From Product Developer to People Developer

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Roger Le

By Roger Le

Teaching has always been a natural fit for me. Since I was a child, I have enjoyed tutoring classmates and friends and sharing my excitement about things I have learned. 

Before I attended the University of Texas at Austin for my undergrad studies, I compared and contrasted teaching and engineering salaries. At the time, it just made more dollars and sense to at least try pre-pharmacy and computer science (in that order). Teaching took a back seat. 

After college, and a few years into my career, I was working at a start-up. I remember one night staying up until 3 a.m. to investigate a data-display issue and then heading back into the office just a few hours later. I was making the product a little better, I was making the company a little richer, and I was earning a decent income. 

But I was unfulfilled. I felt a void.

My work days fixing code turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into years. Rinse and repeat. My own version of Groundhog Day.

Even as a “successful” young person, I felt I was meant to do more than build someone else’s product and then take vacations to pass the time.

An Awakening

Doing more meant returning to my original passion: teaching. I helped a friend launch a coding boot camp in the Austin area. Coding boot camps were at the time in their infancy, and we started out small—with a 10-student part-time class. I served as the curriculum architect and also lead instructor.

Using the data from the part-time class, I tweaked the curriculum and led two 12-week programs with a 4-student full time class. The students coming out of our programs were getting real jobs with real incomes, more than they made in their previous roles. I cannot adequately describe how satisfied I felt when a student would thank me months after graduating for helping them and their loved ones improve their lives.

Despite our boot camp’s success—with a waiting list of students wanting to sign up—my business partners and I had differing views about the company’s trajectory. I wanted to keep going, and they wanted to exit. 

A Second Chance

I got the chance to keep going when Dan Sommer from Trilogy Education reached out to me about teaching a part-time class for UT Austin. Boot camps had become more common by this time, and I had received offers from others in the space. I said yes to Trilogy because it was helping students from a different socioeconomic background, and I wanted to give as many people access to this career field as possible. Little did I know that Trilogy’s then-small operations would become mainstream and international!

A Second Awakening

When I began at Trilogy I was also working 9-5 as a developer. I realized that many days I looked forward much more to teaching class than to doing my everyday developer work. In fact, teaching class didn’t feel at all like work. Seeing my students progress week to week is a reward that has no equal. There is nothing like taking a student from Day 1, where they barely know what an HTML <p> tag is, to the last day of the boot camp where I share with them how I would architect an application and they know exactly what to do to find the answer for themselves.

I made the decision to join Trilogy full-time in December 2018, and I haven’t looked back. Trilogy sends me across the country as a reserve instructor to provide in other markets on an as-needed basis what I do best and love the most.

Challenges and Opportunities

Becoming a boot camp instructor is absolutely rewarding, but it is also challenging. I encountered my fair share of challenges before I felt comfortable in my own skin. I had to become better at seeing things from different perspectives. I had to dig deeper to fully answer students’ questions. Teaching forced me to become a much more well-rounded developer so that I could confidently lead the classroom and find different methods to explain concepts to other individuals who learn differently than I do.

In regards to my professional career, I have no doubt that teaching has increased my value to prospective employers. Industry professionals are always looking for someone that has proven leadership abilities; being “in charge” of a classroom builds leadership potential.

Becoming a Trilogy instructor has been one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far in my life. While every classroom has different ups and downs, no two classrooms are alike. This variation keeps every day interesting, and I’m always tweaking things to make myself a better instructor. When I receive a thank-you message on LinkedIn for helping a student launch a new career, it makes it all worthwhile. I’m always impressed with my students’ quick progression into the field as they work for some of the top companies in the industry.

If you’re looking to make an impact on helping a new generation of developers, say yes to teaching and marvel as a new world opens up to you.

Roger Le is a full-time reserve instructor with Trilogy Education.

 

Want to join Roger and other people developers? Explore Trilogy’s instructional team opportunities.

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