Monthly Archives: October 2020

Teaching Programming

Note: This is a post I drafted in 2017 and am publishing now in 2020.

My Background

I’m working as a tech educator now – my official title is “Lead Instructor”. I even have a super fancy business card:


This is after “years of industry experience” and “many hours of classroom instruction”, specifically volunteer work through TEALS-K12 teaching computer science in Brooklyn, work-study teaching Python to 7-12th graders during college, and teaching a self-designed actionscript/flash curriculum to peers during high school.

I think a lot about education. I think a lot about quotes like @LiaSae’s because I agree with it. I believe the current problems with the American school system are problems of economics, not education. The problem is that it’s the “Silicon Valley Jerks” like myself that have the wherewithal (read: money/privilege) to try crazy things like coding schools, but we don’t have the teaching background. Someone needs to combine the two.

Teaching Certificates and Regulation

The boot camp I work for is accredited by the state (CODHE). The application process is rigorous and it takes hundreds of hours to put together the documents. This ensures that CODHE has reviewed our curriculum and approved it. But, this means that if we come up with a “better” curriculum that we’d like to try, there’s no room to pivot. We would have to go through the approval process again, which nobody wants to do. Pros and cons.

(Edit from 2020: we actually could pivot. As far as I can tell there was very little oversight and so calling “audibles” to switch out materials or teach something different was totally fine, as long as we believed it would benefit the students. The state just wanted to make sure we were actually thinking through this stuff? The company is now defunct so I feel like I can admit this).

I don’t have a teaching certificate. As far as I can tell, the need for programming teachers is so huge right now that they’ve basically dropped that requirement. You also don’t need a teaching degree at a private institution like the one that I’m teaching at now. I understand that this is a huge gap in my experience and I’ll certainly be getting one right after completing an undergrad teaching preparation course, 800 hours of teaching experience, and… yeah… not going to happen anytime soon. I can’t even find if there’s an accredited program for getting a computer science teaching certificate (maybe at Regis? What a convoluted PDF).

As far as I can tell, no teachers at bootcamps have teaching certificates (let me know if you do!). Does this mean we’re all those silicon valley jerks? Yes, and that sucks for the students and it sucks for the companies that try to hire out of boot camps like mine. Lots of people argue that boot camps should be regulated by the government and I agree with them and I think @LiaSae would too. But then, I would be out of a job and 99.99% of bootcamps would shut down.

(Edit from 2020: it seems like this was a good idea. I should have taken a harder stance on this, since it does seem like a lot of fly-by-night bootcamps popped up and quickly shuttered. The one I worked for, I believe they were doing a lot of the right things, but the market quickly saturated for junior developers and we started not being able to get people hired. After I quit – taking a job with a 30% salary bump – the bootcamp I had worked for was able to attract enough students and shuttered.)

It’s hard enough convincing programmers to take a pay cut and work at a boot camp. It’s even harder to do that to programmers who have the prerequisite charisma to teach, since that probably means they have the prerequisite charisma to climb a corporate ladder. All of my favorite teachers have done the job because they love inspiring students and because they love teaching.

I taught programming at the School for Human Rights in Brooklyn, NY, through the TEALS-K12 program. The TEALS program takes tech professionals and places them in morning classes – usually four volunteers to a class – and has them teach programming before they go in to work. They teach not only the students, but also the teacher, with the hope that the teacher will be able to teach the class on their own after 3-4 years of instruction.

None of these volunteer teachers are regulated or licensed, though they are trained. The year I participated, they also expected us to come up with the assignments and lessons for the class. It went… poorly. (Based on our feedback, they’ve hired curriculum developers and really flushed out the materials. Based on their new materials and their progress, I highly recommend volunteering through them if you’re interested in tech education but you can’t quit your job just yet.)  I was lucky that I’d done amateur curriculum design before, and one of my co-teachers had been a licensed chemistry teacher for years. That said, if they tried to hire only programming professionals who had teacher licensure, they’d have just a handful of schools in their program instead of 161.

I think this is a great example of Silicon Valley Jerks who know nothing about education really trying to make a difference. Is it the best teaching experience for the students? No. I certainly floundered a lot when I was learning to teach. But it’s certainly better than no technology education at all due to a lack of resources.

(Note from 2020: The more I learn  about how schools are funded by property tax to specifically benefit rich folks’ schools, the more I strongly believe we need more fundamental reform than just sending Silicon Valley Jerks like myself to go teach at underfunded locations. But it’s a good bandaid in the meantime. You need to treat the symptoms while you treat the cause.)

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of teacher licensure in computer science and I would love to incite a discussion on the issue. Pros mostly involve better oversight, better instruction technique, and more consistent curricula. Cons involve not being able to move fast and pivot, even more undersupply of teachers, and less learn-to-code startups. Imagine if Salman Khan had to get a teaching license first.

