Instructing at CodeClan: John’s story

John McCollum tells us about life as an instructor and why he chose that bow tie…

What were you doing before becoming an instructor at CodeClan?

I’ve had quite a varied career since I moved into tech. Most of my work has been as a web developer – front and back end – in an agency environment.

In my previous job I worked on a diamond rings suggester, the purpose of the app was to find the most suitable diamond for the user. Hundreds and thousands of diamonds were imported into the app every day, so it was quite challenging to get the algorithm right.

The biggest difference is the amount of communication required – this job is all about communicating ideas to students in the most effective way possible (sometimes quite complex ideas!).

It’s very different to the stereotypical picture you might have when you think about a programmer, sitting in a dark room with their headphones on.

John our instructor in Glasgow

What’s the story behind your bow tie?

Truth be told my son picked it for me. He’s two and already into clothes, although I don’t know where he got that from…definitely not me! It makes him happy picking out my clothes – sometimes he chooses Pokémon T-Shirts for me!

What inspired you to become an instructor?

I’d hit a bit of a rut in my previous role, I felt that I was solving the same problems over and over again. It was definitely time for me to move on to a new challenge.

Having been a career-changer myself, I know that learning to program can be really challenging. So I wanted to help people who are in the same position I was in – many years ago.

When I learned that CodeClan was a social enterprise, and I heard about the amazing results they were achieving, that was the icing on the cake. I knew I wanted to be part of that.

What has been the most cringe-worthy moment of your job so far?

There was a situation towards the end of the course where some of the code during a lesson wasn’t working. That is why it is so important to keep up with technology as an instructor as what works one week may not work the next. At this point it was like watching a bus in slow motion falling of a cliff! The students were really cool about though.

What’s the last thing you have made?

I’ve been working on some 3D game programming, and I’m attempting to make a crazy golf game to this end.

I’m also doing a project related to Spotify. The app looks at your account history, and can graph the “happiness” of the songs you’ve listened to. Then with that information it can try to predict how happy the person is going to be – say the next day – based on their choice of music.

What makes it rewarding?

For me, the most rewarding part is when a student has a little breakthrough. When they’ve perhaps been struggling with a concept, and you find a way to explain it where it suddenly “clicks” for them. It’s a great moment when you see the lightbulb going on over their head.

The students come up with some weird and wonderful things. When they get involved they bring a lot more imagination into their work than we do, and we learn from that.

It’s also really rewarding to see students get new jobs – especially if they’d got to a point in their old career where they felt bored or unchallenged. That’s the best part of the job for me, and it’s extremely satisfying to help someone change their life.

What is challenging about your job?

Technology moves at such a pace that it can be a challenge keeping the course up to date. Also, there’s so much cool stuff that we could show students, deciding what goes in the course can be a challenge.

What is CodeClan like in Glasgow?

CodeClan in Glasgow is located in a slightly quieter building, but there’s still a real buzz and liveliness about the place. And there are much better coffee shops nearby, so that’s a bonus! (Apparently there’s cat cafe near the Edinburgh campus though?!)

The most important thing is that the students get the same educational experience and are just as employable as the Edinburgh graduates.

What would you say to someone thinking about becoming an instructor?

Come and have a chat with us! It’s definitely a bit different from most development jobs, so the best way to see if you’re interested is to pop in, see what’s going on, and see if you want to be a part of it. 

Thinking about becoming an instructor? Check out our careers page for current vacancies. 


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