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Meet the Academic Team: Lead Engineering Instructor Laura Botel

Codesmith’s Software Engineering Immersive programs are designed to help aspiring software engineers launch meaningful careers in tech. Codesmith’s Academic Team, including Instructors, Engineering Fellows, and Mentors, is crucial to the success of our residents. 

Meet Laura Botel, current Engineering Instructor for the East Coast Remote Immersive and soon to be Lead Engineering Instructor for the West Coast Remote Immersive. Laura shares why she loves teaching at Codesmith and advice for current and future residents. 

What do you love about teaching?

There's a lot to love about teaching, particularly at Codesmith, with the Codesmith pedagogy and teaching style. I like that it gives residents the opportunity to take charge of their own learning. For me, personally, teaching is also a great way to learn and reinforce my own knowledge and understanding. And, it really challenges me to explain concepts in ways that maybe I hadn't thought of before, so that folks can find their own kind of “aha” moments.

How is teaching unique Codesmith?

Teaching is unique at Codesmith because it's really not about a pass or fail. Or even just checking items off of a rubric or a list. It's really about challenging your own conceptions about what teaching is, what passing is, what failing means or does not mean, and getting into the details of the conceptual pieces that you're learning. 

And when I say you, I mean me as the instructor, but also the residents as folks who are embarking on this software engineering journey. So, that's just one of the ways that teaching has been different at Codesmith. I think teaching all over the place would really benefit from adopting these types of mindsets around the purpose of learning and the curiosity that we can harness in order to learn in a way that maybe has eluded someone before.

Why did you decide to teach for Codesmith?

I decided to teach for Codesmith because I love the community. It's probably one of the most supportive communities that I have ever been a part of. I am excited to carry that community forward in all sorts of ways and bring my love of teaching to residents who are going through the immersive program, just like I did last year.

What do you hope that residents will take away from your lectures and their experience at Codesmith?

I think that the most impactful piece of the Codesmith experience can be adopting a mindset around your own ability to learn and overcome challenges. So, whether a lecture is difficult for a resident to conceptually understand, or really exciting because they are understanding a concept that has eluded them before for the first time, I hope that residents are taking away this growth mindset and the idea that they can learn anything. And, they can leverage their existing knowledge and experience in order to help them learn something new.

What advice would you give to residents in the admissions process or residents who are recently accepted to the immersive program?

I have lots of advice that I would give to residents who were recently accepted or who are currently in the admissions process. But, I think if I had to distill it down to one thing, it would go back to mindset. I think this is something that I struggled with and then learned a lot from as a resident myself and as a person going through the admissions process, which is a little bit challenging and also different from other interviewing processes that I had gone through before. And, that really is around my mindset around what it means to fail and what it means to fail forward and how I could leverage feedback from my own reflections, but also from other people to move forward in the direction that I wanted to. 

I think that embodying a growth mindset from the outset is only going to further expedite the learning that you're going to do just by virtue of going through this very intense three month program. It just gives so much potential for folks to take an experience that otherwise might have felt very negative or felt like a failure and turn it into something very much the opposite.

What advice would you give to anyone who is currently enrolled in the immersive?

In terms of folks who are currently enrolled in the immersive, I would really recommend developing a practice of zooming out from the details. It can get really easy to get lost in the details of everything you're learning and everything you feel like you're not learning. But, zooming out to the bigger picture and reminding yourself how far you've come to get to the point where you're at, and looking forward to where you will be – whether that means looking at your senior residents or looking at engineering fellows or folks who have graduated from Codesmith and are still active in the community as they work at jobs. Zooming out and remembering the bird's eye view, the big picture, the “why”, so that you can continue to leverage that and energize yourself to get into the details.

What do you think sets Codesmith apart?

I think Codesmith is really set apart by the supportive community that is infused in every aspect of the program – that goes from the CSX Slack channel for folks who haven't even applied to the immersive program yet or might not even apply, but who are just immersed in the community already, to the public workshops and the support that is there as well. I teach a handful of public workshops every quarter, and I'm always struck by the newcomers' feedback right afterwards, reaching out or sharing in the chat how unique and helpful the teaching style is and the support that comes from other members of the workshop, but also from, of course, the instructors and the entire team that's making the event happen behind the scenes as well.

What are your favorite books or resources or tools to stay up to date on coding best practices, emerging technologies and trends within the software engineering world? 

I read several newsletter digests every day. One of them is TLDR, which sometimes I have the opportunity to get a little bit deeper into one of those articles. And, other times, I just get the headlines and the summary blurbs from that. But, it is something that I read every day, and that I find really useful in terms of staying up to date on what's happening in the tech world. 

Another resource that I use on the daily is Medium. I'm a subscribed member to Medium. And, I get a handful of both coding best practices and very technologically focused articles every day that are written by people who are working in a variety of fields of tech, but also management skills and soft skills development that are related to the tech world as well.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

So far in my tech career, I think what I'm most proud of is the way that I've been able to leverage my previous experience to provide mentorship to others who are also entering this “new to them” world. I also feel that the growth that I've experienced in the past year and a half, which has truly been transformative, is also something that I'm proud of in that I've been able to leverage my previous experience to seek out opportunities and grow. It's hard to pinpoint one thing – I think growth as a whole, whether that's my personal growth or the growth that I've been able to help others find for themselves.

What's one habit that every successful software engineer should form?

I'm going to cheat and list a couple condensed into one – soliciting feedback and refactoring. So, whether that's refactoring code that they've written after they've received feedback, or refactoring an approach on how they are approaching an interpersonal dilemma, I think the act of soliciting feedback, and then using that to incrementally improve is a game changer.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I think for anyone who's considering making a shift from what you might be doing currently, or what you might have done in the past, to software engineering, I think there is a lot of opportunity to leverage all of that existing work, all that existing experience, whether that's been in school or in another field on another job, and bring your whole self to to this field. 

I think that the tech industry is really going to benefit from folks who have previous experience in other roles, who are bringing a diversity of thought, creativity, and experience to this industry.