By Sarah June FischerOctober 2, 2015

Instructor Spotlight: Sam Hamm and the Transition from Higher Education to Teaching at Code Fellows, Part 2

What does a seasoned higher education professor think of the intensive bootcamp model, and what are his tips for students preparing to take the plunge? Read part two of our interview with Sam Hamm, Code Fellows instructor and longtime technologist. Miss part 1? Read it here »

You mentioned the education model getting to be adaptive and really teach what’s hot in the industry. What’s happening in the industry right now that you’re excited to teach?

Sam Hamm

Well really, everything because it’s changing so fast, and being in Seattle where you can see these changes happening. You can see the real estate industry online transforming because we have Redfin and Zillow here in town. You can see a city like Seattle adapt to Uber so fast, or Amazon Prime. There’s something new every week.

It’s exciting to see the change happening this quickly and to come to understand that there’s room for a lot of people in these systems to help facilitate this change and help them find their way in. If you’re willing to invest yourself in the learning, things are changing so fast that you can learn new technologies faster than people who’ve been in the industry for a long time, because they’re deep into what they’re doing and don’t have time to invest as much into the new things. That creates this great environment of opportunity. So to see all of the different startups, to see how the big companies are adapting, to see the small companies grow into large ones, just to see all of it happening is a lot of fun.

What’s one of your favorite parts about working at Code Fellows?

Well, primarily it’s working around a great group of people. I was having a conversation with Cris Ewing, who is one of the other instructors here. I’ve known Cris for a long, long time—back to when he and I were both in grad school in the early 2000’s. And he says that one of the things he loves here is when he can go into an environment and he’s not the smartest person in the room, which is amazing for Cris to say because he’s so bright.

It’s great to be around so many people who are so smart all the time and around people who are focused on the same task as you, the same idea, the same goal of helping other people—bringing technology, education and opportunity together around a group of exciting, happy people. This reminds me of something that Cris said—he has a really funny story about me.

Cris and I were both doctoral students of music at the same time. I was at the University of Florida. He was at the University of Washington. But we met through conferences and we did some collaborative work between the two programs. Right as he was at the final dissertation point of his academic career, he said he looked around him and he saw everybody in higher ed was kind of miserable. The grad students were miserable and all the professors were miserable and everybody seemed to be frustrated and everybody just seemed to not be happy. He decided he’d rather go into a field where people were happier, and where he had more opportunity; where he could make better money and he and his wife could start a family and fulfill all of those personal-fulfilling goals rather than simply chase this career down the line. I got in touch with Cris when I first started investigating Code Fellows and I discovered that “Oh, yeah, this guy I know was an instructor there, I should reach out to him.” And Cris said that when that happened, he knew then that he had made the right decision ten years before to get out of higher ed. Because I went into it and was in it for almost a decade, and then kind of came crawling out ready to move on to something new, because I just reached the end of the road with it.

So the technology industry has some of those opportunities that you both were both looking for?

Absolutely. My place in the technology industry, at least right now, is to help other people get into it. I sort of burst in, and now I’m finding ways to help other people come in behind me. Certainly not taking things as far and as deep as other folks in the industry are but I’m still serving the industry by helping people become part of it. That’s my role. That’s great. I’m happy.

With a Code 201 class in its second week and some more courses coming up on the calendar, any advice for students who are coming into that class?

Yeah absolutely: practice coding a lot. There are a ton of online resources. Use them. Visit those sites. Work with them. Even if they’re not super challenging, even if they’re kind of redundant, even if maybe they’re not what you think could be the most perfect site, they’re still good to learn from because you get practice writing code. You get practice seeing code, reading code, being in the coding environment, and thinking that way. All of that is really wonderful.

Anything else you want to share about the program?

Oh yeah, get used to working with a terminal a little bit. Again, there are tutorials for it. But the more you practice coding, the easier it gets. Just like any other activity, the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes. So even unstructured practice is good.

In my years as a musician, I’ve taught a lot of guitar lessons. I would always tell my guitar students, “Even if you’re not actively practicing, just hold your instrument, just have it in your lap when you’re watching TV. Fiddle around on it. Even if you’re not doing dedicated specific technical practice, the familiarity you get from just having it on you all the time will pay dividends in your interactions with it.” I think the same way with code and technology. The more you do, the better. So, there we are.


Thanks, Sam! If you’re interested in applying for Sam’s class, click here to learn more about Code 201: Foundations of Software Development »