Q&A with Leon Noel: On Learning to Code, Teaching, and the Early Days at GA Boston

Leon Noel, Front-End Web Development and JavaScript Instructor at General Assembly

About Leon

Leon Noel is the CEO of SocialSci, an academic surveying platform used by thousands of scientific researchers around the world. Leon conceived of SocialSci while studying biological anthropology at Yale. His company, incubated by TechStars Boston and Dog Patch Labs, has raised over one million in funding and has helped researchers answer more than 18 million scientific questions. When not running SocialSci, Leon enjoys teaching tech skills to students of all ages through General Assembly, Resilient Coders, and Citizen Schools MA. @leonnoel (http://leonnoel.me)

Q&A

How did you get started in web development?

LN: I’ve always tinkered with Web Development — Netscape had a fun tutorial / tool that helped you build websites and my Harry Potter + Dragon Ball Z fanpage was the envy of all my friends. I started taking Web Dev seriously in 2008 when I launched my first company and didn’t have the funds to hire someone.

You were in our first Front-End Web Development cohort when we launched in Boston at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Any funny moments about #lifeatGA in 2012 when we were just getting started?

LN: I remember GA Boston when it was just Matt B. (GA Boston employee #1) and me, and no dedicated classroom space— so if the conference room where the classes were held was already booked, we had to find other space or awkwardly ask the people using the room if we could have class. So crazy to see how far/fast GA Boston has grown.

You have been teaching with GA almost since the beginning. Describe the typical students you see in your part-time JavaScript and Front-End Web Development courses?

LN: From experience, my class is usually made up of four categories of students:

  1. Career changers looking to take on something challenging.
  2. Professionals that are happy in their current roles, but they work with developers and need to be able to walk into a room and understand what people are talking about. These classes help them “talk the talk”.
  3. People that want to become unicorns. For example, for visual and UX designers, knowing HTML and JavaScript can increase their value.
  4. Entrepreneurs. Developers are expensive so often times entrepreneurs would rather invest in themselves.

Outside of coding, what other skills do you try to teach your students?

LN: The skill to keep learning. They may not be a subject matter expert right away, but we want them to be hungry and eager to learn more.

Web Development is like the wild wild west, the way we do things are fundamentally changing. Even developers that have been in the game for 15 years are having to learn new skills and new ways of doing things. HTML, CSS, and JS have all changed significantly and continue to.

What are some things you have learned from your students?

LN: When you are a developer, you will run into problems. A good developer knows how to problem solve and find solutions for those problems. Now imagine you have 20 students per class, 60 hours of instruction, so about 1200 hours of potential problems. That exposes you to exponential chaos that makes you so much better as a developer.

Everyone comes in with a different perspective, and I have worked with hundreds of students which has helped me see how others visualize these problems. This ultimately makes me a better consultant, better executive, and better entrepreneur as a whole.

What would you tell someone that is interested in coding but is afraid to get started?

LN: It is hard work, lots of dedication, and problem solving which is a muscle you need to develop and grow over time. I tell my students that ten weeks is going to pass, so where do you want to be at the end of the ten weeks? It is all about what you make of it.

Interested in breaking into web development? Check out our courses at https://generalassemb.ly/