I am a UI.

Scientific observation then has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.

Maria Montessori, Education for a New World

Prior to working at The Iron Yard, my only teaching experience was in a junior high school. While it taught me many valuable skills like classroom and time management, teaching adults is very different from teaching 12 year olds. My first few days in the classroom were pretty rough as I had built up pedagogical habits that just didn’t fit in the adult classroom. And then, I remembered an article I had read about conference presentations:

I am a UI.

Nothing more.

And what’s a key attribute of a good UI?

It disappears.

It does not draw attention to itself.

It enables the user experience, but is not itself the experience.

And the moment I remember this is the moment I exhale and my pulse slows. Because I am not important. What is important is the experience they have. My job is to provide a context in which something happens for them.

Kathy Sierra 1

This idea utterly transformed my perspective about my role as an educator. I still made plenty of mistakes, it being my first semester on the job, but with the support of the other instructors at The Iron Yard and the cooperation of my fantastic students, I was able to step aside and let education take place.

Success = Skill + Hubris?

The final three weeks of our twelve week program are devoted to creating a project that is a large scale, professional quality application to both review and showcase the skills that we have worked on through the course. However, as important as it is to show off all the frameworks and languages that we have learned, the thing I found most impressive was the students’ mindset.

Research suggests that there are two categories of mindset that profoundly influence a person’s success, and our students have exhibited a flowering of the “growth mindset” that all great minds exhibit. If you watch the video of the demo day, you would never guess that many of those students chose to use a framework that has a notoriously difficult learning curve, even though they had never used, or even heard of, the framework only four weeks earlier. Of course, I never told them it was hard to learn, so when they encountered difficulty, they didn’t think “This is objectively hard, so I quit”, but instead “This is hard for me because I haven’t worked through it yet. Let’s get to work!”

I think that their success is, in large part, because, through a combination of experience and hubris, they believe they can solve any problem, no matter the difficulty. I couldn’t be more impressed with their accomplishments.