called The Startup Bus. The goal was to build a startup on a bus and launch it 1,800 miles later at SXSW. I applied completely on a whim, and a week later found myself boarding a bus in Union Square with 30 strangers. I took this time to work on my startup idea, Readin.gs. We worked on the bus for 13 hours a day, slept very little and fueled up at Walmarts along the way. It was an insane experience, but made some incredible like-minded friends by the end of the trip.
3. What was learning a new programming language like?
I’d heard a lot about Ruby on Rails, and tried to learn it myself through online tutorials — but soon found myself with a lot of questions and no one to answer them, which is why I enrolled in a GA long-form course. It was helpful to be taught by instructors with actual software engineering backgrounds. They guided us by sharing their experiences and teaching us practical skills we’ll actually apply in our careers.
4. How have you kept your Ruby on Rails skills fresh since graduating from GA?
While I was taking Back-End Web Development, I found that I really love teaching others. This interest inspired me to become a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the current class. I love this role because students ask genuinely thought-provoking questions that allow me to learn as well. Since becoming a TA, my understanding of Ruby has improved greatly.
In addition to TA-ing, I also keep my skills fresh with help from my classmates. Even though our course is over, we still meet up on a weekly basis. If someone is stuck on a stretch of code, we try to figure it out together. Another reason why I came to GA was for the community.
5. How has learning to code helped you in your career?
My day job as a Systems Administrator at NYU isn’t fundamentally a programming job, but my new programming knowledge has helped me identify where code can be used to solve problems. Also, knowing that a programming solution exists sometimes saves me from hours of manual work!
6. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Pranking people on their computers. I once scared the crap out of my old boss. I made his computer tell him something like: “You have downloaded a virus. Deleting all files and shutting down” — and then I shut the computer down remotely. He freaked out, and we captured the whole thing on film.
Aside from working at NYU and GA, Brooks is also pursuing his own side projects, including Readin.gs, a product from his time on The Startup Bus. When he’s not “nerding out” at meetups and hackathons, he can be found at home with his cats, Otto and Luna.