Instructor Corner: Terra Taylor Gets Opportunity to Teach at Alma Mater

Terra Taylor is an instructor at The Coding Boot Camp at UNC Charlotte and, in September, will begin teaching at the boot camp at her alma mater, the University of Denver. Terra currently works at Wells Fargo where she builds web applications to help the bank keep up with network activity and network security. Terra shared her experience in the industry and the advice she has for anyone looking to get involved in the boot camps.

What is your tech story?

I’ve been professionally coding or doing web development for about ten years now. I started doing HTML code when I was about 12 at summer camp. I loved it so much that I wanted to take the next class, but there weren’t enough people interested so they let me be a TA at the camp the next year. That was my official first teaching experience.

When I got to college, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do, so my mom suggested I go back to coding since I’ve always had a passion for it. I decided to give it shot and switched my major to Computer Science. The second course I took was in Java, and I failed. They failed over half of the class to weed out those who wouldn’t make it in the field. So I went to my teacher and all of the office hours and said I’m struggling with this new thing called “complexity,” which is a theoretical part of computer science, and my teacher said, “You’re never going to make it as a programmer, so you may as well switch majors.” I didn’t do that, I took the course again. I passed, and I made it through the rest of the program.

I got my first job as a software engineer for Northrop Grumman, which is where I learned a lot. I stayed there for two years and really learned web development. At that point, I thought it might be good to get my Master’s so I went to the University of Denver, which coincidentally I’ll be teaching at in August.

How did you get involved with the coding boot camp?

I’ve done some teaching before with an engineering club that did workshops for middle school kids to try to get them involved in science. I’ve also done a few workshops for my friend’s recruiting firm and really enjoyed it. I heard about the boot camp and thought that would be awesome!

Do you feel teaching has helped you in your own career?

I’ve always been told that the best way to master something is to teach it. This program is so adamant about keeping up to date with a modern skill set, so I can share what I teach with my company and suggest a new database or framework to use.

What are the qualities of a successful instructor?

Open-mindedness. One thing that I’ve learned about teaching is that students come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. It’s really important to get to know them and tailor your teaching to ways they can understand.

It can be challenging coming from a background in programming and trying to go back to square one to get someone that’s never even looked at a piece of code to understand it. It’s important to always be willing to learn yourself. I’ve learned so much about life from my students.

What kind of classroom experience do you try to create?

I do a lot of group work especially in the beginning, so I when I assigned activities in the class I’ll say, “Talk to your partner. Explain this to your partner if you get it and you’re finished. Please get up and go and help someone else.”

To keep students engaged, I use a technique that I picked up from one of the teacher meetings called “Fist to Five.” I’ll ask them how they feel about a concept I just taught, and they can throw up their fists and if it’s a straight fist then that means they don’t get it at all.

I’ll also have students re-explain a concept that I’ve just explained to put it in their own words. I think that makes more sense to someone just starting out to hear it from someone who is also starting to understand it.

Can you share a favorite student success story?

Oh, there are so many!  One of my students had been dealt a hard hand in life. He joined the program as a means to change his life. I watched him struggle and become so frustrated to the point where he was just ready to give up. I watched him go from struggling with the most basic concepts to building out a completely advanced application with his team. It was really inspiring.

What advice would you offer someone who’s thinking of becoming an instructor?

Know the curriculum and anticipate the questions that you will receive. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is just starting out, and look at the curriculum through those eyes versus the eyes of someone who has been doing this for however many years.

What advice would you give to a new student?

Frustration is part of the learning process. If you feel like you don’t get something, keep reading it over and over again. Each time you re-read things and work through applications, things will make a little more sense.

Do you have any advice for women thinking about joining the tech industry?

Just do it. As a woman in tech, it has been a struggle because there are not many women in the industry. It can be challenging not being one of the boys, but I really love what I do. Coding is like solving puzzles every day. So if you’re a person who enjoys solving puzzles or figuring out problems, then this would definitely be the field for you.

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