A Teacher’s Tale

Trying to use both brain hemispheres whenever you want is not something common or easy to do. That’s why we have different professions in the world, and despite the fact every profession requires the use of both hemispheres, none of them require you to use it in equal “ammounts”.

To be clear, if you’re a full stack developer, you’re probably going to get instantly blocked if somebody asks you to write an advertisement in a way that not only converts good numbers, but touches feelings of people. Same thing happens if your line of work is around the creativity, even knowing what “while, if, else, for” are and how they work, you’re going to stuck at the first lines of code.

In this line of thought, while I was teaching the Web Development career at Uruguay’s Work University a few years ago, I had to identify how different students were, and their mind profiles, to know exactly which ones were good at what.

When you enroll into Technological Bachellorship in Uruguay you have different Subjects, divided in a chronogram for each day of class during a lecture year that goes from March to December. The career takes 4 years to complete and you need 100% of credits to approve. During those four years, the Subjects vary a lot, and while you’re reaching the final year, they start to be more and more specific into actual technology. Web Development was in the third year.

My way of preparing and thinking my classes was, I can’t equally demand a student that is great for Spanish and Geometry the same that I can request from a student that is brilliant programming and resolving 3rd degree equations, because simply the real world doesn’t work like that.
So I had to build teams that were balanced, and also had to base the entire course in a project that will -most likely be- to build a technology company.

The idea was to create a real world scenario where within months going by, I could identify the student profiles, and by the middle of the lecture year, every “company” will have a stable team, each “Company” would be dedicated into something and some will even be competing.

Out of the initial 35 students we end up building something like 8 teams that eventually merged into 5-6 teams out of 30 students. The number of students vary because a lot of them leave the career, at different stages of the lecture year. And the number of teams vary because I had 6 different classes of 35 students each.

The problems were that every single student had to understand, linux, apache, php & javascript programming, mysql, web and graphic design, etc, and some didn’t even understood programming logic or didn’t remember it from past years, others had to understand creativity, for building all the bricks of a product that will scale, how to think forward into the design process of a website and/or an application -apps were something fairly young back then-, etc.

Pedagogical problems that were all mine.
¿How do I make everyone understand everything? I can’t, and I knew that.

So I created a very basic route-sheet that every team could use to get back into it and remember which initial steps they needed to follow prior getting their company into “the market”.

1- Think of a product, look into something that will solve some real world problem.

2- Create a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of your product idea and out of the conclusions you get, start building your product, or move back to step one.

2b. Give the product a name and start thinking of a logotype for it.

3- Draw some flow charts of how your product will work, and start creating the design and programming the web interphase.

3a – Once you have your product, test it, make your grandmother use it, analyze what she says, go back to programming and design.

3b – Make your grandmother use it again and see if you solved all the frustrations she had the first time.

4 – Analyze what your company “is”, what are your mission, vision and values, create a new logotype out of that. Rename your product if you have to.

4b – Create your Company’s corporate identity, identify if your Company is your product or your product is something your company offers.

4c – Create a product identity that follows Company’s one if needed.

4d – Create the usage guidelines of both your Company’s or Product identity

4e – Create company’s/product website.

5 – Think of an expectation campaign, use your company’s/product’s identity for the graphics and website, if possible, communicate your message in a way that is remarkable. Go for the feelings in the solution your product provides.

6 – Launch your product to the market.

The idea behind this route-sheet was to make every member of the team to work in each step of the company creation, they all needed to know at least the basics of how to create their product, and what the different departments of a company do, so in the future they will respect other positions that are as important as theirs -as web developers-, and they will realize what they actual work area of preference was.

What happened was that teams started to move according to personal interests, friendship or knowledge, by the middle of step 2, some players will go to other teams, and this now-reduced-team, will have to recruit players from other teams, offering just the opportunity to work in a “better product”. Some teams will eventually realize they had more brilliant designers than brilliant developers, and positive or negative leadership will arise, creating both magnificent learning collaborative sessions or tense situations during the classes.

For the purpose of their learning, when some negative leadership raised, I stepped in and moved some of the team members to some other team to rebalance things. Doing -if you want- the work of a human resources person.

Eventually every team become stable, some “companies” found it was useless competing between them and decided to collaborate creating a better product, some other companies needed to merge because of the desertion of students, and they had to vote to decide which product to continue doing, and some, the least kept stable from day one.

The entire experience was enriching for everyone, I learnt a lot -and I mean A LOT – of human behavior and how to deal with it, a lot of new technical skills because students will come with questions I didn’t have the answer and had to do some research. I learnt how students overcome the teacher, and how to be a better professor thanks to that, and made my goal of making every student successful understanding the entire full stack environment while they were building their company, despite their area of preference.

Nowadays a lot of these students work at a few important technology companies, others have their own ventures, others simply quit the career in the last year moving into something else, and others are baking cakes or working the land. Life had it’s turns for everyone.

All of them remember me for a variety of reasons, but mostly because the classes I gave were something else, something different they were not prepared for, something based in collaboration rather competition, because that’s what real world is, and that was my job, leave them as near as possible to the real world.

My students knew they wouldn’t get their grades out of being the best at something, they would get them by being the best at helping their entire team succeed at something.

“And if you wanna be the teacher’s pet, well, baby, you just better forget it.
Rock got no reason, rock got no rhyme. You better get me to school on time.”

Leave a comment