Code Academy Spotlight – Jeff Cohen

We wanted the best teacher and we got the best teacher.

-Neal Sales-Griffin, 21 Februrary 2012

It’s been a while since I heard Neal say these words during my interview and I have grown to appreciate them more with every class. Jeff seems to have nigh infinite patience with our questions and an incredible ability to explain concepts in just enough detail to keep us hungry for more. It’s a delicate balancing act – too much and we capsize, too little and we grow bored. Jeff hits it perfectly.

As a teacher myself (of tricking, mostly :)), I find it fascinating to watch others’ teaching styles. I’m beginning to realize that much of my own learning is dependent on my internal dialogues with a theoretical student. I love explaining things and teaching. I also have a bit of a head start on the class, so far, so I’ve been able to see things coming. The result is that I have been able to see what concepts Jeff is fleshing out, piece by piece, and how he’s doing it.

It’s beautiful.

In our Friday retrospective, my classmate Fernando said he was upset upon discovering a feature of Ruby on Rails called scaffolds. Scaffolds are part of the magic that is Ruby on Rails. They’re essentially a way to manifest an entire site out of thin air, with zero effort. So far, we have been learning to create the contents of a single scaffold. After 4 weeks, we can now painstakingly build a website that takes a single command to generate.

While I understand why Fernando is upset, it also brings a smile to my face. We understand the basics of the Rails infrastructure, we’ve ingrained Routes, Controller, Action, View, into our minds, and we have a strong fundamental understanding of the Model View Controller design pattern. When we learn about scaffolds, we will appreciate on a gut level how much time they save us.

It’s also not “what” Jeff has taught us that’s so valuable, but the context. To take an example from the Chinese language, the words 吃饭 (“chi1fan4”) literally means “eat rice.” Without context, you might think that it means just eating rice, when in fact rice has been such a staple part of the Chinese diet that it actually means “to eat” or “to eat a meal.” So when you are invited to sit at the dinner table, you are invited to “eat rice.” A literal translation might leave you lost and confused.

What Jeff has given us is the context to understand rake db:migrate. It takes a lot of patience and consideration to teach the “why” and to paint the bigger picture in broad brush strokes. So that way, instead of being confused by details, we can place them, like puzzle pieces, within that picture.

I’ve been on both sides, as a teacher and a student, and teaching how Jeff teaches takes a lot of time and effort. It takes a good deal of empathy and consideration. And it takes a whole lot of patience. That’s why watching this class unfold under Jeff’s masterful guidance has, itself, been a joy.

Thank you, Jeff. And sorry I’m such a terrible student!

“Teach your student according to their aptitude and provide education for all without discrimination.”

  • “…but, there is only one Jeff Cohen” – Mike McGee on starting Code Academy in other cities.

    • Absolutely. Maybe we can get Pete Jabbour from last class to clone him?