After picking up Woz U president, Chris Coleman at the airport, former Uber driver, Christian Wunder decided he had the drive to be in a tech career. We interview him on his transition to coding mentor and now curriculum developer in only 1 year.
Woz U: Your name kept coming up with such an interesting success story, actually. Our President, Chris Coleman brought your name up and said that you had driven him to the airport at one point?
Christian Wunder (CW): Yes, I was driving for Uber and I picked him up one morning. Along the way, we started talking about what he does. As soon as he told me about the coding bootcamp, I was immediately interested. And a year later, here I am.
Woz U: Such a cool story! And not just ‘here,’ but you went through the program, excelled in it and then we hired you as a coding mentor!
CW: Yes, [during the program], I was hired to work the student support desk which is answering student questions when they come in. I would be there nights and weekends after I was done with school. As soon as I graduated, I already had an offer to be a coding mentor here. Thinking back, it was a lot of fun.
Woz U: You’ve got to snatch up that talent when you see it! So you were a coding mentor and now you are a curriculum developer. I’d love for you to speak about what you love about those roles.
CW: So being a coding mentor, you really need to have that ‘teacher’s heart.’ I remember when I was in class, if I got something faster than my classmates, I would immediately be like, “Who needs help?”… [I thought] maybe I can help bring clarity to the classroom so that we can keep moving forward as a whole. So that is how they picked me out to be a mentor after I graduated. When you’re going through this, it’s pretty difficult stuff.
You can read about programming until you’re blue in the face, but until your fingers start moving on that keyboard, you don’t know what you don’t know yet.
Much of our mentor sessions consisted of us talking about the big picture. The curriculum works through very specific tasks. It is worth taking a step back to talk more about how what we are creating fits into a larger cohesive picture. And I feel like that was a big help to a lot of students to be able to keep that scope in mind. Other times, students would get stuck over a big overwhelming problem. Instead of trying to solve everything all at once, I would ask them, “what problem can you solve right now?”
Woz U: Yeah, step by step. So having students see the big picture and breaking it down empowers them to take the first step in the right direction.
CW: Exactly. And most of the time this means reiterating their question back to them. So a lot of the times students will say “I don’t know how to do X.” And you’ll be like “What do you think X is supposed to do?” or “If you can’t do X, can you do Y?” This method allows them to use their methodology to solve the problem rather than relying on their instructors and mentors for the solution.
Woz U: … or just going through the motions and not knowing why.
CW: Absolutely. And that’s a big battle that [coding] bootcamps have in general; they get labeled as ‘syntax factories’ where they say “we’re going to teach you how to type code” but the student doesn’t know why they are doing it.
That is a big thing that all the coding mentors at Woz U instill: why are you doing this? How is the code you type interpreted by the computer and why?
Woz U: How is our software developer program unique or differentiated than other coding bootcamps or coding programs?
CW: One of the big things is Coder for Life [where students get access to updated course curriculum indefinitely.]. I find this to be extremely valuable. Because we are continuously improving the curriculum, the curriculum is not static like traditional colleges where the curriculum becomes dated quickly. We have the ability to move faster. So, if you come to [Woz U] and you study software development in whatever language and you want to take a different language, you just call your admin rep and they unlock it for you. You stay continuously plugged in.
Woz U: What do you love about being a curriculum designer at Woz U?
CW: A Being a coding mentor is a position of growth and I feel like I maxed out that growth. So moving over into authoring felt pretty natural in that it is a way for me to directly affect the student experience. I am able to curate the material and make sure that everything that is getting put out is world class and that it is something that students can connect with and understand
Woz U: This is unique too because not all coding bootcamps have a curriculum that is authored by former students. They know what the gaps are now they are creating it themselves. That is cool!
CW: Yes … we have David Koontz, lead curriculum developer, who is an alumnus too and we sit right next to the engineering department. Whenever we get to an impasse, we can talk to the engineers. Coming from a student’s perspective and then mentoring students with the existing curriculum, it becomes very apparent what we need to update and revise.
Woz U: How much research did you do before you enrolled in our program?
CW: There were 3 options [including Woz U]. There was Galvanize and then there was Dev Mountain, I believe My admissions representative at Woz U was Tom Fisher and Tom understood my needs and what I was going through. He made sure that I had the flexibility I needed and really knew the program. So when I came into it, I knew exactly what I was getting into. My classmates and I that ended up working on our group project together didn’t stop for the day until everything we wanted to get accomplished got done That set the wheels in motion to not only getting hired before graduation, but also to gain momentum on the final project. We followed through and were able to get the Triple Threat Table Tennis Tracker done in 6 weeks!
Woz U: Yeah, that was incredible. And I know that [Woz U president], Chris Coleman was talking about that he kinda discouraged you from pursuing the Triple Threat Table Tennis Tracker originally.
CW: Everyone did. [Our instructor, Josh] said “You have one week to do as much research as possible on Triple Threat Table Tennis Tracker. Find out what it’s going to take to build and have a proof of concept that you will be able to pull this off. If you don’t, then you’re gonna go build BuddyFinder.” BuddyFinder was our backup project but BuddyFinder never got built.
That doesn’t mean we did not almost give up. A One big issue was that the XBox Kinect Sensor, [which is what the Tracker used to keep score], is designed to track people in low-light situations. When the ping pong ball is moving quickly, we don’t actually see the ball, all we see is a smudge of color… [and when using the standard orange ping pong ball], the sensor started to pick up skin tones. We had to do a little bit of Hollywood ‘smoke and mirrors’ in order to get the Kinect sensor to accurately pick up the ball. On the last day of the first week and we finally got a black backdrop setup and a hot pink ball, ran some tests, and we realized that we were able to actually get some solid tracking at that point because of those changes.
Woz U: How did that feel?
CW: It was a lot of fun! Once we got the test and we started rolling with it, pretty much the last week, we were just testing the app for any kind of edge cases. So for the last week, all we did was play ping pong. And people were like “Are you ever going to do anything.” And we were like “We are doing something! We’re working right now!”
Woz U: That’s so brilliant! Could you share a favorite memory from the program?
CW: I would say Demo Day and graduation. That was a fun day and a really good time. We were all wearing suits. We got to demo the Triple Threat Table Tennis Tracker, and miraculously, nothing went wrong! My family was there, my teammates’ families were there and the employers in the building were shaking our hands and excited to learn more. At that time, the wall that everyone signs [at graduation] only had like 12 or 15 signatures on it. So that was really fun to be able to sign the wall when it was so barren. it’s really cool to try and find mine now that it is covered with signatures.
Woz U: What advice do you have for future students?
CW: Don’t stop! Whenever you think that you are done for the day, do another hour or two. When you get to a problem that you can’t solve, take a step back. It lets you find a simpler solution that you couldn’t see when you’re that close to it.