Interview with Peter Bell, Curriculum Designer for Programming in Python


It’s finally here: today we’re announcing our second course, Programming in Python. Curious why we chose to focus on back-end web development with Python and where our course could take you? Here are some answers from Peter Bell, a startup mentor and programmer with decades of experience who helped build our Python curriculum.

Current jobs: Startup technologist and mentor, writer for Pearson, evangelist for hackNY, trainer at GitHub, instructor at General Assembly, co-founder and co-organizer of CTOSchool.

Role at Thinkful: Designing curriculum for Programming in Python.

Location: New York, NY

Tell us about how you started collaborating with Thinkful.

I’m passionate about two areas: edtech and developer education. I gave a presentation at the DLD conference in Munich that was called “Who’s going to build the future?” Basically, we’ve got all these great ideas for startups, but not enough engineers to build them. That’s what I’m trying to help fix.

I’m currently an “Evangelist” for hackNY. Over the past few months, I toured 17 colleges and spoke with students about hackNY, the New York City startup scene, and how to build an awesome career in software development. Thinkful is based in the same office as hackNY, so that made it easy to start collaborating.

Thinkful’s new course focuses on learning Python as a language for back-end web development. What makes Python a good language for web developers?

Python is great language to start out with because it’s relatively easy to learn, and it allows you to express your objectives very concisely. It’s also a very flexible language: it works for everything from building websites to developing machine learning systems. It’s a great first or primary back-end language that could help you get a job at a startup or at a large company looking for a data scientist. There’s a lot of demand for professional Python developers, and that’s only going to grow.

Learning to code is definitely a growing trend. Who should be taking this Python course?

If you want to understand the whole development process, or perhaps build your own startup, experience with back end development will introduce you to a wide range of skills. It’ll make you a better front end developer, and set you on the path to learning the full stack.

I would recommend that anyone who’s serious about front-end also do at least one course in back-end development to become a well-rounded engineer.

The course you’re working on for Thinkful incorporates test-driven development. Why is that important for programmers to learn?

There are two types of companies that you can work for: the companies that do test-driven development, and those that don’t. The first type are the ones that you want to work for. The best engineers, jobs and experiences are much more available to you if you know how to test drive your code.

People talk about getting test infected. What they mean is that learning test-driven development is like catching a cold: you have to get it directly from somebody else. That means that the way most people learn test-driven development is either through pair programming, or through mentoring with experienced developer. The way Thinkful uses mentors means that the course should be a great way to learn that skill.

 How do you see developer education changing in the future?

I believe that in the future a lot of people are going to revisit the value you get from a three or four year college degree. I don’t think anybody knows exactly what the future of education will look like, but there are a lot of interesting experiments. I’m trying to be involved in those experiments right now. What I like about Thinkful’s approach in particular is the way that it leverages existing material to provide a better experience at an affordable price point.

Why do you think there’s such a shortage of developers?

Well, “software is eating the world” as Marc Andreesen put it. Every company is becoming a software company, and there simply isn’t yet enough supply to meet the incredible spike in demand.

At one point, people thought we could outsource our way out of the problem. But we found that the high bandwidth in-person communication is a really important part of software development, so on shore developers are a critical resource.

You do a lot of work to help people get started as developers, through HackNY and now Thinkful. What’s your best advice for someone looking to break into the field?

I tell them to set up a GitHub profile and put at least two projects on it:

My other advice is to read Hacker News, at least once a week. If you don’t enjoy that, you won’t want to work for a tech startup. And if you want to work for a tech startup, it gives you the cultural references that will help you in any job interview

Our next Python course starts on Wednesday, July 31. Interested? Let us know.

Follow Peter on Twitter.