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“A Rising Tide Raises All Ships”: One Instructor’s Testament to the Power of Teamwork and Endless Curiosity

Written by Niko Stephen Angeles Martinez on Nov 15, 2021

Related content: Tech and Data Science, Boot Camps

Richard "Graydon" Scates

Long before Graydon Scates started teaching for the University of Connecticut Coding Boot Camp, his mom taught him the basics of how computers work. He was hooked from the start, and spent the rest of his childhood building and designing online games, websites, and even his own computers.

Flash forward to adulthood, and Graydon’s interest in technology, design, and good old-fashioned tinkering blossomed into a full-blown career. He landed a job at Yellow Shoes, Disney’s in-house creative agency, shortly after graduating from college. “From the start, I was the person in the office who helped with code review. Whenever somebody had a problem, they would come to me and I’d show them how to solve it.”

Graydon’s knack for tech and teaching eventually led him to take on the additional role of instructor, initially for the University of Central Florida (UCF) Coding Boot Camp. It was students from his most recent cohort of the University of Connecticut Coding Boot Camp who nominated Graydon for 2U’s Student Choice Awards this fall.

As a regional academic specialist and one of the facilitators of 2U’s online celebration for winning instructors, I was impressed with Graydon’s ability to set students on the path to success by emphasizing the power of teamwork and the importance of curiosity. So I sat down with him to learn more about the teaching strategies he uses in the online classroom, which ultimately earned him 2U’s “We Only Succeed as a Team” award.

A screenshot of the moment I presented Graydon with his 2U Student Choice Award during our online celebration

Infusing Curriculum with Real-world Insight

Great boot camp instructors are known for connecting curricular lessons to life beyond the classroom, and that’s exactly what Graydon does. “The way I describe what happens in our boot camp is that students learn the foundational skills that go into making platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and all the sites you encounter every day,” he explains. “All of those web applications use the tools that we teach our students.”

Graydon taps into his many years of professional experience to provide students with insight into applications they could build in the future. For example, he shows them a powerful email templating tool he single-handedly conceptualized and built at Yellow Shoes. The tool uses many of the front-end skills that students learn in class, including HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and MySQL database technology.

“But we don’t just focus on coding,” Graydon continues. “We also dive into collaboration tools, what it’s like to work on a team, and how important it is to keep teaching yourself new things, because the industry is always changing and growing. I talk a lot about the process of learning. The boot camp is about giving people the tools they need not only to advance their careers, but also to keep pushing their knowledge forward.”

The industry is always changing and growing. The boot camp is about giving people the tools they need not only to advance their careers, but also to keep pushing their knowledge forward.
— Graydon Scates, Instructor, University of Connecticut Coding Boot Camp

Practicing What He Teaches

In addition to having a wealth of professional experience, Graydon excels as an instructor because he devotedly follows the advice he gives students. For example, he taught himself the programming language C# (“c sharp”) in order to create a video game on the game development platform Unity.

“Unity lets you code in either JavaScript or C#,” says Graydon. “I knew JavaScript really well—and we teach that in the boot camp—so I could have easily done that. But I chose to use C# specifically because I wanted to learn it in order to expand my own skill set.”

He advises students to challenge themselves in similar ways so they continue learning well beyond the boot camp. “Choose something you don’t know how to do and force yourself to learn it by giving yourself a project to work on,” says Graydon. “That’s a great practice that I encourage students to turn into habit.”

Instilling the Importance of Teamwork

Graydon has worked with hundreds of students from a wide variety of backgrounds. “When I taught for UCF, several of my students were coming from the Orlando hospitality industry,” he says. “Many were working at hotels and resorts, others were graphic designers or nurses. So my boot camps have ranged from those with no coding experience to serious database developers seeking more front-end knowledge.”

For Graydon, finding meaningful ways to connect with his students is one of the most rewarding parts of his role. “Some people take what you give them and soak it all in,” he says. “With others, I figure out the place they’re starting from and say, ‘Okay, so it’s kind of like this.’”

Above all, the prevailing message Graydon passes on to students is that everyone brings something unique to the table. He integrates that idea into the boot camp, encouraging students with different skills to work together so they can learn from each other.

“For the group projects, I decide who’s in each group by randomizing everyone—because you don’t get to choose who you work with when you enter the workforce,” says Graydon. “I build a JavaScript randomizer with all the students’ names in it and then I run it in front of them. Beyond being another real-world coding example, this exercise helps tell students they’re all peers and working together. A rising tide raises all ships.”

An example of code that Graydon has shown his students from his personal projects

Building a Powerful Network

That lesson tends to stick with students in Graydon’s classes, several of whom have become teaching assistants with other boot camps, where they share their knowledge with new coders. Others have gone on to work at top companies like Deloitte. One of them even joined 2U as a curriculum developer.

One thing Graydon has noticed is that when one student gets hired at a company, they’re often quick to refer their boot camp classmates for open positions. A strong sense of community—both in the classroom and after the program ends—is part of what makes this career path so special.

“I’ve even been thinking about starting up an alumni Dungeons & Dragons group. It’s more online problem-solving, but in a fun way. But the big takeaway here is, when you turn around and help others, they turn around and help you,” he says. “Then everybody grows together.”

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