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Meet the Academic Team: NYOI Engineering Instructors Larissa & Heidi

Everyone’s coding journey and learning style is unique. While some Codesmith residents prefer learning from the comfort of home in our remote Immersives, others find an in-person setting fits their learning style better!

Our New York City Onsite Immersive program is perfect for folks who prefer to learn and build community in-person. We connected with our New York Onsite Engineering Instructors, Heidi and Larissa, about their software engineering journeys, their advice for prospective residents considering the Immersive, and a habit every successful software engineer should form. 

In case you missed it, we also chatted with New York Onsite Lead Engineering Instructor Mike a couple months back on the blog.

Tell me a bit about your background. What were you doing before Codesmith? Why did you attend Codesmith? What did you do post-Codesmith?

Heidi: Prior to Codesmith, I wore many hats. I was actually a classical pianist growing up. I entered undergrad as a piano performance major. Then, I had a permanent wrist injury, so I made a practical decision to switch my career. I went into hospitality and hotel management, and I loved it. I was working for a hospitality company, and they shipped me out to live in Dallas for a little bit. That’s where I found yoga, and I started teaching yoga part-time. But, the pandemic came, everyone was locked down, nobody was traveling, and no one was taking yoga classes. I got furloughed from both of my jobs. 

I had a lot of free time. And I said, you know what, this would be a great opportunity to pick up a new skill. I met a friend who graduated from Codesmith. He was telling me how he made a career switch, and said, ‘Why don't you teach yourself how to code?’ He said it was fun and the bootcamp he went to had free workshops. He planted that seed in my head, I picked it up, and I ended up loving it. I did JavaScript for Beginners and I also did CS Prep. I was in the interview process to get into the Immersive program, but I got called back to work. So I went back and absolutely hated it! That was that ultimate push that made me take the leap of faith. I quit my job and I got into the program and here I am. After my fellowship, I accepted a job offer and was working as a Senior Frontend Engineer at an e-commerce marketplace startup. I was there for about two years, and then I came back to Codesmith to teach. 

Larissa: Prior to working for Codesmith, I worked in restaurants for about 10 years. I went all the way from working in the pastry department to working front of house, and managing a bar program, eventually. Ultimately, I decided that I was ready for a change. I was really lucky to find Codesmith. I ended up going through the Immersive program, and once I completed it, I decided to stay on as an Engineering Fellow. Now I'm an Engineering Instructor for the New York Onsite Immersive.

What do you love about teaching, and how is teaching unique at Codesmith?

Heidi: I truly enjoy engaging with people that are interested in taking a leap of faith and trying out something completely different. It is very daunting, and to be able to have walked through those steps myself, and to come back and be a testimony as I am teaching – I find that fulfilling.

I think the teaching style at Codesmith is very unique. I truly do believe it replicates the actual engineering industry in itself. We're all about hard learning here. The educational system that we're used to is very spoon-fed. They teach you step-by-step how to get the answers. But, that doesn't really teach you how to think, how to approach a problem, or how to problem solve. And, that's really what engineering is all about. I believe that the teaching style here at Codesmith really helps residents build a foundation and an approach on how to problem solve, rather than telling you what to do. After graduating and being in the field, I realized how valuable that truly was – how being autonomous was a huge help in terms of growing in my own career. 

Larissa: Something that I really love about teaching is leading residents towards their engineering goals, and guiding them towards those “aha” moments when something really just clicks for them. Being able to help guide them there and see that progress is something that I find really rewarding and gratifying. 

I think teaching at Codesmith is unique because we don't necessarily give residents the answers, right? You'll never see me or the other instructors going through a code demo where we tell you absolutely what to do. We give very high level approaches and leave it up to the residents to dig in and do that hard learning. I think that really helps residents grow those mental calluses so that in the future when they're off in their engineering roles, they are able to dive into topics without being afraid of not knowing something. I think that the teaching style at Codesmith, since we do require them to do that hard learning, will give them confidence for the future being able to tackle topics that they're unsure of.

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

Heidi: The nature of our industry is that it's ever-evolving and constantly changing. So, I want residents to come away from lectures more focused on the approach to new topics.

Can I be comfortable with not knowing, and be okay taking time to research this on my own? That's pretty much the whole experience at Codesmith – to be okay with not knowing and also knowing that you have the potential to take the additional time to pick those skills up.

Larissa: What I would like residents to take away personally from my lectures is just curiosity. I think that that's such an important thing as an engineer. I hope that whenever I give my lectures to residents that they want to know more and that they are interested in that topic. As for what I want them to take out of the program, personally, the biggest thing I took away from the program was the confidence that I can tackle any block. I think that this residency really builds up a lot of grit, which is incredibly important for software engineers. And, the confidence that I have gotten just knowing that I can face any topic and eventually be able to understand it with a lot of hard work, is so important. I hope that the residents can take that with them as well.

