<< Part Two

Volunteering @ The Knowledge House

Fast forward three months, I finally heard back from TKH regarding their volunteer opportunities. After a two-hour phone call with Stephany Garcia a team member from TKH, it was mutually agreed that I would be an asset to their mission. TKH’s mission is to build up the Bronx, which is the poorest congressional district in the United States by providing technical training and professional development expertise to develop talent in youth and young adults. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to test my hard and soft skills while mentoring some folks from the same neighborhood I grew up in πŸ’ͺ.

Eventually, I was invited to the TKH office at Hunts Point, which was a few minutes away from my house. I was introduced to the staff members, and immediately I knew this experience was going to be different, why?

Because in most tech settings interacting with other black and brown tech enthusiasts was not a common occurrence. Sadly.

So it warmed my heart to run into an organization that tackled the lack of diversity in tech. I knew my volunteer experience was going to exceed my expectations, and I was f&%#ing excited!

My volunteer timeline was scoped to 3 months of work that involved tech & career mock interviews, guest speaker appearances, curriculum review, and technical review. I worked with over 20 students in the process and built some lasting relationships with students I still communicate with today. It was some of the most gratifying work I have accomplished in a long time. The best part was the ability to flex some of my new dev skills or lack thereof 😬. Either way, tech opportunities and mentorship in the Bronx were hard to come by, and I knew the students appreciated the TLC so it was worth it.

Fast forward some months, my volunteer time was almost up, and I was ecstatic about my accomplishment. TKH must have felt the same because they surprised me by hiring me!

Holy Crap! I landed a new job at The Knowledge House as a Full-Time Instructor no offense to some of my security peeps but peace ✌️. It was about that time to fully get back into my career path and work my way into the tech scene again.

I was ecstatic about the new role, I attributed it to the long coding nights, my volunteer time, and the passion I showed for TKH’s mission statement. I believe that TKH saw the value in me, and in response, I was rewarded with a paid opportunity. How about that! πŸ˜„

Teaching is Learning Twice πŸ“š Newly Hired Instructor 😁.

My first assignment as an Instructor for TKH was at the Fordham Step Summer High School Program, located in Fordham University Lincoln Center. I was responsible for instructing the Exploring Tech Program, which supported students with learning modules in hardware, software, project managing, and MVP building with the lean canvas model.

It was definitely a challenge to mold young minds to think computationally. In the end, my students ended up building small MVP that solved a specific problem in their communities. The MVP requirements included identifying a problem, a solution, and building a unique value proposition. Their demo was in the form of a live interactive website that was created using modern web development tools like HTML, CSS, and Javascript. All of this happened in 8 weeks πŸ˜…. It was intense but a lot of fun.

NYC TTP / Bridge To Tech Program - TA

After a year at the Fordham Step Program, an opportunity was presented to work with young adults in a relatively new program called the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline (TTP). Managed by the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS), TTP is designed to support the inclusive growth of the NYC tech sector. It was a step up in difficulty in regards to teaching code newbies but I was intrigued, so I dove in and accepted the new role.

Our 12-week program was called Bridge To Tech and it was designed to support low-income underrepresented tech enthusiasts with an opportunity to learn modern web development. The program outcome was a shot at attending NYC premier coding Bootcamp Fullstack Academy for FREE!

Heriberto Roman & Tremaine Davis

I took on the role under the wing of my Lead Instructor and Coding Mentor Tremaine Davis. I assisted Tremaine in the capacity of a Teaching Assistant for the first couple of cohorts of the Bridge To Tech Program. Our goal was to scale up non-technical, un-employed young adults to well-rounded code newbies. We covered HTML, CSS, and the fundamentals of Javascript in addition to version control with Git and Github. We codded our buts off, ate cherry pie, and had a lot of tough learning moments.

This is going to sound cheesy but I remember the best part of the day was the long walks back to our car over the Washington Bridge off 181st street in Washington Heights with Tremaine, Andre Mack, and myself. We had lengthy conversations about the student's progress, how to better improve the class, and all the funny moments in between. Rain, sleet, and snow we took that walk every day. Good times.

At the end of the day, we graduated multiple cohorts with a fun Demo Day attached to the end of the program that included demo time for their MVP web applications and a certificate of completion. Special shout out to Andre Mack program manager who coordinated all the Final Demo Days and Cris Mercado Head of Career Success for keeping our students in line with career strategies and implementation.

Bridge To Tech Final Demo Day @ The Microsoft Store 5th Avenue

Shortly after the cohort ended Tremaine moved on to a Front End Role at a health tech company called Quio πŸ₯³πŸ₯‚. The learning experience under this man was invaluable, seeing him work the room with his technical experience and dry-ass jokes πŸ˜‚ made everyone’s coding experience that much better. Thanks, Tre for always believing in me and allowing me to be your TA and rock the classroom.

The departure of Tremaine left a huge hole to fill in the classroom and naturally, an opportunity opened up to lead the Bridge To Tech Program. I was asked to fill those shoes, it was time to step up the plate ⚾.

NYC TTP / Bridge To Tech Program - Lead Instructor

So it was my time to take what we built in the past year and level up. Throughout my time as a TA, I was able to keep a pulse of what needed to change about the program in order to best meet the outcomes we set forth, which was to push as many underserved students into the Fullstack Academy Immersive Bootcamp.

To set the tone, there was a lot of pressure coming from the Tech Talent Pipeline and The Knowledge House to make sure 15 students passed the Fullstack Academy technical assessment. The Knowledge House at the time was at a crossroads with how they did business to sustain funding as a non-profit organization and TTP wanted the number of acceptance to increase into Fullstack Academy πŸ₯΅.

