Half a year a bricodeur

For about 6 months now, I’ve been teaching code to beginners along with a non-profit organization named Les Bricodeurs (in French, it’s a mash-up word of ‘tinkerer’ and ‘coder’). I won’t go into detail for every activity this organization is engaged in, but in a bulk: teaching kids to program bots, organizing talks about digital medias and citizenship, preparing a yearly hackathon, and the list goes on with each of our members’ initiatives.

Me, I’m just participating in recurrent workshops in Lyon, France, that we call something that you might translate to ‘Digital Pre-School’. It’s basically an introduction to web development arranged in a cycle of four sessions in which our ‘bricodeurs’ learn HTML, CSS and Javascript, after having attended to a meeting where we talk about the jobs that exists in the IT industry. We also supplement it with thematic workshops like the assisted creation of an online portfolio.

What motivate us teaching?

I can’t talk for my colleagues, but I believe it is safe to assume that each of us has a willingness to share his professional knowledge with curious and motivated people. It may be the same interest for sharing knowledge and opening communities that have lead us to work into web development in the first place. Look at what the world wide web is in a nutshell: a huge collection of data linked and shared without the constraint of space nor schedule. (Well, this and a freakin’ huge marketplace for personal data, but let’s be optimist here!)

Also, and this might be a little more personal, having been of the many people that I’ve been drawn towards web development by the bootcamp approach, I feel a strong urge to warn people about the difficulties and pitfalls of this approach. Today this approach is sold as far more ideal than what it really is by upcoming companies that make money on selling dreams, both to unemployed people and to our government who is bothered with unemployment rates.

I don’t believe this is really a bad way to dive into a totally new field of knowledge and to start a career, thought I don’t believe it is fitted for everyone. But I’ve already talked about this in a precedent blog post, so I won’t repeat myself too much here (hopefully).

I also believe in what we call learn by teaching. I know there are studies about this topic, but I didn’t read them, and didn’t need to, to be convinced about that fact. Most of the time, when I have tried to explain something I know to someone else, I’ve pushed my analysis on the topic way further than when I’m using this knowledge on a personal project, for example, to the point where I’ve been able to identify the areas I didn’t really get either. Even having to reword a simple subject for someone who didn’t understand it at the first time, forces you to be creative about how you connect the data you know with the data you believe your listener knows, which is in itself a powerful reflection on your own understanding of the data explained.

What do the people learn with us?

In the very limited time span we have (about three sessions of three hours each), we cannot dive really deep into the complexity of development, moreover given that different people progress at different pace. More than the skills, what we offer should be considered as an initiation to a way of thinking.

This is not a simple ‘you get it or you don’t’ way of thinking, but more a self-aware approach where you should question what you know and understand how to tie pieces of data into each other, after you have previously broken the new data stream into such processable pieces. And we don’t just give a lecture there, but engage our learners really early into applying these freshly acquired pieces of knowledge in exercises we supervise.

By the end of our cycle, what we hope for them is to have tested their curiosity and their desire to learn despite the many obstacles they will have to tackle during this process. The more valuable skill they may acquire, is to confront their own limits and push through new territory no matter how intimidating it might be at a first glance. While the technical skills could very well be acquired through online resources, and we are more than happy to share those we deem interesting with our learners.

What I hope for the future sessions

We have have attracted numerous curious minded people and I’m happy that those people can have a first contact with my profession that way. Some have shown a deep interest for the domain and it’s heartwarming to see them coming back for more sessions.

But somehow I feel like these first sessions are a bit too early in one’s learning path to really differentiate an early enthusiasm from a deep motivation. And we developers need a lot of the later in our daily lives not to fall behind in the tech rush and our busy schedules. It could be really nice if we manage to organize more project focused workshops this year so that people who have been enjoying the lessons could push a little further while having someone to ask for help.

Also I’d would really like to have a way to follow our learners’ journey, the school or bootcamp they choose and how they perform in them. We tend to give them access to our slack workplace, so we can stay in touch but we don’t have a lot of feedbacks that way.

The web industry is really boiling with fast evolving trends and surprising opportunities nowadays, and I can’t really say where it is going. I really hope we will be able to communicate and organize as an open community, sharing knowledge and lending a hand to our peers.