From Traditional Education to Hands-On Learning | Graduate Spotlight

A recent high school graduate, a recent college graduate, and a teacher…these three Cohort 21 graduates decided to give hands-on learning a try. Malcolm wanted to pursue his new-found passion, Fang wanted to combine his biomedical engineering skills with the logic and creativity of coding, and Matt wanted to leave teaching and pursue a career where he could still make a difference.

Learning software development through a bootcamp at NSS is different from the traditional learning institutions, like high school or college, that they were used to. At NSS, students are presented with tools and shown how to use code, but the real learning happens in their group and individual work as they build digital products and solve problems. Often there are many solutions to these problems, and many ways to build things, so rather than give a quick or “right” answer to a student’s question, our instructors ask questions back to explore what a student has tried already. The act of talking about where you’ve been and describing the problem will often cause a “light bulb” moment for the student, and they’ll discover their error or think of more potential solutions to try.

Malcolm Ford

Nashville Software School graduate Malcolm Ford Malcolm discovered his passion for software development his junior year of high school. He enjoyed solving problems through coding and going down rabbit holes looking for the answers. By the time his high school graduation rolled around, Malcolm knew he wanted to become a software developer.

The decision to forego college and come to a bootcamp was not an easy one for Malcolm or his family. He wasn’t excited about the idea of attending college and spending time in classes he wasn’t interested in, but his parents had high hopes that he would still attend. He asked himself the tough questions, like “without college, what was a person supposed to do to gain a skill to support themselves?” Malcolm shared, “I had a talk with my dad, and he gave me a piece of advice that I live by to this day. He said, ‘Do what you love, and everything will take care of itself.’ So, I listened and decided to immerse myself in a place where code flowed like water. I wanted to be a developer, so started to look into reputable coding bootcamps, and the closest one to me was Nashville Software School.”

Malcolm loved learning something new everyday. He explained, “I was constantly surprised to see what I could do, and realize what I knew. It was amazing to be in an environment filled with like-minded individuals, with whom I could share an amazing experience.”

He admitted that it was hard to accept that some concepts took him longer to learn than it did for his classmates. He became comfortable not always knowing the answer, but continued to work hard to understand the concepts, and enjoy the journey with his classmates.

Malcolm’s advice for students?

The first is that it is ok to speak up in class and say out loud that you don't know what's happening. This is beneficial not only to you as a student, but also to another classmate who may have been too shy to speak up and say the same thing. The second piece of advice would be to enjoy and trust the process. Often when we don't know things, we like to put up walls around ourselves. I'd strongly recommend to any student to take those walls down and be vulnerable. I believe that tearing those walls down is the only way to get the most out of every day.

For his front-end capstone, Malcolm built an app that gives families an easy way to record their history. The app, called Tell Your Story, was inspired by his late aunt Sylvia who knew all of the family stories - the celebrations, the life stories, the struggles, the miracles, and the tragedies. The app allows family members to store and share their family memories. The app was built with AngularJS framework, data was stored in Firebase, and styled with Bootstrap.

Malcolm’s back-end capstone is a social network for developers. The app, called Codemunity, gives developers a central place to share and receive news and updates about the tech stack community they are a part of (Ruby, Python, React, etc.). The app is built with a Ruby on Rails API, AngularJS, and Bootstrap.

While on the job search, Malcolm is learning ReactJS and reinforcing his skills in JavaScript, Ruby, and Rails.

Check out Malcolm’s interview with Clark Buckner about his NSS journey and visit his portfolio site.

Matt Minner

Nashville Software School graduate Matt Minner Matt Minner had been teaching for several years prior to joining NSS; first as an English teacher in Japan, then as an intervention teacher at Nashville Classical. He loved teaching, but was ready for something new. He heard about NSS from his roommate who is a developer and NSS alumnus. His roommate shared about the projects he was working on for his job, and Matt loved that he was making a difference while working from home in his pajamas.

Matt’s favorite part of NSS was the people. He shared, “I always loved working closely with people during group projects, and it brought us all very close. We have some amazing junior developers in Cohort 21 and I was very fortunate to work with them all. It was a blast.”