Literally, the existence of TKH as we knew it at the time rested on my first cohort as lead instructor of the Bridge To Tech program. I needed to hit a home run with this cohort and meet the magic number of 15 accepted code newbies into the Fullstack Academy Bootcamp 😲. With the support of Andre Mack and other key players, we had the DNA to succeed.

My first order of business was to revamp the curriculum which was 90% web dev focused. I needed to make practical changes to meet our expected goals for the new cohort. So with that, I took a more holistic approach and changed the curriculum to be more focused on the following key areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Problem-solving
  3. The learning pyramid

Notice how I didn't mention anything about code πŸ€”

In the initial stages of the cohort coding was the least important part of the curriculum. In my opinion, coding is like a paintbrush, a tool you use to scoop up paint and slap on a canvas. It doesn't really matter if you have a state-of-the-art paintbrush or a hand-me-down brush because they both accomplish the same thing. The real work comes in the creation of concepts in your mind that decides what and how you are going to utilize the paintbrush to tell a story.

Code is really no different. Syntax comes in all types of flavors and the IDE selections are endless but one this is for certain you can use both to write either sophisticated programs or shitty spaghetti code. At the end of the day, there is one constant in both examples, we all have our own process of how we internalize new concepts in our heads and implement them in our daily workflow.

This was one of the key problems I identified during my TA days. The hardest thing to do especially in tech is teaching a mind that is not familiar with code or an abstract concept like binary 1n’s and 0’s and contextualize it in a way that makes sense to them.

My solution to this issue was a new pedagogy I created called ✏️ Draw, 🎭 Act, πŸ”§ Build (D.A.B) for short, a simple 3 step process to account for the 3 different learning types Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic while consuming a new concept. All you had to do is apply the 3 steps either in sequential order or pick one out of the 3 à la carte and apply it.

For example, the ✏️ Draw step is used to map out a visual drawing of the concept you intend to learn, the 🎭 Acting step could be used to role-play, speak out loud or watch a video of the concept you are trying to internalize, finally, the πŸ”§ Build step could be used to physically apply the concept you are trying to learn either through code or some abstraction of code.

When you combine all 3 steps essentially you have something very close to your own analogy, your own definition of the coding concept you intended to learn. As a result, moving that idea from short-term to long-term memory is more realistic because you created an experience for yourself that is everlasting in your mind.

With that idea in mind, I supplemented a lot of the curriculum with the D.A.B pedagogy in mind and implemented workshops that allowed time to build analogies for coding concepts. Some examples are coding games, musical chairs to learn loops, youtube videos, technical demos, coding workstations, puzzles for the increase of problem-solving skills, coding challenges, communication games, legos to learn about version control, code.org Blockly API as an abstraction of actual syntax alongside other activities. All of these activities covered at least one part of the learning type and cover the ground of the learning pyramid.

The ultimate goal was to change the traditional way of teaching which was a one-to-many relationship and swap it for many to many relationship model. The construct of the class was set up in a way where the students are able to identify their learning style early on and ultimately feel comfortable enough to stand up in front of the class and become their own version of an instructor and teach others. That's where the real learning happened.

“Tell me, and I will forget. Teach me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I will learn.”

My teaching model paved the way for two successful cohorts that resulted in meeting our golden number of 15 students to pass the Technical Fullstack Academy assessment. I was so moved and inspired by my students after this experience that I started a product development sprint with the intent to build a web application dubbed cThink which focuses on utilizing the D.A.B pedagogy and building analogies to help internalize coding concepts. It is still a working progress but you can hit up the repository to follow the code.


Graduation of my 2nd Bridge To Tech Cohort.

After a successful run πŸƒ‍β™‚ I part ways with TKH ✌️

After the success of the Bridge to Tech program unfortunately it was time to move on. In the past 3 years I spent at TKH I was able to successfully create & manage a technical curriculum that has served 400+ participants aged 17–70, contributing to TKH’s increase in the operational budget from $700k to $2MM, manage up to 10 TA/Instructors each cycle to facilitate classes, coding projects and execute on exceeding TKH’s 80% technical competency KPI, successfully instructed TKH’s flagship Bridge to Tech program by implementing new coding strategies and pedagogy that increased placement to NYC premier coding Bootcamp Fullstack Academy by 10x, successfully instructed TKH pilot advanced Javascript course with libraries like React, Redux, and React-Native that increased internship placements by 3X πŸ…, and successfully secure my AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Certification ☁️.

The next step in my journey πŸ“ˆ 🎯

Once again I found myself one step closer to my goal of securing my first Software Engineering role. Similar to Tremaine I was heading in that direction however, unlike Tremaine I had no leads or jobs lined up. So I did what any other self-taught dev would do during a Covid-19 pandemic….. collect unemployment πŸ’°πŸ˜‚ πŸ˜‚.

No seriously, I started to think really hard about who I was as an Engineer. I wanted to leave a mark that would inspire other black and brown tech enthusiasts to also reach their goals in tech but at the same time be clear about the rough road ahead.

What kind of legacy will I leave behind? And it finally hit me! πŸ€”

I was going to start building my brand on Youtube ⏯ ️and document my journey to becoming a Software Engineer while starting my official job search πŸ‘”.

I knew it was going to be a difficult road ahead as a non-traditional self-taught engineer but I felt more ready than ever to take on the next battle. So here we go….. the job search begins, may the force be with me βœ‹.


Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@hroman_codes

Youtube: @hroman_codes

(Part 4 coming soon)

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