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Meet the Academic Team: Part-Time Remote Immersive Lead Engineering Instructor Matt Severyn

With weekday evening and weekend classes, our Part-Time Remote Immersive (PTRI) program is a great fit for future engineers with professional or personal responsibilities that require a more flexible schedule. 

Considering PTRI? Meet Matt Severyn, PTRI’s Lead Engineering Instructor! Learn why Matt loves teaching, his advice for current and future residents, and a habit he thinks all successful software engineers should form.

What do you love about teaching?

So many things. Of course, there's the altruistic thing I love about teaching – helping people gain knowledge, especially this kind of knowledge, because it is so ubiquitously useful in the world and can have such an immediate impact changing someone's life. Oh my goodness, can this knowledge change someone's situation in a heartbeat. It did for me over the course of a couple of years.

But there's also this small selfish part of why I love to teach. And, it's because I love watching people grow. I want to fill the world with people that I love working with. And, I honestly hope I get to collaborate with the residents someday building cool things – things that are going to help make our society better, things that free us up to spend more time on what really matters, like family, friends, and experience. The more I teach, the more I fill the world with people I can make those things with and the more I understand the tools that I get to make things with, too. 

How is teaching unique at Codesmith?

At Codesmith, we're not here to help you memorize things and regurgitate facts and syntax. We're here to help folks learn how to problem solve. I always say to my residents, give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day; teach a person to fish, they'll eat for a lifetime. It's that same idea with thinking. I can tell you what to think, or I can teach you how to think. I can teach you how to investigate. I can teach you how to come to your own conclusions using experimentation. I can solve your problems, or I can teach you how to solve problems. 

Codesmith is going to end up being far more experiential than traditional learning environments where you're memorizing facts and regurgitating those facts. Sure, we have lectures, but those lectures are designed as a base from which you tackle challenges that force you to go further than what we tell you. Residents are often asking me, “how am I supposed to solve this problem when you haven't shown me the steps to solve this problem?” But, that's the wrong question. If that's your only question, you're never going to do anything new. We want you to do new things. That's what engineering is all about.

Advanced engineering is all about solving the problems no one else can solve. So we want to teach people to answer the question, “How am I going to solve this when there aren't any steps?” That way, they can operate in an environment where nobody really knows what to do next. They can figure it out because we put them in the situation so often, and we point them towards resources, experimentation, and processes for breaking down big, enormous problems into solvable steps.

What’s your favorite part about working at Codesmith?

That's an easy one. My favorite part about working at Codesmith is hands down the people – the residents and my co-workers alike. First, it is a daily inspiration being around so many people that are taking action to change their lives. I feel spoiled because I forget that a majority of people in the world aren't like that. It's a difficult, scary thing taking concrete action to realize major change in your life. And I'm surrounded, each and every single day, by hundreds of folks doing exactly that. That’s the residents. And, then the staff here are cut from the same cloth.

Top to bottom, we're all focused on helping others achieve their goals and doing it in a healthy, honest, positive manner. I've never been part of an organization that is so universally aligned in character the way that the folks are here.

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

From my lectures, I hope residents take away some building blocks. I hope they have enough to get started and some great resources for growing from there. I often have sections of my lectures where I know that I'm talking to future versions of the residents. I know this isn't going to make sense right now, but in three months, they are going to love what I'm about to say. So, I don't hope they walk out knowing everything that there is to know about a technology because then I would be robbing them of the experience of discovery. And, engineering is all about discovery. 

I hope threads from my lectures persist somewhere in their subconscious so when they're solving problems, they're like, “Oh, Matt said this thing, let me go look that thing up.” And “Oh, it leads me down this rabbit hole so I can uncover all of these truths about engineering that I can now apply directly to the problem that I'm trying to solve.” Because that's what cements the knowledge. So, it's more the experience of the technology that I hope they take away from lectures than it is any concrete knowledge, because that's gained through problem solving. 

From the Codesmith experience as a whole, I hope residents take away leadership. We are absolutely not about teaching only technology here. There is so much more to working in the industry than being a computer whiz. We're all people. I'm a person, the CTO at Google is a person, everyone in this industry is a human being, so we need to take care of that.

Software engineering is a team sport. And, if we're not able to take care of our fellow teammates, we're not going to be as effective at solving problems and we're never going to be a leader who is able to mentor people, care for people, and communicate problems so we can solve them as a team. Overall, that's what I hope people walk away from Codesmith with – realizing that this isn't just a head knowledge industry. It's a head and a heart knowledge industry.

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

If you're learning tech for the first time, that's daunting. There are all these new words and conceptual ideas with no concrete hands-on examples. It's hard. It's a brand new world. It feels so inaccessible. But, I promise you this can be learned. Things are going to click into place in chunks, and those chunks are going to inform the next steps. Keep practicing, keep working the blocks you encounter, and I promise you, you will get it. You have not failed until you stop. So, just keep going and things will fall into place.

If you are already accepted into Codesmith, and trying to prep for the immersive itself, remind yourself of this once you actually start – you didn't fool us. You have the capacity to succeed in this field. You didn't sneak in. You are not inadequate. The immersive is really, really challenging. So, folks coming in often feel like, “I can't do this. I can't keep up. This knowledge is too far ahead of me.” I promise you that is not the case. If you're in Codesmith, you got in for a reason because you absolutely have the capacity to do these things. Don't sell yourself short.

What advice would you give to anyone who is currently enrolled in the Part-Time Remote Immersive?

Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Trust the process. The program is cyclical. Just because you don't know every aspect of a technology when you encounter it for the first time in the junior portion of the program, it doesn't mean you're sunk. You cannot know everything that there is to know about React in just 12 hours of class time. You'll gain that in-depth knowledge when you actually use the technology to solve real-world problems, which you'll do in the mid and the senior portion. So, trust the process. Don't burn out trying to learn everything at once.

What do you think sets Codesmith apart? 

This is something that I don't even have to answer because the residents tell me each and every single day. It’s community. I say to every resident who comes into the PTRI program, hands down the most successful cohorts here at Codesmith are the ones that support each other, the ones that learn from each other, the ones that share resources, and the ones that embrace the fact that we are a non-competitive environment. I promise, your fellow cohort mates are not your competition for jobs. So, embrace that support and be there for each other, both technically and emotionally, and with empathy for what folks are going through in their lives. We focus on that. It's not something that happens by accident. We talk about it, we encourage it, we embrace it, because that's what's going to make you a leader. 

That, I think, is what sets Codesmith apart from a lot of the other programs out there. No one in this program is a number to us. We know the residents as individuals and we celebrate their individuality and teach them how to bring that individuality to team-based environments where they are all working on the same stuff.

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

Patience and practice. You want to code at least five days every week. When you encounter problems, the first instinct is often to run to Stack Overflow to find the solution. Don't do that. This is the habit you want to form – when you encounter a problem, your first step should always be to investigate your own code and try to isolate that problem with your own understanding first. What did I intend to happen with this line, and what is actually happening? If you understand the problem before you start unpacking it, then you're off to the races. Then, you're actually growing your engineering acumen and you're getting better at problem solving. And, of course, if you literally can't find the problem and you don't know what's going on in your code, then you can go to documentation and Stack Overflow to help round out that understanding. 

But, always start with your own code first. What did I intend to happen and what is actually happening? You'll really train your mind to dig deep, and root out those things that you didn't understand before. It's a way of finding your way to your own understanding.