Meet Danny Kirschner, Web Development Immersive Instructor at General Assembly Providence and Boston
How would you define web development in two sentences?
Full-stack web development encompasses writing software, managing systems, and solving problems at any layer of the web technology stack. We work with databases and web applications, both on the server side and the client side.
What do you love about web development?
Writing code is a craft as well as a creative outlet, and it’s not limited by industry. Being able to craft software is useful to anyone, anywhere in the world. The discipline of creating software is also useful to other disciplines, as it’s a way to think about problems as well as know how to solve those problems from a technical standpoint.
What’s an example that embodies the best of what web development can and should accomplish in real life?
The skills taught in GA’s WDI course can be used to write software for any purpose. Specifically, we teach developers how to create database-backed web applications. The possibilities are endless, but a couple of practical examples might be creating an online shopping destination or fixing bugs in an existing web application, like a CRM system.
Why should someone learn web development skills at GA?
GA is well equipped to teach modern web development. In university, the computer science student goes through years of education in a broad range of topics to get a well-rounded education, including the history and lower-level workings of computers and computer languages. While the broad education has its purpose, the field of web development is unique in that, if you know just one piece of the puzzle, you can be useful and contribute to a project. GA teaches all of the essential skills, background, and history to be an effective web developer in a short amount of time and cuts out all of the unnecessary classes the university would offer that do not directly relate to job readiness in the field.
Please describe strengths in GA’s curriculum, teaching style, and community.
Our curriculum is constantly refined and updated based on what the industry is currently hiring for. We work with industry-leading companies to develop our curriculum and make choices on what we teach. The teaching style of each instructor varies, but in general we focus on teaching developers how to learn, instead of simply feeding them information and asking for recall. That way, developers are ready to enter a constantly changing field like web development, and they are confident in learning new skills and applying new techniques. The General Assembly community is a great resource that developers can tap into to find work, take advantage of networking opportunities, and get a pulse on the current state of the web development industry.
What was your path to becoming a teacher and leader in web development?
I never thought I would be a teacher but always wanted to give back in some way. I increasingly became aware that I had valuable knowledge stored in my head, and that I could help others trying to break into the field by sharing what I know. I created a few lessons on fundamental topics in web development and never really shared them with anyone other than to give me feedback. When I learned about General Assembly, I went to an info session in Boston and met some of the team. A few years later, I was contacted to work with the team in Providence, Rhode Island and joined up to teach my first cohort.
Why did the opportunity to teach at GA to you?
When the opportunity to teach in Providence came around, I jumped at it. Rhode Island is a unique market in that the state has partnered with GA and other organizations such as Opportunity at Work and TechHire RI to skill up its workforce. I am thrilled to be a part of creating a stronger tech community in Rhode Island while helping people skill up to get great jobs.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
Teaching can be done by anyone and even anything. You always have some sort of direct experience or knowledge different from someone else. You can learn from your parents, a dog, or even a mountain. The teacher has to be able to exhibit particular knowledge, and the student needs to be ready and able to receive it. Getting that knowledge across to another person can be a challenge — both teacher and student have to play a part for education to be a success.
At its core, teaching and education are ways to transmit more than just information. The primary goal of working with a group of students is to transfer that knowledge so they can start on their path toward successfully applying it. Teaching should empower the student to build confidence in their desired topic, explore the theory behind the skills and topic, as well as the history, and discuss the future.
What has been your favorite memory as a GA instructor?
Celebrating all of the victories that happen throughout each cohort — from successful project presentations to course graduation. It’s awesome to help someone accomplish a major life goal and be a part of their story.
How do you help struggling students break through and push high-achieving students to go even further?
I encourage developers by building on what they know, reminding them how far they’ve come and that this is really hard stuff. Knowing you’re not alone in the struggle — that your hard work will eventually pay off and that each person is on a different path — helps each individual do their best work and stick with it.
For high-achieving students, I like to encourage exploration of various topics in the tech industry. I can tell when a developer is looking for ways to go beyond the course material, gain a deeper understanding, or work with technology that we don’t cover in the class. I’ll give them side-project prompts, invites to hackathons, and real-world use cases of interesting technology to make sure they aren’t feeling held back by any limitations of the course material.
What personal qualities set someone up for success, both in class and in the field?
Dedication, a healthy work-life balance, patience, and focus are all attributes that will help someone succeed in web development.
A developer who excels in the WDI course is someone who enjoys constantly learning, tenaciously sticks with a problem while knowing when to stop and ask for help, and has a strong interest in creating and using web technologies. Being a team player and communicating effectively are also skills that make a candidate stand out. Following directions exactly and being able to research and reference documentation is also extremely helpful. Being able to grasp abstract computer science concepts helps, too, but that comes with time.
What are some free resources and tools a student can use to stay up to speed in web development?
Reading question-and-answer sites such as Quora and Stack Overflow can yield useful information on industry direction as well as best practices on how to use web technologies. Technical blogs of companies are also great resources for seeing how those teams are leveraging web development.
Between taking the course and finding a job, what is the best way to get experience in the field?
Actually finding a project that you care about is a great way to get practical, real-world experience. Also, finding a mentor in the field can be useful for staying on track and gaining high-quality experience.