Blithe Rocher

Not your average engineering manager.

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Learning Through Teaching

This post originally appeared on the Big Nerd Ranch blog. You can find the original version here.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of helping to teach the Big Nerd Ranch Ruby on the Server course with fellow Nerd Zac Stewart. This opportunity has been a year in the making, and it didn't disappoint.


When I left my career as a scientist to become a web developer, I had hoped to find a way to continue teaching. Big Nerd Ranch was the perfect job for me because it allowed me to build awesome applications with the newest technologies and also offered teaching opportunities in the form of week-long app development bootcamps.

As soon as I joined Big Nerd Ranch as a full-time developer, I expressed my interest in teaching for Big Nerd Ranch, and the chance finally arrived. In preparation for leading courses on my own in the future, I would share some of the teaching duties with Zac, the lead instructor. But when I arrived at Historic Banning Mills on Sunday for a week of teaching, I had no idea how much I would learn through the process.

What I Didn't Know

During the bootcamp, I learned all about the things I don't know as well as I should. When students ask questions, it's as if they're shining a flashlight in all the dark corners of my knowledge base. Maybe I had used a method hundreds of times before as a developer, but I might not have had to explain out loud in words how it works. I appreciated having these areas highlighted for me.

Turning on the Lightbulb

I also learned about all of the things that I do know and take for granted as a developer. It's an interesting process to help a student walk along a path from not knowing to understanding.

For example, the way models connect to views through controllers (MVC) is part of basic knowledge for a Rails developer, but students must learn these connections over the course of the class. Watching the light bulbs turn on in the students' heads as they connect the mental wires between several ideas was a delightful experience, as was being able to guide them through this process. I loved being able to share the journey with them.

Celebrating the Wins

Most importantly, I learned that a little encouragement goes a long way. The course material for the week is designed to be challenging. At times, the students would get stuck on a problem and need a little help to get moving again. I found that giving a high-five after students solved a problem was a nice way to celebrate the small victories.

I really loved my experience teaching at the Ranch and I'm very much looking forward to the next one. I hope you'll join me.