Saturday, December 21, 2019

Why Software Engineering?

Wow, it sure has been awhile since I've posted here! I thought about starting a new blog to document my software engineering journey, but then figured that the real start of my journey was my experience as a computer science teacher ... so really, it makes perfect sense to document that here!

This blog is definitely missing an account of the past several years of my professional life, so I'll start there. Until 2016, I was lucky enough to teach at one of the most amazing schools in the country -- a public charter school in Newark, NJ that has a true sense of mission and is doing fantastic things for its students and their families. Everyone at the school truly believes that education is freedom and that mantra imbues the work ethic that is evident from classroom to classroom -- from the teachers who put in countless hours reflecting on their lessons and putting those reflections into practice to ensure better outcomes for their students, to the students who bring incredible perseverance and focus, to the administrators who truly support classroom learning and create an environment that incents everyone to be their best.

Although I started out teaching math (and pure math will always hold a special place in my heart!) I quickly realized that teaching computer science was my jam. I learned to code by teaching AP Computer Science A and got such a thrill out of both my students' progress and my own -- I honestly remember struggling with the idea of a constructor in Java for months! As concepts started clicking for me, it was great to use my new insights (as well as an amazing AP CSA teacher community) to hone my lessons and design activities centered around conceptual understanding, especially since most of my students were totally new to coding. I found tons of personal fulfillment in my role, and was rewarded in a variety of ways - not the least of which was a Milken Educator Award in December of 2015 (if you're not familiar, the folks at Milken go above and beyond to showcase teachers and schools; check out their work here).

As my own family began to grow (I now have two little guys of my own), I decided to leave my full-time role and pursue various opportunities in education while spending more time with my sons. After awhile, though, I just felt like I wasn't quite finding my niche in education the way I had hoped. I also noticed that I was happiest at work when I was coding -- either coming up with new projects for my students, or learning something new myself. I just loved the intellectual challenge, and I would often get lost in code for hours at a time. At some point I had to just listen to that nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me that I owed it to myself to pursue coding as a career.

As a CS teacher I have a grasp of many programming fundamentals, but still lack an understanding of how those fundamentals get used in real applications (as opposed to, say, simple games that live in an IDE). After just two weeks of Flatiron School's coding bootcamp, I'm starting to get a taste for what those applications might look like. Last week, we wrote Ruby code to scrape a web page's HTML and use the scraped data to create and manipulate objects. Seeing code that I wrote interact with actual websites was kind of mind-blowing, and I know that this was merely the tip of the iceberg.

I'll admit that I'm nervous about leaving a field that I'm so comfortable in, to pursue a field that is a big unknown to me. I have lots of motivators -- primarily my own intellectual curiosity, but also my sons. My 4 year-old asks me constantly, "How did coding go today?" and I love that he gets to see mommy taking on this challenge. I will always be passionate about education and part of me hopes I will eventually find a way to marry education and coding -- whether that's back in the classroom, or by designing software to help tackle one of the many problems in public education. Perhaps I can work with an organization that's already doing great things, or maybe one day I can found my own. For now, I'm interested in learning as much as I can and broadening my perspective on how I can make even a tiny contribution to the technology industry.