10 Questions with Python Instructor Jay Patel

Come learn a little more about Jay Patel, lead instructor at the San Jose bootcamp. While Jay teaches all five stacks, his interest and specialty lies in Python, iOS, and MEAN development.

Here are 10 questions with Jay:

When did you first become interested in development?

I’ve had a sort of nontraditional background in computer science. I was raised in Silicon Valley and started coding very young. My mom worked for Apple for 25 years and my dad was at Apple and various other tech jobs while I was growing up.

So, I was always messing around with the Macs they’d bring home from a very young age. My first exposure to coding was with Logo. It was quick way to teach myself programming logic at a young age. From there, [my interest] really grew. I went to a Stanford summer camp on Java when I was younger and started building simple games. I loved learning and experimenting in any way that I could.

What led you to Coding Dojo?

My two passions, from an early age, have always been coding and finance.

I worked for a few years at Pacific Life in investment analytics but found I really missed coding, even to the extent to pitch an idea to create a small risk management tool in Python. While it didn’t get off the ground, it reminded me why I constantly keep coming back to coding.

Realizing this, I returned to Silicon Valley and checked out Coding Dojo. I had never had any formal computer science education so I was intrigued and enrolled. I went through the bootcamp and loved it. I quickly became addicted to learning and was obsessed with the problem solving. However, following graduation and a few months at a startup, I realized I don’t want to just focus on a single technology. So, since I was still close to the bootcamp after graduation, I joined Coding Dojo when the founder, Michael [Choi], asked me to help out in the San Jose Dojo. Since then, we’ve worked hard to double the enrollment, optimize the curriculum, and really take Coding Dojo to another level.

What sets Coding Dojo apart from the competition?

I feel the atmosphere is the biggest differentiator. The Dojo is, first and foremost, focused on learning. That’s our fundamental goal, from the instructors down to the students. Instructors are focused on teaching themselves new technologies that pop up and that thirst for knowledge is passed down to the teaching assistants and, in turn, to the students—which extends even after graduation. Considering this focus on learning, we believe that anyone can learn to code no matter your previous knowledge or experience.

What’s so great about Python?

Python is great for beginners, starting with basically zero barriers to entry. Python doesn’t require a specific platform to run and you don’t have to stumble over syntax. Python has simplistic syntax that allows the user to focus on the logic, which is great for the beginner developer. Because, at the end of the day, syntaxes are going to change across all the languages, but the underlying logic is the same across everything.

In addition, just because of its simplicity, it’s not like Python is limited in its power and support. Python has been around a while and a lot of people use it. That vast user-base makes it so there’s a lot of documentation and resources online.

One important distinction I like to make is when people contend; “You have to learn Python to get a job in data science or analysis.” It’s not Python itself that is naturally tuned for data science, it’s the fact there are so many libraries within Python that help with those kinds of tasks. So, in order to tap into those libraries, you obviously need to use Python. And so, that vast support and documentation, and libraries really give the beginner great playing field to go in and start building.

With this massive support network online, why should I learn Python from Coding Dojo?

While Python is a great example, I would answer that question in the same way no matter the language. When you try and learn programming on the Internet the great thing is that there’s a ton of stuff out there. The bad thing is that there’s very little direction. There are so many tools at your disposal so how do you know what to pick up first? And if you ask ten different developers where to begin you’ll usually get ten different answers—because there are just so many technologies and opinions out there. So, the biggest benefit is that direction—but there’s other stuff, too. Like, obviously having an environment to work in 24 hours a day, seven days a week is not something that most people have.

Also, having a place where there’s structure and time dedicated to learn specific coding elements all in a collaborative easygoing environment is a huge plus as well.  

What about the Python curriculum? What can I expect?

The approach [to the curriculum] that we take here is “Okay, what is 20 percent of all the material out there that someone needs to know to be able to accomplish 80 percent of the tasks?” We focus on evaluating that twenty percent and structuring it to be easily digestible and fun. Just as students are getting the grasp of one concept, we hit them with a wave of new material, and it’s designed that way. This way, a student can learn one concept and then build on it with another concept and another, and so on.

The curriculum grew out of Michael [Choi], the founder, developing a curriculum to teach his own engineers for his consulting firm. That alone proves the curriculum is practical and useful in the real world—not built on technologies people think are popular, it’s built with these questions in mind:

  • What do you need to know to develop something practically?
  • What do you need to know to be able to complete a project?

I mean, we give wireframes for our tests and students are asked to build it in four and a half hours. They’re told, “Here, you start from zero and build the whole thing.”

And if you can do that then you’re a web developer, simple as that.

What gives you the most satisfaction being a lead instructor here at the Dojo?

Just being an instructor for anything, I would guess, is just being able to play a part in helping someone learn. The great thing about the Dojo is there’s such a quick turnaround. It’s fourteen weeks—you come in—and then you’re gone. The great thing is seeing someone who comes in without knowing anything and is lost during the first week. But by the end of it they’re teaching their cohort-mates and other students who are just starting out, and that’s just amazing to see. It’s incredible to take step back and realize how far students come in just a few months.

Conversely, what challenges do you face as an instructor?

We get many different personalities in the Dojo—many people who learn in different ways, come from different backgrounds, and have different types of analytical thinking. Being able to talk to different students in different ways and jump back and forth for each student depending on how they’re trying to learn can be very tough.

How do you like to spend a Sunday afternoon?

My Sunday’s are spent doing errands and personal projects. Right now, the latest thing I’m building this past weekend is a very simple iOS game. I was inspired by some of my students who had built games the week prior and that got me thinking about some of the old games that I would play when I was a kid—specifically this TI-83 game called “Falldown.” It’s just a simple game where a ball is falling down and you had to avoid obstacles. I just remembered I used to play that a lot as a kid… so, I built that this past weekend. There’s not much time during the days that I get to spend on my personal projects, so the weekends are my time to explore and learn new technologies.

What would be impossible for you to give up?

I think for me, while it’s a little cliché, I would hate to be in an environment where I couldn’t learn. I love the feeling of learning something new, using it, and then saying, “Man, I learned that thing in an hour and I built something with it!” So, I guess with that being said, it would be impossible for me to give up my computer.

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