(Note from 2020: I’m back to teaching, but this time I’m actually titled as an “Adjunct Lecturer” at Howard University through a program at Google, where I work now. It’s the same thing: send us Silicon Valley Jerks into programs to help build out the pipelines. We need to do this and ALSO address the underlying economic and prejudice problems that lead to this, by rethinking how we do things like students loans and school funding. I originally had some more topics to cover here, but I think what’s above is good on its own.)

From the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,


Awkwardness, Wavelengths, and Amplifiers

I’m an introvert, and although I can pass as an extrovert in certain situations (like being in front of a crowd, or when hanging out with people I know well), I still have a problem with small talk. I’ve run into this problem a couple of times over the last few days, where a conversation I’m having with someone suddenly dries up. I often make it worse by sighing or shifting my gaze downward. There’s just nothing to say for a moment and we (this happens in one-on-one and small groups, mostly) just sit for a while and steep in the silence.

Often we get the conversation going again (I usually try to ask about hobbies, goals, work, etc) but it’s a painful reminder that I’m not great at keeping a conversation going.

But there are some people who I seem to be able to talk for a long time with, at length about topics, and some external force has to intervene to end the conversation. I, of course, try to make friends with these people and hang out with them often, but occasionally it happens with a stranger. What mysterious force is it that suddenly makes me able to hold a deep and intelligent conversation with someone, without having to resort to “small talk”? I was thinking about this on the subway home after a party tonight and framed it in an interesting way, that I thought might make a good essay.

Note, I don’t want to claim I’ve “discovered” anything or that this is “the way”, I just want to explore this idea and would love feedback on it.

People have certain interests, and various intensities of these interests. I might call these “wavelengths” – a frequency (topic) and an amplitude (depth of knowledge / interest) that people carry a multitude of. I, for example, could talk to you at length about webcomic publishing, or perhaps the 1987 roguelike computer game Nethack, or how everything about the Scott Pilgrim movie was perfect except for Michael Cera. All of these things I have factoids, opinions, and perhaps most importantly and interest in discussing.

If you ask me to talk about gasoline cars, or maybe the Kardashians, or football, I have a thought or two but you’ll quickly discover that I’m not “on that wavelength.” The conversation can’t last long because I don’t have much to contribute. I’ll say, “hmm, interesting” and listen to you and be happy to learn some things, but I won’t have anything real to contribute. And so unless you’re very passionate about the topic, the conversation will soon end and I’ll make an excuse about having to refill my drink and wander off to find a new conversation. Which is fine, I bet you don’t want to be in this staring-at-the-floor-contest any longer either.

There are also some real dampeners, which one should seek to avoid. Some people don’t like to talk about some things for real reasons, and it’s not kind to force them onto those topics.

And so striking up a conversation is a frequency-searching exercise. What do we have in common enough to talk about. Work, sure. The weather, sure. Complaining about the MTA, sure. But those things aren’t (usually) the kind of things that get people really excited. And sometimes they’re dampeners, when someone is having a bad time at work and you ask them how work is going. But it’s difficult, since the things people really like to get into the weeds about are often obscure, and there’s a strange pressure against just opening conversations with, “hey are you into Nethack?” unless there’s some reason, like I saw you playing Nethack. I think it’s a failure thing; if I get all excited, “oh, are you a Nethack fan?” and the response I get is, “what’s that?” then I know I’m in for giving an explanation, which isn’t the same as a conversation.

Which of course is one of the reasons that the internet is so neat. I can just click some buttons on my $2000 facebook machine and get instantly connected to a large group of Nethack fans. Sometimes these online conversations spill over into real life. But often the Venn diagram of people I hang out with IRL and the people who are in these online groups is two circles. The fact that we can find these “lifestyle enclaves” (see Habits of the Heart by Bellah et al) of people on the same wavelength can also be dangerous echo chambers.

But the best, the best thing is when you run into someone who is an amplifier on your wavelength. My partner is like this for a lot of things, where we both get excited about something and end up being able to talk about it for a long time. And I have a friend who is like this for technical things – once we start coming up with tech and business ideas it’s very difficult to stop.

But to do this, your wavelengths have to be similar, and just like music there have to be other notes – other wavelengths that you can bounce off of to add interest to the conversation without it falling flat. And these amplifiers are rare. You know them when you find them and you hold on to them. They’re people who hear your ideas and “yes and” them, sending the wavelength back to you, but louder. You’re safe to explore here. You can even dig around for new wavelengths together, since you can always return to your common ground if nothing turns up.

There are some people who seem to be able to frequency-hop easily. It’s practice, I know, but I’m not that good at it. And as an awkward nerd-human I’m terrible about hiding when I’m uninterested in a wavelength, I quickly lose interest. My partner is great at this – she has the ability to work with people across a much wider variety of interests and be (or at least seem) interested in what they’re saying, and carry on a conversation. This is a skill I’m still working on, but it is a skill that can be practiced.

Name Change

When Greta and I got married, we joked that we were going to merge our last names (Dohl and Seidel, respectively) into a portmanteau, “Seidohl”. With our wedding date approaching and no better ideas, we happily went forward with that idea and made it our legal last name. This isn’t a guide (there’s a good one here) but really just a story.