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

Heidi: I know the technical interview seems very daunting. But, the advice I want to give is it’s less so about how quickly you can get through the questions and if you can solve all the questions, and more about how you approach a problem. How do you approach hitting a block? Do you freeze up? Can you speak through your thought process as you're thinking? How can you use the resources that you have at hand? So, it's really more about how you process not knowing something.

Larissa: Get yourself on some sort of schedule. Once you're in the Immersive program, it's really rigorous, and you're going to need to be able to set those boundaries of when you're going to work and when you're going to take a break. I would say get yourself on a schedule where you are studying, polishing off those fundamental topics, and also giving yourself a hard stop time, because it's really important to be able to give yourself time to rest and recharge.

What advice would you give to residents currently enrolled in the Immersive?

Heidi: To rest. Burnout is huge, not just in the Immersive program, but even as an engineer. The nature of our industry is that most companies are agile. So, it's kind of like a never ending cycle. Knowing how to pace yourself and knowing when to take rest is so important. There's always going to be work. There's always going to be studying that you need to do. So, definitely take time when you are off to really decompress and recenter your mind. Find grounding however works for you – whether that's eating proper meals, whether it's exercising, whether it's hanging out with friends. Just log off when you need to log off. There's so much to cover, and you have a whole lifetime to do that. So, don't feel pressured to soak up everything now and know everything by the time you graduate. It's just not physically possible. Taking care of your physical vessel is the most important thing.

Larissa: Take a step back and look at how far you’ve come. Because no matter what stage of the program you are in, you are learning at such an accelerated pace. As long as you're learning one thing a day, I think that's all that matters. And if you zoom out and take a step back, you will realize how far you have come and how much you have learned. I think that everyone deserves to have that gratification. 

What do you think sets Codesmith apart? 

Heidi: I think what sets Codesmith apart is one of our pillars – empathetic engineering. Because Codesmith has such an emphasis on empathetic engineering, I do notice, after having been in the field for a while, that that's really rare to come across in working with other engineers. Being able to empathize and being able to recognize where other engineers are, and if you can meet them there. And, how can you work together to grow together and grow one another? I find that very rare to find. 

Codesmith is a community that emphasizes, nurtures, and grows that. And, the Codesmith community isn't around just during the time that you're in the program. We have a huge alumni network, and you're in that community for life. Once you are a Codesmith resident, you are a Codesmither for life. To be a part of that empathetic community and have that community to lean on afterwards is truly valuable and really hard to find.

Larissa: There are a lot of things that set Codesmith apart. The first thing is just the fact that to be accepted into the program, you have to have a base knowledge of at least JavaScript fundamentals. So, when you do get into the program, you are surrounded by folks who have the same rigor as you and who have worked just as hard as you to get into the program. You are with people who function at the same caliber as you which is not something that you usually get in a workspace or a team space. I think that that's super unique.

Also, the way that the curriculum and the learning style is structured. There is a lot less hand holding than some other programs. I think that's really important. We fully trust our residents to be able to take this curriculum and run with it and learn on their own. And, again, gain that grit that they will need in the future to get these software engineering roles. I think that's a huge part of why residents come out getting these mid to senior level roles, because they have that grit and determination to do it.

What's your favorite part about working at Codesmith?

Heidi: It's the community. I was a JavaScript for Beginners resident. I was a CS Prep resident. I was an Immersive resident. I was an Engineering Fellow. I was a CS Prep instructor. And, now, I'm a full-time instructor. So, I've kind of done it all, from the front of the house all the way to the back of the house. To be able to say that community is my answer for my favorite thing about Codesmith, for every phase that I've been in, truly speaks volumes. Codesmith teaches what they preach. The community really does stay with you throughout the whole time. So, my favorite part about working here is being a part of this community and seeing that, even when it is back of the house, it's still the same. Within the Academic team, we support each other and we shout each other out. It's not toxic positivity – it truly is, ‘your win is my win.’ It's our win. And, we're so happy for you. 

Larissa: My favorite part of working at Codesmith is definitely the community. Everyone has so much generosity and kindness. I've never worked in a place where people are so accepting of one another. On my first day, I was told something along the lines of, ‘it's okay to make a mistake,’ which was something I never heard from an employer before. That community and culture that is fostered here and carried on is something that's really incredible to me, and I'm really grateful to be a part of it.

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

Heidi: When you're hitting a block, truly ask what is the problem that I'm solving? What have I tried so far? And what didn't work? Being able to ask those three questions, especially the second one – what have I tried – will really get you to think outside the box. You'll be surprised at how much you know just by asking that question and trying everything on for size.

Larissa: I think that a habit every software engineer should form is just to stay curious. Technology is always changing. We're never going to know everything. So staying curious and being willing to dive deeper when you do encounter something that you don't know a lot about. I think that's the most important quality to have.