Our team

Neil Bizzell

Director of Education

How did you first get involved in becoming a coding instructor for The Developer Academy?

I am the Leader of the local CAS community and one of my co-leaders (who has now left) worked as the lead instructor for Ben, he introduced me and I started working on the curriculum design as a contractor. 

As things developed I took on more work and became more involved. I now work as Director of Education.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a computer programming instructor for you?

It is seeing the students progress and develop understanding. Learning to code can be a frustrating process , it is really satisfying to see the look on a students face when the code finally works

What’s the most common challenges programming students face and how do you help them tackle them?

Finding time to learn new skills around a job is probably the hardest part.  It can be really hard for students to keep going on a course especially if they feel they are working on their own. With the group session support the students have set times every week where they can come, talk with others going through the same process and get expert help. 

Some students have also struggled with understanding the coding challenges so part of my initial role has been to review all of our curriculum materials and update them. We have gathered feedback from the students and instructors and used this to improve the courses so that the focus is on solving the programming problems. We have also gathered information from local employers on what the key skills for them are when looking for new employees in the development field. We will be constantly reviewing our materials and projects to ensure they work for our students and are relevant to the needs of local employers.

How important do you think the flexibility of the training is for students? (being able to learn at their own pace, focusing on the topics/areas they’re most interested in)

Programming and digital in general is a very wide field. there is a massive range of different skills required in the industry and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Providing the same training to everyone and producing an identical skill set in everyone doesn’t take into account the range of opportunities of personal skills of our students. With a flexible approach the students can tailor their learning around their interests and career aspirations. This is a key feature to our training that is not possible on a fixed bootcamp style program.

What would you say to anyone who’s interested in learning to code but doesn’t consider themselves to be ‘techy’?

Programming is an inherently creative process, developers come from a wide range of backgrounds. The traditional image if a programmer may apply to some but it is not an essential prerequisite. We have and are training people from a wide range of different backgrounds, there is not a fixed ‘techy’ type that we or employers are looking for, just a desire to learn.

While you’re helping to support coding students, do you also find you’re learning or developing your own learning? 

As an educational professional I am always learning myself. Teaching is a really great way of consolidating my own knowledge and where students are working on their own projects it is a really good opportunity to apply that learning in different contexts.

What’s your background in IT/tech and what career path did you take?

After leaving school I trained as a science teacher. I spent two years teaching physics and general science in secondary schools (London and Sheffield). During this time I retrained as an infrastructure engineer (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) and left teaching to work as an IT consultant.

As an IT consultant I worked for a range of big companies and organisations including HSBC, Sun Microsystems, BT and the NHS. During this time I progressed from infrastructure roles to process and project management, I also did a little programming in some of my roles.

I returned to teaching,  now teaching Computer Science, in 2010.  Alongside my role as Director of Education for the Developer Academy I continue to teach part time at King Edward VII School.  In addition to my day job(s) I am the leader of the CAS Local community, a member of the Local BCS Branch Committee and an Officer with the ACF.

Hannah Sewell

Instructor

How did you first get involved in becoming an instructor for The Developer Academy?
Ben put a tweet out asking if anyone wanted to do some teaching. I’d done some teaching, so I thought ‘Yeah, I’d like to do something.’ I taught at a Code First Girls first before and taught undergrads and Masters students as part of my PhD.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being an instructor for you?
Seeing people get something, especially when they first come in and say, ‘this is really hard, I don’t understand.’ It’s nice when after you’ve explained something to them, they say ‘yes I understand it
now.’
What’s the most common challenges students face and how do you help them tackle them?
The most common challenge is when students are trying to work out how to debug their code. They can often see that something has gone wrong, but they don’t know how or why, or how to solve it.
Quite a lot of the teaching is to teach people how to work out what’s gone wrong for themselves, so that they can go and look it up for themselves.
How important do you think the flexibility of the training is for students?
Obviously if you’re working, it’s very important to be able to learn around your work because otherwise you won’t have the time to do it. I know a couple of people who have gone on bootcamps or similar, but that does require you to quit your job, pay lots and lots of money, and take a huge risk. Whereas the way our courses are, it’s much more about retraining around what you’re already doing, which makes it a lot easier.
The group sessions also are helpful because you have someone there to go to speak to and the internet can only take you so far a lot of the time. It also really helps to see other people having the same problems. I’ve also seen students saying to each other, ‘Oh yeah, I did that,’ and then going to help that person, because they’ve done it before. That gives students a bit of confidence sometimes, the fact that they’ve helped someone else.
What would you say to anyone who’s interested in learning to code but doesn’t consider themselves to be ‘techy’?
You don’t have to have a techy background to learn how to code. I think anyone can learn how to code. I’ve seen people take up coding in their 50s and put together websites. You can do it at any age, and you don’t need to come from any background. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a bit of elitist prat!
While you’re helping to support students, do you also find you’re learning or developing your own
learning?
Yes, it really helps to reinforce ideas I’ve learnt when I’m explaining them to other people. To explain something to someone else you have to know the details of what you’re teaching. Sometimes if you’ve just learnt the abstract concept without going into detail it’s much harder to teach it. As you teach it, you quite often learn those details in order to teach it. You also learn how to communicate a complex idea in a more accessible way because what I hear at work is just jargon. Our students don’t know the jargon so if you use it when talking to them, they have no idea what you’re talking about. It means as a teacher you have to really think about what the thing you’re teaching actually is.
What’s your background in IT/tech and what career path did you take?
I did a PhD in plant genetics and I learnt to code then. Then I decided I didn’t want to be a plant geneticist or a scientist anymore and went into software engineering. I got a job as a Software Engineer at Sky Betting & Gaming and have been there since September 2018.

