Jonathan Haines


How Teaching Molds the Marge Simpson of Coding

No, really. The lovable mom from Springfield, USA has years of wit and expert advice, sometimes unintentionally.

There’s an episode in season 12 of The Simpsons where Lisa asks her mother if the family has enough money to afford sending Lisa to college. Marge replies that Homer’s salary is probably not enough, but she could start giving piano lessons. Lisa replies that Marge doesn’t know how to play the piano. Marge responds with one of the shiniest of golden nuggets in her years as a cartoon mom:

"I just have to stay one lesson ahead of the kid." 
                                  - Marge Simpson

(In case you’re interested, this scene happens about 16 minutes into the episode “I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can.”)

What Does This Have to Do With Code?

In a sense, everything. But it goes deeper than that. This is a lesson in self-confidence, conquering imposter syndrome, and most importantly, the only way to avoid marrying Milhouse.

Coding is difficult. Everyone, from novice to expert, experiences a bit of imposter syndrome from time to time because there will never be any way to know everything. An expert in relational databases may know nothing about CSS, while another developer may be an expert in using parallax scrolling but have a hard time with fizz buzz. In an episode of Syntax, Wes Bos mentions his earliest impressions of React, citing published tweets explaining why React is a pretty lousy idea. In case you were wondering, Wes has since made one of the most widely used courses on React, acting as an evangelist for one of the most successful JavaScript libraries in recent years. Even the best have plenty to learn.

How does Wes Bos stay on top of his game? That goes back to Marge as well. Her idea of staying one step ahead of the student sounds a bit ridiculous, but it contains a foolproof method of learning. Teaching.

But Why Teaching? An Anecdote in the Morning Calm

Long before I decided that I wanted to code, I left my life in Brooklyn and fled to South Korea to teach English. I knew very little about the country, but figured teaching may be a great experience and a reason to travel Asia. While it may have initially seemed overwhelming, the familiarity of English offered an incentive to go and teach others something that I was good at.

My mother and father met in Brooklyn during high school English class back in the 1970’s. Growing up, my apartment was always filled with books. My father would constantly quote poems from Wordsworth and Coleridge while I was more interested in turning my Odin esper to Raider. But living in that environment would have its impression on me and I would realize this years later as a teacher in Korea explaining how to diagram a sentence.

For the first time in my life, I was understanding how much of a grasp of English I had by teaching it to others that didn’t have that same opportunity.

This would become more important as I started to take Korean classes on my own and then proceed to ask my students about the intricacies of their own language. While I wasn’t encouraged to speak Korean in these English classes, my curiosity got the best of me and while I taught elementary school kids English, I became their Korean student, simultaneously making our respective secondary languages better.

No one (except Socrates) wants to admit that they do not know something. Coding adds an extra layer of difficulty because there’s too much at stake. You don’t want to be called out as someone who doesn’t know. Yet that’s our line of work. If you don’t know, you Stackoverflow. This brings me to my next anecdote, this time taking place on my home turf of Brooklyn, New York.

The Struggles of a Lifelong Student

When I finally made my return to New York, I didn’t think I would teach again. And yet here we are in 2017 and I volunteer with an amazing organization called ScriptEd.

ScriptEd’s mission is to equip students in under-resourced schools with the fundamental coding skills and professional experiences that together create access to careers in technology. The future will be built in tech. Organizations such as these allow the playing field to be a little more leveled. In my short time as a volunteer teacher, I have seen brilliant minds retain new concepts pretty quickly. If I were to compare myself to Marge, it would be in my best interest to level up my own abilities as a developer. That allows me to be the best possible teacher.

You Belong

Staying confident in an ever-changing coding landscape is one of the most underrated abilities as a developer you could have. When you don’t know something, you know perfectly well that the answer is just a few clicks away. Get used to reading documentation, following more experienced developers, and really putting yourself out there, whether through writing articles or giving talks. You’d be surprised how many people find inspiration.

After all, you just have to stay one step ahead of everyone else.

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