A career in programming and a career in education are usually seen on opposite sides of the innovation spectrum.
But some teachers see a natural progression from ed to web. Several of those educators turned developers came together at Dev Bootcamp on Monday to share their thoughts on making the leap from the classroom to coding (and why they actually see that move as a way back into education).
Edgar Garza, a former math teacher at UNO and Noble charter school networks turned developer at design goods startup PaletteApp, said he used coding as a way to get kids interested in the practical side of math. He got so good at convincing kids they should care about math so they could create apps, he realized that was what he actually wanted to do. From there, the transition was natural.
“A lot of people say teaching is more like an art than a science, that is the same with code,” he said. “There are opportunities for you to be creative. It’s like arithmetic, rather than calculus.”
Peggy Fox, a former Chicago Public Schools data analysts, now developer at salon appointment startup PrettyQuick, said teaching tricks and mnemonic devices helped her adapt to new languages that come with different coding tasks and jobs. “I find that I am constantly teaching myself,” she said.
That mindset is one of the reasons Dev Bootcamp decided to bring these teachers together, said Emily Heist Moss, the coding bootcamp’s marketing and community outreach manager. She said they consistently saw some of their most successful alums were teachers because they love learning.
“Teachers do really well,” she said. “It’s an academic environment and a collaborative environment.”
Nearly all the panelists saw coding as a way to improve education, while recuperating from the daily grind of the classroom, especially at high-needs schools. Jonathan Young, who formerly taught in CPS and now works as a developer at Groupon, said he is frustrated at the difficulties teachers face getting tech in kids’ hands. “We haven’t adapted, why can’t we move forward?” he said of the education industry.
The hope, for most of the panelists, is to gain experience as developers elsewhere, then bring those skills back to education, perhaps in edtech or maybe through coding classes in schools. All the teachers-turned-developers said they missed working with kids– the breakthrough moments, the sense of mastery, even the intangible energy in schools. The majority of them said they are working toward getting back to education somehow, but likely as edtech developers.
In fact of the panelists, Casey Cumbow, who taught math in South Carolina through TFA, is now an instructor at Dev Bootcamp.
“I love helping students here find their passion and develop the skills to literally work in any industry and love what they do,” she said.
That being said, finding a developing job in edtech is generally easier said than done, several panelists pointed out. Since the industry is still small, and not as funded as other tech, edtech companies tend to hire people with more developing experience who can really build something from the ground up. Even if companies are willing to hire someone with less experience, it may be tough to get the mentorship and develop skills at a small company.
That being said, Fox said experience in education did help her get a foot in the door.”Having a diverse background is good,” she said about job prospects. “You’re going to wear many hats especially if you’re looking to go into a startup.”