Stephen Tomkins

Instructor

How did you first get involved in becoming a programming instructor for The Developer Academy?

My former head of department was a coding instructor at The Developer Academy. He told me about it, saying that it’s a really good idea to get involved to progress with my development of teaching. I thought I’d go ahead with teaching there and I really liked it.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being an instructor for you?

Seeing the progression people have made is the most rewarding part of being a coding instructor. It’s great to watch how they understand how one part of what they’re learning clicks for them, then how everything slots into place, say in the period of as little as a couple of weeks.

It’s just nice to see where they come from and where they’ve got to. I didn’t really have much of an idea of what to expect in terms of age and range of the students before I started but I’ve seen most of our students now and there’s a very wide mix of people.

What’s the most common challenges coding students face and how do you help them tackle them?

I find that some of the students learn some of the key bits then they try to just go all in, not realising how much there is to go through. When that happens, it’s a case of explaining to them that ‘yes you are capable of this but once you’ve done x, y & z first.’ The focus is on making sure they understand that they are good enough, but that they will learn everything in stages.

How important do you think the flexibility of the training is for students?

That is one of the main selling points for our students. Some if not all of them have full-time jobs so they often don’t have the most convenient timetables. Being able to just pop into a session, whether that’s on a Tuesday evening or a Saturday – whatever suits them – is what brings a lot of people into our training.

What would you say to anyone who’s interested in learning to code but doesn’t consider themselves to be ‘techy’?

I’d just say: ‘Go for it!’ You don’t need to be able to code or be a techy person – it’s more about having a logical way of thinking. If you’ve got that, you can just go for it.

While you’re helping to support students, do you also find you’re learning or developing your own learning?

Yes, there’s been few times when a student’s been working out an answer which has made me realise that there’s another way to try something or get a solution to a problem.

What’s your background in IT/tech and what career path did you take?

I did a degree in software engineering a couple of years ago. After that I soon realised that having a full-time job just in that role wasn’t really what I wanted to do. But I was really interested in the teaching side of it. I went on to do a teaching degree last year and my teaching as a coding instructor The Developer Academy carries on from that. I do see myself staying on and hopefully developing my role at The Developer Academy as the business grows.

Sokratis Kariotis

Instructor

How did you first get involved in becoming an instructor for The Developer Academy?

I started being an instructor for Code First Girls. Through that I met people who were already working for The Developer Academy. So, I made the jump into teaching for The Developer Academy.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being an instructor for you?

It’s something that I hear every now and then but I think it’s the best thing that you can hear which is, when a student says: ‘I’ve been doing courses at the uni, or by myself or online courses for a year and I haven’t been able to understand. But within you about 20 minutes of you explaining it to me personally, I now understand.’ They say: ‘Ah that was easy!’  I think that’s the best thing that you can hear. It was for me when I was learning and it’s also the case when hearing that from students.

What’s the most common challenges students face and how do you help them tackle them?

By far the most common problem is that every student has a different way of learning. The default way that we are taught at schools is not effective for most people. It wasn’t for me; I wasn’t a good student. But when someone shows you a way of learning that fits you, it makes everything easier. Some people like hearing, some people like reading, and some people like doing something and testing things for themselves. Everyone is different. You must find the right way for you and that only happens with personal tutoring.

How important do you think the flexibility of the training is for students?

It makes no sense to provide tutoring if it’s not in a way that’s most effective for the person receiving it. There are many ways of learning coding. One of them is to do it yourself, to spend hours and hours on it. But if someone gives you the things that you haven’t been able to understand yourself – and this could be different for different people – you can learn quicker.  The flexibility of someone else recognising your weak spots – your way of thinking and understanding – is very important. Sometimes if you’re too slow, working on your own, you just give up. This is the most frequent reason for people giving up coding or any learning.

The flexibility is an important part of our training, but people don’t know this until they start. If someone tries to go into tech, they don’t really know what’s happening. So even the ability to give them an overview or just say ‘Come here, and we’ll see where you go’ is better than saying ‘Come and just have some Java courses.’ We ask people what they want to do and then we can advise them on what’s best for that person’s preferred way of learning. One language might be a popular one to do it, but it might not be right for that person.

I wish I’d had this advice when I was learning code, as I spent a good many years learning 8 or 9 programming languages, six of which I’m not using! So I wish I’d been more informed when I started my learning. The most important information you can get from us is the guiding, not the actual coding, as that will come anyway. The knowledge we have about where to direct our students is more important than any specific language we teach.

What would you say to anyone who’s interested in learning to code but doesn’t consider themselves to be ‘techy’?

I’ve heard this a lot of times. Being ‘techy’ is just having experience – it’s just nothing more.  You can learn coding if you just give it time. When you’re learning if someone gives you a push to help you to understand, you can do it. I’ve not had a student so far that cannot code. ‘Techy’ just means someone who’ve been working in technology for years. No one is born ‘techy’!

While you’re helping to support students, do you also find you’re learning or developing your own learning?

Yes, definitely. In a practical way, if there’s a question to an answer that I don’t know I have to find it, which is learning new things. It’s also best for me because if you try to explain something when you’re teaching, you have to understand it completely. If you don’t, the first time you try to explain it will be hard and you won’t be very clear. But as you explain it again and again, you understand it more yourself. You definitely learn, both specific things and how to teach as well.

What’s your background in IT/tech and what career path did you take?

I’ve had a strange career path. I started by doing my BSc then I decided to do my Masters and I specialised in Bioinformatics (Medical Data and Computer Science). I worked for a year in the Netherlands as a developer, then two more years as a scientific programmer here  at The University of Sheffield in the neuroscience department and now I’m doing my PhD.

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