For posterity, and also to hopefully instruct anyone interested in doing the same, I’ve decided to write down the processes we’ve gone through. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve had similar or different experiences!


To begin: my parents, The Seidels, took my mom’s maiden name when they were married. As far as I can gather, they did it mainly because of my dad’s strained relationship with my Grandfather. (Only one child – an adopted second cousin – still bears the Pizarro name that was handed down by my Grandfather). Still, they apparently faced some hardship in changing my dad’s name officially, so I was expecting a tough time of making up an entirely new name.

Telling my family was not hard. Most of them agreed that it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do and actively encouraged us. My maternal grandfather (rest in peace) seemed surprised, although he was in good humor about receiving the news that I would be likely the last Seidel on his side of the family. He mentioned one great aunt who would be “spinning in her grave” about the news. (Connect her to a turbine?). I never met her and, to date, have not been visited by her angry ghost. So I think I’m good there.

YMMV, of course, with your own family.

Marriage License

In the county where we were married, we could only change our names to a) one of our existing last names or b) hyphenate our last names. (I can no longer find a reference to this, but Michigan’s marriage laws being as backwards as they are I wouldn’t be surprised). So for our actual marriage, we just c) kept our own last names.

New York

We moved to NYC right after getting married, and changed our names through the NY state court system. This was relatively straightforward. We filled out some notarized paperwork and got a court date. Note that finding a Notary Public can be difficult, even in Manhattan! We needed our original Birth Certificates as well.

We dressed up nice and appeared in front of a judge. The main questions we were asked related to figuring out if we were doing this to get out of a debt, crime, or other obligation. I remember that the guy in front of us was changing his name for religious reasons and the judge approved that as well.

The details of this next part are a bit fuzzy, since this was so long ago. The judge approved our name change and sent us to get certified copies. There was a (IIRC) $65 charge to change the names, and then each notarized copy cost about $10. We ended up needing five (?) certified copies, one for our records, one for a couple of services like the Social Security office, debts (student loans companies), and more to publish in the newspaper. You must publish your name change in a public newspaper.

You can publish in the New York Times, if you want to shell out a boatload of money. I published in, I think, the Irish Echo, which cost about $35. You don’t need to be Irish to publish there! It’s one of the cheapest papers to publish in so I expect they do a brisk business on this.

Finally, we got certified copies of our completed name change documents for our records (another $6 per copy, I think?). We used that to do things like refresh our passports.


The only institution that really gave me any grief was my bank. They seemed perfectly happy to accept that my wife’s last name had changed through marriage without any documentation (this seems like a major security flaw???), but as soon as I told them that we’d changed it in front of a judge, suddenly they needed me to send documents for both of us. I did, and they changed the names promptly.

Trying to change my frequent filer miles name on Southwest also caused problems. Their online name change form simply didn’t work, and none of the phone support people could do anything but tell me to go fill out the form. I think I eventually got around it but it required some developer console hacking??

Changing emails, usernames and websites was also tricky. I still have my old last name in some usernames. I was very fortunate that I’d chosen ertysdl as my email username, since sdl stands for both Seidel and Seidohl! I promise I didn’t plan that. Some sites seem to use your username as a unique identifier, and why would that ever change?


Changing my last name wasn’t a difficult task, although it was made harder by state law in Michigan which didn’t allow us to change our name at the time of our wedding, which would have saved us a lot of time and expense. Only a few entities gave me trouble about updating my name, but otherwise it seems like a pretty common thing to do and most of the clerks didn’t blink an eye – in fact, it seems like several people change their name every day in NYC, so the process is pretty streamlined.

Postscript: Thinking thoughts

I didn’t grow up with any strong connection to the Seidel name. It’s generally a German surname, and I’ve always wondered if the anti-German sentiment of the 1940s led to my earlier family suppressing that aspect of my heritage. I have a much closer affinity for Sweden, since I was partially raised by my dad’s mom who was born to Swedish immigrants. That said, I don’t really consider myself Swedish or have any connection to the country and its people other than that.

There aren’t many other Ertys in the world! I used to come up on the first page of google results with just my first name, but that seems to not be the case any more. Unfortunately, unique names come with downsides as well. There’s some weird art out there with my name attached to it (I didn’t make it!). However, with a unique first and last name, I end up being very Googlable. That’s something I decided was good?

To me, changing my name like this is an expression of the individualism and emptiness of the modern “white american” culture. I don’t have a connection to any large family or lineage through my names. I’ve changed both my first name (from Erik to Erty) and my last name (from Seidel to Seidohl), and I rarely use my middle name (and have considered changing it at times as well). A name is an outward expression of self. It’s like a tattoo. I don’t not like my original names, I’ve just found new ways of expressing myself. I think this is a form of rebellion against previous generations that put so much caché into names – let’s discard that and refer to ourselves how we want, not just on the internet. I’ve been lucky to not have familial pressure back on these decisions, so they’ve been almost no work at all.