Google engineering manager Vincent Mo reached out to a prospective corps member and engineering major to discuss the benefits of giving back and gaining real-world experience in the classroom as a programmer.
May 23, 2015
For engineering or tech professionals interested in giving back to their communities and bringing real-world experience into the classroom through Teach For America, one of the most common reservations is a concern they might fall behind in their technical skills, making it difficult to return to their field should they choose to. Here are a few points to consider.
- Engineers don't have to put their technical crafts completely on hold.
- Yes, you may fall further behind in technical skills if you join TFA...
- ... but the combination of teaching insight and technical ability could be stronger than technical ability alone.
I'll elaborate on each of these points.
1. Engineers don't have to put their technical crafts completely on hold.
2. Yes, you may fall further behind in technical skills if you join TFA ...
If you can find time to do personal projects, you can actually learn most of the programming skills on your own. The biggest thing you miss from being out of the industry is the infrastructure. For example, if I didn't work at Google, I wouldn't learn how to deploy websites to data centers around the world or consider load balancing between multiple backend servers with different performance characteristics. Some of the top engineers on my team are the ones that are good at scaling systems in a way that you can only learn at a big company, but I have equally senior engineers who are awesome at making UI animations fast and smooth, a skill that you can learn at home.
3. ... but the combination of teaching insight and technical ability could be stronger than technical ability alone.
When I hire engineers, one of the things that can make up for less-than-stellar technical interview results is special domain knowledge. For example, say I have a candidate for our Photos team who created a wildly popular photography related mobile app, but his programming interview results are borderline. I'll still take him on my team since he has the insight to say whether we're even building the right product. Being an ok programmer with special knowledge and insight into teaching will make you a stronger candidate than an ok programmer who's a generalist. The combination of education and software skills is really powerful.
Joining Teach For America is a big decision and shouldn't be taken lightly. But for the engineers who do join TFA and realize they have a passion for education, their lives could be much richer for it.