INTERVIEWS

What Is It Like To Teach Harvard’s IT Course In Slovakia?

Technology Nation Course

Vratislav Fabian is a lead engineer at a software company in Kosice. Lately, he has also devoted his free time to teach non-IT people IT skills through a BrainBasket’s Technology Nation program. What is it like? What led him volunteer his time to improve lives of others? And most importantly, if you are an IT expert, why this might be also interesting for you?

When did you first hear about BrainBasket and its Technology Nation course?

I was asked by our Associate Vice President Roman Klimčík if I’m interested in this course and if I want to become a mentor for it. It has been the first ever BrainBasket course in Kosice, I had never heard of it before. Roman explained to me that it was a course for people who had never been in IT, and it should give them basic knowledge of programming in C, Python, SQL, HTML, CSS, JavaScript and also a basic knowledge of networking, internet, binary data and other stuff from IT world. It was a nice challenge for me as I had never been a mentor or teacher before.

The work is voluntary. Why did you decide to go for it?

Mostly, I loved the idea to help people to make a switch in their careers and learn something new and to gain some new experience as a mentor. So, I said yes.

What are your tasks and responsibilities as a mentor?

A mentor needs to have the overview about each student. He needs to check the status of tasks and move support students in their own tasks. That translates to a lot of studying of all materials and tasks related to each lesson.
During the class, I need to understand students’ issues and be able to explain to them why there is the issue and help them to find a solution.

In addition, as a mentor, I run the evidence of attendance and have the responsibility to check with the students who are not improving as expected. And, of course, a mentor should be a good motivator for students encouraging them in their work.

How is the course organized? I would like to know how often the lessons take place, are they remote or on-site, how many students are there, what is the curriculum?

There are on-site lessons twice a week. Then, in case someone has a big issue with their tasks, we usually discuss it via Slack or Skype.

At the beginning, there were around 20 students. However, it is not an easy course and many of students drop off after a few weeks because of time issues or not being able to make the same improvements as others. The curriculum is based on Harvard University’s CS50 class, so the quality is assured. It is one of the best courses for people who want to change their job and enter the IT field.

In my case, we had five students who finished the course.

Do you need to devote a lot of time?

It was not easy for me at the beginning, I had to study materials and tasks for each lesson even though I have a lot of experience in this area.

Technology Nation class in Kosice (Vratislav on right, red t-shirt)
Technology Nation class in Kosice (Vratislav on right, red t-shirt)

Did you run the classes on your own?

Yes, I had the liberty to run the classes on my own. It’s a good approach because every mentor is unique and can offer a different kind of methods to achieve the goals.

What are the necessary requirements for a potential mentor?

A mentor needs to have time to get prepared for the lessons. This is very important. Of course, it takes much less time if a mentor got through the same course before.

You should have the knowledge of programming in related languages, mostly C-language, and a good overview of networking, binary data, web technologies, etc. It is always about the balance between mentor’s time and knowledge. If they have less knowledge, they need to spend more time studying materials and go through the tasks.

If there is someone considering to become a mentor, what would you tell them?

Even though you need to invest your time, the feeling that you helped somebody to improve their career or life in general, and also helped companies to get more skilled people is a great reason to go for it. As a mentor, you will hugely improve your soft skills which can help you personally to move forward in your own career.

How would you describe the people who come to the courses and people who leave after the course?

In the beginning, they have no idea about programming and have jobs they are not that interested in. By the end of the course, most of them have changed their jobs and really started working juniors for an IT company. That is what truly satisfies me because it means that all the spent time made sense.

What does the situation with IT jobs and people need in Kosice look like?

Kosice is a very dynamic, expanding city in terms of IT. Many of significant companies have offices here, including T-systems, IBM, SAP Ariba, Ness, GlobalLogic, Siemens, and others. There is also an initiative called IT Valley Kosice running. The cooperation between the universities and IT companies is great.

Many of these IT companies have insufficiency of qualified manpower. On the other hand, the pool of college students who can not find a job in their field of expertise is quite big. Therefore the initiatives as Technology Nation are very welcome here.

Would you like to know more about mentoring through the Technology Nation program? Click here and find out.

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