His classmates, along with friends and family, helped Matt push through the six-month bootcamp. He explained, “you can start to doubt yourself and the process of growth, but because of my peers, friends, and family, I had the support to push forward and succeed.”

For his front-end capstone, Matt created an app to keep his Japanese vocabulary strong. He’s kept his Japanese vocabulary skills active by tutoring a Japanese family in Nashville, but since he no longer speaks it everyday, he found himself losing the vocabulary. To help preserve his vocabulary, he created a memory game called Wagashi. The app allows the user to save their vocabulary words and use them in a card matching game. The app was built with AngularJS, Materialize, Sass, Jisho (a Japanese dictionary API), and Firebase.

Matt’s back-end capstone centers around his love of fitness, in particular, Crossfit. He built a scheduler called Armafit. A coach can sign in and create a gym and schedule. A user can sign up to the gym, see the schedule, and sign up for a workout. Users can also see who else has signed up for the workout, look up their past workouts, and see their WOD (workout of the day) tracker to see their one rep max. The app also has a list of Crossfit movements and descriptions. The app was built with Ruby on Rails and mySQL. Matt stated, “This (app) allowed me to dive deep into database creation, with both dates and times, and user authentication. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about it and plan to move forward with its development.”

Matt encourages students to “trust the process and ignore your inner demons.”

Becoming a good developer is a lifelong process, and there are always things to learn and ways to improve in your ability. Enjoy the ride.

Currently, Matt is learning the React library and plans to start learning Python. He’s also been exploring Unity engine for video game development.

Listen to Matt’s interview with Clark Buckner about his capstone projects and check out his portfolio site.

Fang-Wen Shen

Nashville Software School graduate Fang-Wen Shen Fang-Wen Shen studied biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University. After graduating he considered going to med school or grad school. However, during the application process for med school, he realized that he wanted the knowledge, but didn’t really want to be a doctor. He turned his focus to his engineering skills and desire to build things. Fang explained, “while studying and tinkering in my free time, I found that software development and the expression of logic and creativity in the language of code really intrigued me. Upon realizing that programming gave me a much more different and much more creative avenue for problem solving than I had ever experienced, I knew the software development field would be a perfect fit for me.”

After seeing great reviews from NSS alumni and hearing about the school connections in the community, he decided to attend NSS as a part of Cohort 21.

I loved having the space as well as the resources to explore a variety of languages and developer tools.

Fang’s front-end capstone is a multiplayer version of Tetris, called FTris-Arena. The app, Fang explained, is “rendered in HTML and styled with customized Bootstrap and Materialize SCSS. OOP game logic was designed with JavaScript and JQuery. User authentication was entirely supported by GoogleAuth while database storage and querying was hooked up to Firebase’s flat document-based database. (The) application was wrapped up in the AngularJS Framework for single-page-access and full route-control.”

For his back-end capstone, Fang built an API and an app that utilizes the API. His goal was to create an interactive, single-page learning experience. Rather than learning from a textbook or website where the information is spread out over several pages, he wanted his app to show information about planets and our solar system in a virtual and interactive way.

Galaxcyclopedia-API is a full Rails MVC application built with RESTful architecture and a user interface for data queries and file sharing,” Fang stated. “All available database resources are represented in JSON format. Versioning API requests can be modified through the header. HTTP requests return unique data sets for the eight planets of the solar system.

Galaxy-VR is an Interactive Virtual Tour of the Solar System that leverages Galaxcyclopedia-API’s JSON data with 3D Modeling and Animations, Educational Data Presentation, and Virtual Representation of the Solar System and its Planets Rendered in React-VR.”

Fang has continued his learning post graduation. He is currently working with Unity3D and C#/.NET to create augmented and virtual experiences.

Listen to Fang’s interview with Clark Buckner about his capstone projects and check out his GitHub profile.

Be sure to listen to all of the graduates talk to our friend, Clark Buckner, about their journey into development and about their experience at NSS.

Check out all of the recent grads on Cohort 21’s class website.

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