Dev Chat: Andrew Madden of General Assembly

By February 16, 2015, 11:01 pm EDT
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Just like your inbox, tech never slows down in Chicago. While Techweek Chicago is a ways off in June, there’s plenty to be a part of throughout the city. Recently, General Assembly (GA) — a global educational organization with campuses in 13 cities worldwide — opened its Chicago office with a wealth of learning opportunities for those interested in adding new skills to their portfolio or transiting careers, with a focus on tech, design, and business topics such as web development and UX design and digital marketing. They will be moving soon to a River North tech hub called “SPACE” and plan on hosting events and courses there as well as at 1871 – their current home.

Andrew Madden is a web development instructor at GA with a background in music and audio engineering. He has been teaching GA’s full-time, 12-week Web Development Immersive (WDI) program since 2013. We chatted with him about his background and classes happening at GA:

Q: Andrew, tell us a bit about your background. How does music influence you as a developer and instructor?
A. As a developer, I find that music is a domain where there is no definitive correct answer. You practice your guitar and remember some chord shapes with your fingers. You try to remember the “rules”’. Then you’re left there with all these tools and no correct next step. Programming feels the same to me. I get the same creative feeling when writing software that I love in music. You learn the protocols and become comfortable with some syntax, but then it’s your turn to play.

As an instructor, I find that music has helped me learn how to maintain a room’s attention. I think of instruction as entertainment with a long-lasting purpose.

Q. You were a part of the New York City tech ecosystem and got your Masters at NYU. Now that you are in Chicago, what do you notice about the Windy City that makes it unique?
A. I also lived in San Francisco for a few months. The primary difference I see between these three cities is how people communicate in casual settings. What’s unique here?  Chicago has been very welcoming and friendly. It seems to be a thing to ask about one’s heritage. Chicago has both strong civic and historical pride.

On the tech side, I have been given the impression that we have a realistic tech scene here. That is to say that people are building things that could matter and have a sound business model as opposed to hype backed ideas. That friendly attitude finds its way here too – a rising tide lifts all boats mentality.

Q. Can you talk about a moment you are particularly proud of being a part of?
A. I am a teacher at heart. I am proud of my work as an instructor. I’ve taught the WDI at GA four times so far. I’ve seen the course change as the technology landscape has changed and I’m proud of that progression. I see the results in two ways. One is, of course, when the vast majority of former students quickly find themselves in full-time development position. The other result is when a cohort of students bond together. My most recent class became so close that, after the class ended, they rented a big house for a skiing weekend together! The email thread was TOO MUCH! They coordinated who would drive, cook, bring games, etc. Every message and ultimately every picture had me in a state of “Oh…you guys! :D”.

Q. What’s your favorite part about teaching the Web Development Immersive program?
A. I talk about this during the first day of each class. The most rewarding part about teaching an immersive course are those moments, typically later in the course, when the students start using the word “yet” more often in their vocabulary. For example: Question: “Have you worked with Angular.js?” Answer: “Not yet; give me a weekend”. I see many students leaving the course, not only having acquired the skills that we teach, but also empowered to learn new technologies on their own. This is my primary goal.

Q. What will people experience in your class? Do you have a certain teaching style?
A. My teaching style is really based on my excitement for the material. I show why I am excited about each topic. When I can impart some of that same excitement, students learn it and more importantly want to learn even more later. I remember, before I was a developer, I felt locked in by the tools built by other people. My creativity was stuck in the sandbox they provided. After learning the foundational parts of development, I became a tool builder. If the app didn’t exist for what I wanted to do, I’d build it. Suddenly my sandbox limitations were only in the number of hours in the day. That is an exciting feeling! I probably tell that story 10+ times during my class.  I love seeing students share in that experience. GA provides me with educational coaching, to include education best practices into my style, but for me it all starts with my excitement.

Q. Who makes a good programmer, in your opinion?
A. A “good programmer” is someone who is excited about their being more than one good answer to a problem. If you find the candlestick problem exciting, you may be a good future programmer. In other words, I consider it to be more about mindset and attitude than certain predispositions. There are, of course, different kinds of programmers. I mean, don’t expect me to help NASA land any anything on Mars. When it comes to web development, however it’s about being excited that new libraries and frameworks are invented every day and you’re along for the ride. You’re free to apply these tools in any way your out-of-the-box mind can come up with. It’s more about being excited that there is no “right answer”.

Q. Why should people hang out with you on March 4th?
A. We’ll be launching our GA Chicago campus. GA is all about community.  That community includes designers, developers, business leaders, and people who saw this cool thing online. It’s awesome. We will be running events, part-time and full-time courses, workshops, panels discussions and more out of this new space. I am thinking of this as our welcome home event! I and other GA team members will be there to chat about technology, design, music, and our learning community. I look forward to working toward connecting our Chicago community with our 13-city and four-continent strong global community. Come join us! You must be humble and not-a-jerk to enter.

Meet Andrew and the GA team at their Open House on March 4th at SPACE – the open house and happy hour will be a great way to experience Chicago’s growing tech scene.
GA Chicago Open House
444 N Wabash Ave, 5th Floor
Chicago , IL 60611

RSVP here.
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