Behind the Screen: Joe Yao

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Joe Yao is the Lead Instructor at Juni Learning. In addition to teaching his students, Joe finds and interviews many of our instructors from top Computer Science universities across the country.

When did you know you wanted to work in Computer Science?

I started my career in the legal field, and I felt that I was working on a lot of day-to-day tasks that were so repetitive. I started learning about databases trying to automate some of those things, and inevitably learned how to code. Coincidentally, I was also able to help my parents out with their manufacturing business, and built their entire order processing & fulfillment system as I was learning Ruby on Rails.

Why do you spend your time teaching with Juni?

The students. All of them are so unique and funny, with their own big personalities. Since a lot of them are learning programming for the first time, they think about concepts in ways I haven’t thought of before, and I love hearing their perspective.

Tell us more about your role as Lead Instructor.

My main priority is bringing amazing instructors onto our team and empowering them to become the most effective teachers they can be. We believe that every instructor has their own teaching style, just like how each of our students each has their own learning style. It’s one of the factors we take into account when we match students with instructors.

How did you come into this role?

I was actually one of the earliest instructors at Juni. Beforehand, I hadn’t realized how much I liked teaching. As I was teaching, I was discovering different tactics and styles that worked well for different students, and I wanted to help other instructors also do the same thing.

What do you look for when hiring instructors?

We really care about the energy they exude plus their resilience to challenges. When we interview them (by observing their teaching), we are watching for a lot of things. How do they provide encouragement when something in the program isn’t working? How do they celebrate with the student when they unlock something new? How do they respond if a student doesn’t want to work on a particular task or project? How to they start to connect with the student to find common interests and develop mentorship?

What do you think is most unique about Juni?

Besides having a one-on-one instructor, I think our curriculum is very unique. There’s something about how we introduce new topics with each project — it’s practice and repetition without being boring, which is why the kids really enjoy it and retain the concepts well. Each session, you have a very new project to work on, and you’re practicing the same concepts while sprinkling in something new. It adds onto their repertoire of what they can do with programming.

What motivates you?

As a kid, when you’re young, so many decisions are made for you, like what you eat, what you wear, where you go, what time you sleep. You don’t feel like you have a lot of agency as a kid. But when you code, you get to dictate what happens. For me, it’s such an empowering thing to be able to help somebody do that.

Why do you think teaching online is beneficial?

Because our classes are held online, we’re able to reach a lot of students who may never be exposed to coding otherwise. The online environment is also helpful because the student and I can both control the computer at the same time. If I were to work with a student in person, ultimately, I would have to take over the computer to type or todo anything on the screen.

What are some of your teaching principles or strategies?

I always encourage my students to experiment with their code so that they aren’t afraid to try approaches that might not work. I tell my students there’s never one “right” way to write a program. Even if they don’t become professional programmers, I think learning how to approach problems and try a lot of different angles is incredibly important.

Joe and his brother, Alex!

Tell us some funny moments you’ve had with your students.

One day, one of my students was humming a song from Alice In Wonderland, called “A Very Merry Unbirthday to You,” and I started to sing it with him. He was so surprised that I knew the words. He was shocked that an adult would even recognize this song! He invited me to go watch his play because he was going to be in it. It was really sweet.

What do you do outside of teaching with Juni?

I like to go to spin class and I like to read. I also run a side business that sells monthly notebooks for journaling and planning.