Boot Camp Instructor Spotlight: The Nielsen Brothers

Trilogy had the unique opportunity to interview three brothers who live in three different time zones and are each teaching at different Trilogy-powered boot camps across the country. Clark Nielsen is a full-time instructor for the Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension and is currently teaching his fourth cohort. Jared Nielsen is the lead instructor for the GW Coding Boot Camp and is also teaching his fourth cohort. And Jay Nielsen is a part-time instructor at the University of Denver Coding Boot Camp and is about to finish his first cohort.

How did it come to be that all three of you ended up teaching at Coding Boot Camps?

Clark: It started with me when Trilogy reached out to ask if I would be interested in teaching in the program. I’ve always wanted to teach programming, so it’s really cool that they found me. I knew that my brothers were interested in moving into a different field as well. They happened to each be in a different part of the country where there were boot camps that needed instructors.

Jared: You could trace back to our mother. She was my kindergarten teacher and she instilled in me a lifelong love of learning and teaching.

My brothers have more similar paths, having both studied digital media and web production in college. I took a different path, coming through the arts. As an artist, I learned how to build my own website, and from there, I found myself more interested in digital media. In grad school, one of the classes I taught was web development and it just went from there.

Jay: All of us have had some type of previous teaching experience and had taught English abroad in the past. Later, Jared and I started a project together making a video tutorial series to teach computer science topics to kids.

Do you have any other siblings who are not coders?

Jared: We do have a sister who is not teaching coding, but she does teach elementary school.

Jay: Our sister was never into computers. I only remember her using it to play Wheel of Fortune. She still has that teaching gene, though.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge today in continuing education?

Jared: From my perspective, the rate of change in technology and in the skill sets that a person needs to survive in today’s economy is the biggest challenge. What we teach today… some of it will be obsolete in a few years. So our challenge is how to teach our students to teach themselves and to become lifelong learners. It’s just the nature of the beast today.

Clark: One of the big challenges is working with those students that coding doesn’t come to naturally. There are some students who want to learn but it takes a while for them to learn. We do our best to help everyone and will put in the extra time we need to in order to help them.

Jay: Especially with programming and development, it’s overwhelming if you haven’t been there since the beginning. It might seem like it’s too much to learn or it’s too competitive. So making this material as approachable and as manageable as possible is one of the biggest challenges.

What is it that employers are seeking today that they are challenged in finding, and why is it so hard for them to get it?

Jared: The importance of a cultural fit and making sure everyone who joins the team will keep it a team that works together well. I continually emphasize with all of my students that they need to find the sweet spot between the life they had before this and the one they are striving for and then link that with their soft skills. Although coming fresh out of boot camp they don’t have years of experience on the tech side, they offer years of experience doing something else that they can tap into.

Clark: What’s really important to a company is finding someone who is a good culture fit and who is eager to learn. We interviewed a lot of developers at my former company and turned down a lot of them just because even though they were smart, they’d be hard to work with. The people in the boot camp are fast learners and are adaptable.

Jay: It’s difficult to find employees who are problem solvers. I think sometimes hiring managers don’t even realize that they are looking for a problem solver and not someone who knows a specific programing language. You may know a programming language inside and out, but you may not be able to solve a problem when you’re confronted with something that doesn’t work. So, I think training people to be better problem solvers is probably the most important thing in preparing them for looking for work instead of being focused on being the best REXX person.

Tell me about the classroom experience that you try to create.

Jared: I try to always keep my students from getting too bogged down into the weeds and focus more on how things are interconnected. When things are constantly changing—when whatever library or API we’re working with could change overnight—we have to change our workflow to adapt accordingly. I tell the students that instead of worrying too much about the particulars of a technology, they need to understand how things all fit together, and the importance of being able to teach yourself on the fly what you need in order to keep up with the constantly shifting landscape.

Clark: I aim to keep it lighthearted. I joke a lot and I encourage participation. If one student has a question, I’ll ask another student to try to answer it first or ask them to explain something to me so that it feels less like a lecture and more like a conversation. One thing I’m trying to do is emphasize partner work and help develop that sense of community.

Jay: When I start in November, I want my classroom experience to be fairly casual and open to discussion. I want students to feel comfortable bringing up questions and even trying to break things and experiment with code because that’s when it gets really fun and interesting. That’s when you start to get totally different perspectives on lesson plans or on the way that the code is being implemented.

What kinds of successes are you seeing with your students?

Jared: The general trend I see in the classroom is that each Monday we introduce a new concept and by the end of the day Monday, there’s heads spinning and I get lots of blank stares. But, by Friday, I see the pieces coming together and the light bulbs going off. And as those pieces are coming together, they are getting excited.

Each week is a little bit different but it’s always a journey. And, by each Friday, it’s exciting and they are going to do cool work over the weekend. Many students who were struggling all along… I’m now really seeing it click for them. Coming out of the classroom, I have a few students who already have interviews lined up and are feeling confident about them.

Clark: I’ve seen some amazing developers who had no previous experience at all, but I’ve seen them pick it up incredibly quickly, and I’ve watched them go from knowing nothing to being a qualified developer.

How has this instructor experience benefited you professionally or personally?

Jared: I love teaching and I’m surprised at just how much fun I’m having. It’s great to be paid to have so much fun every day. I’m also learning a lot about engagement and how to adapt in the moment to what I perceive is happening in the class.

Clark:  I’ve honestly become a better developer by teaching this material. Teaching something is the best way to learn, which is why I know the curriculum emphasizes explaining the code to each other so much.

Jay: I’ve come to realize being in senior developer roles, I’ve always enjoyed mentoring. So, I hope that I’ll enjoy work more when I’m helping others to realize their potential and see how they thrive.

Any additional thoughts you want to share about coding boot camp?

Clark: Whether you’re a student or an instructor, I’d recommend the coding boot camp. People need to know that it’s very demanding on both sides. As an instructor, I do get tired sometimes and some students do require a lot of help, but it’s very rewarding to see them succeed. And it’s fun to have a group of people you can talk about all the exciting things with. The demand is even greater for a student. It’s cool to be able to learn that much in a short period of time. But, you do need to be prepared.

Jared: I wish this boot camp program existed when I was learning this stuff. When I got to grad school, I was one of the first to teach web development. If someone were interested in this realm, this is the fast track to do it. Go all-in and get immersed, and come out of it with great portfolio pieces.

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