A coding bootcamp is only as good as its instructors. We’re lucky to boast some of the best.
One such instructor includes Barry Mattern. A recent App Academy graduate himself, he took an offer to join our Online Instructional Team to help future generations of App Academy students change their lives — and careers — in a matter of months.
Members of our online, 24-Week bootcamp cohorts get to experience Barry’s unique teaching style as he moves them through complicated computer science principles. Learn more about his job, his background, and how his steadfast philosophy around communication and documentation.
Barry, introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your role as a Junior Instructoinal Assistant.
I’m an online Junior Instructional Assistant, so basically I’m here to help the students in whatever issues that they have. Whether that’s with technical [stuff], or understanding the problems, or just giving more explanation in general. Having gone through the course myself, I think having something like that is incredibly helpful. To be able to go back and do that and help students even more is pretty awesome.
So you were a student yourself. How did you wind up coming to work at App Academy?
I graduated on Friday and started the next Monday. I went right from a cohort into helping assist with the teaching. And I mean, I love it to be honest. I was actually a mentor in college to some people in our design programs. I’m a designer by trade before I came to App Academy.
So I got started there. As I worked my way up, I became more of a mentor/manager to a lot of the teams that I was working with. A lot of that was all technical based, as well. How do you work with the programs, how do you get them to be most efficient, and things like that.
I’ve always really enjoyed teaching and talking with people and showing them things regarding whatever it is we’re working with, whether it’s with the design programs or now with code. I find it incredibly rewarding. You learn so much more by having to teach it to someone else. You just get that next level of understanding. So it’s like… beneficial both ways.
I’m sure your students are super lucky. Speaking of, how do you interact with students on a day-to-day basis? What does your day look like?
There are a couple of mediums that we use for interaction.
One is through video on Zoom. We’ll have an online classroom, and we’ll all just be hanging out in the same room — that’s usually when there are lectures and questions that can be answered by the lead or something like that.
While they’re doing that, there might be Slack questions. Slack is another thing that we contact students with. So while I’m busy listening to the lecture, listening to the questions there, I’m also keeping an eye on Slack and seeing if I can help out, maybe provide a little insight. That could be just quickly providing a few words or sentences on something that the lead just mentioned, or it could be a specific question that a student will ask in Slack. That way, I can send them some helpful resources.
Towards the end of the day, students have a project they work on, so really it gets to be more of a one-on-one situation. While they’re pair programming, I’ll hop into their room with both students and just listen to any questions that they have, try to provide some extra support, or help understand the problem itself.
You mentioned a module structure, so there are different kinds of modules as you’re going through the program. At what point are you working with students during their journey through the program?
I’m actually in Module Two. That’s the Computer Science Module. It’s very fun stuff ’cause you really take a deep dive in algorithms, data structures, and object-oriented programming. It’s a brain teaser for sure, but it’s something that I really love doing.
I write everything down, because sometimes visually seeing what’s going on and understanding what your code is doing, is so much more helpful seeing it written out and figuring out what’s happening. That’s something that I really enjoy doing while teaching this stuff and giving those people the resource of, like, “Hey, if you actually talk through this and write it down, it’ll help you that much more”.
Is there a particular language, skill, or part of the course that you really enjoy teaching, or is there a certain aspect of that you really enjoy beyond just loving teaching students in general?
There’s something satisfying about being able to go into a room to explain stuff and seeing that like, “Ahhhh,” moment that when it clicks. When something clicks, it’s such a good feeling. Being able to interact with other people, talk them through things, to go back and forth, then see them have that moment, it’s pretty amazing. So I really enjoy that.
Now, you were an App Academy student during COVID. How are you adapting to all of the changes in the industry and what’s it like teaching folks remotely?
Actually, it was a pretty easy transition. I thrive working from home. To me, this is pretty amazing.
But going through the course, I love the fact that I can just be at home. I had to just roll out of bed, take my kids to daycare, then immediately come back, sit in from my computer, and go for it. Being able to do that as a TA now, too, it’s just amazing too. I’m here. I love it. I don’t need to travel anywhere. I know some people may attend and want to go into the office or into school but this is where I thrive. I think a lot of people have learned that they thrive at home, too.
You mentioned earlier that you love to write things down and be able to look at what you’re working on from a different perspective. Can you elaborate more, on what your teaching philosophy is?
If I had to sum everything up in one or two words, it would probably be communication and documentation. I find that even just in life in general. Communication is pretty much the key for anything. Knowing where someone else is at with things so they know where you’re at with things and being able to meet in the middle — going above and beyond to make sure that you’re both on the same page — that’s incredibly helpful. There’s no assumptions.
I found that it can be very helpful to have documentation to back that up. It’s like “Here’s what I’m thinking, here’s where I found it, and here’s why”. Now moving forward, you could apply this sort of thing to this. It gives [students] a way to be able to think through stuff as they’re going forwards versus just, like, “Here’s where you can find this and that’s it”. I give them the tools to succeed on their own.
Having been a student and now working with them closely, what is something that you can tell prospective students or folks who are looking to get into this industry, if they are considering a bootcamp to get there?
I think the thing to keep in mind is that it’s really called a bootcamp for a reason. It can be a lot, but that’s kind of the point. It’s condensing a lot of information into a short amount of time. A lot of people are making sacrifices to be at this bootcamp. I quit my job to be able to go to this bootcamp. I think a lot of people are in the same situation, so really condensing that information into a short amount of time ends up being more helpful than not.
Realize that “Hey, if I put in the effort, “it’s gonna be worth it in the end”. I personally wound up spending extra time on the evenings and even some time on the weekends studying, but that was okay. I knew that there was an end goal in sight. I knew that’s why I was here, and so far it’s been incredibly worth it. I actually loved every minute of it. Maybe it’s because I love learning, but even just coding in and of itself, I find very enjoyable To me, it was quite exciting to be able to do that all day, every day.
I have learned that being an engineer is really just being a perpetual student and teaching yourself things and finding new ways to make things work. So anybody that’s like you, or anybody that likes to learn new things, is probably gonna be a great candidate.
You know how to learn, so when you do get to that job, it’s not just, “I can develop and that’s it”. It’s more like, “Whatever you throw my way, I know how to look up the documentation, I know how to adapt to the situation, and I can learn quickly”. It gives you a really good habit to get into of staying up to date and making sure that you’re learning what you need to.
That’s what makes App Academy, as a program, different and unique from other boot camps, because we have our bread and butter: that’s creating software engineers. There are tons of other career paths you can take by knowing how to program and how to code, but having the tools to become a software engineer is really what we do here. It’s great to know for anybody that’s looking to come here that that’s the trajectory they’re on. They’re gonna do really well here.