We are often asked to describe the ‘typical’ Tech Talent South student. Questions include “What are their goals during the program?”, “What were they up to before applying?”, and of course, “What are they doing now?”. It’s sometimes difficult to explain the fact that there simply is not a standard TTS student. Each and every student has a different story, and we believe there is something to be said for that. Only the tech industry and world of programming could attract and contain so many people with such diverse backgrounds, ideas, and ambitions. It’s an exciting group of folks looking to do BIG things and, more than anything, we are just glad to be a part of it!
This brings us to this week’s graduate spotlight: TTS grad Jess Bowling. Jess has an interesting background in IT and film from his time working at Emory’s School of Medicine as a Sr. Application Support Developer, and from running his own film company: De Facto Pictures, LLC. Yep, his reasons for learning to code are pretty ‘tailor-fit’. For Jess, it doubles as a way to bring more knowledge and capability to his current position at Emory, while also bringing more innovation into his craft of filmmaking.
Needless to say, graduates of Tech Talent South are one-of-a-kind and the word ‘typical’ just doesn’t apply. Every person coming into our program has their own goals, ideas, and reasons for learning to code, and we think that rocks! So, we caught up with Jess to talk more about his experience in our program and how he’s currently incorporating his new skill into his (pretty awesome) daily life. I mean, the picture says it all. Don’t you think?
1. So, tell us, what were you up to before joining the TTS community (and perhaps still up to)!
Ya’ know, it’s kinda’ funny… For pretty much the entirety of my professional life, I’ve led two lives, which occasionally get the opportunity to intertwine. By day, I’m a Sr. Applications Support Developer/Analyst with the Emory School of Medicine’s Office of Information Technology Services (SOM-ITS). By night, I’m an experimental documentary filmmaker and the owner of De Facto Pictures, LLC.
I joined the TTS Winter-2014 part-time cohort having just entered my seventh year working in information technology in academic medicine. As a Sr. Developer, my area of specialization is in robotics-based medical simulation. I provide dedicated technical support and consulting for the Emory Center for Experiential Learning (ExCEL), which includes the School of Medicine’s Clinical Skills and Simulation Centers.
Adjacent to my IT career, I’ve been directing experimental documentaries and occasional client films for over 10 years. I’ve been very appreciative and humbled by the opportunity to travel abroad to shoot documentaries and see some of my work screened across the US. Most recently, I traveled through several regions in Italy on two separate occasions in the summer of 2010 & 2011 to produce a couple of short documentaries focusing on one of Emory’s study abroad programs.
2. What were the forces behind your interest in journeying into the tech industry & what led you to apply to TTS?
Much like other sectors of the tech industry, medical simulation is a constantly evolving field where innovation, increased efficiency of systems, and fidelity to actual patient encounters is of considerable value. As much as high-fidelity medical simulators increasingly meet those needs, what you discover pretty quickly is that the anima behind the simulators lies in the programming innate to the applications that run them. As intriguing as the simulators tend to be per se, it’s the programming behind the scenes that really breathes life into the robotics.
Having devoted considerable thought to the reciprocal relationship between simulators, their control applications, and student interaction with the technology, I found myself contemplating how programming could play a role in enhancing the medical simulation experience. The more thought I gave it, I realized that both the expansion of existing SIM-related apps as well as the development of ones that don’t exist could unlock a lot of new possibilities for the future of simulation-based education, particularly in the realms of ease-of-use, durability, and the learner’s suspension of disbelief when practicing with a simulator.
The more ideas that came to mind, the hungrier I got to improve some programming skills I had cultivated as a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Digital + Media program. When I found out about TTS’ part-time immersion program from a developer buddy of mine, I began the application process the same day.
3. What were your own goals in learning to code & in what ways did you feel like our Code Immersion program was the right fit?
Well, first and foremost, there’s something to be said for geography… I mean what can I say? I’m an Atlanta native who loves his hometown. Though I lived up north for a while attending RISD, I’m a well-traveled southerner who’s always felt a certain affinity for his native city. When I started taking a look at what educational opportunities were available for programming, I found some of the immersion programs in San Francisco and Chicago to be pretty enticing, but a bit distant. As attractive as they were, pursuing them would’ve entailed too much professional and personal sacrifice at this stage of my life.
At the risk of being a little hyperbolic, when I found out about TTS and the part-time program, the only thing that could’ve been more tailor-made to my learning interests and work schedule would’ve been the hiring of a tutor. Ya’ know, the simple truth was TTS was perfect for me. I was able to continue working my normal full-time schedule as a Sr. Developer, take classes in the evening, and code on weekends.
4. As the program kicked off, what were some ways you felt the program helped you along?
Well, given my background as an experimental filmmaker and a third-generation programmer, I was already thinking pretty differently when I arrived at TTS. One of the many things I appreciated about my time learning with my fellow part-timers, was how much TTS embraced creative thinking and innovation. I’ve taken some programming classes in the past that were very focused on a kind of step-by-step, textbook-centered approach to programming. And while that kind of approach is very useful, it struck me that TTS was just as interested in their students’ concepts and ideas that could be given life via programming as they were in their students learning how to program.
Ya’ know, it’s of little doubt that simply possessing a fluency in a framework or programming language is going to enable someone to get a computer to do exactly what they want. But, there’s quite a lot of creativity and imagination that goes into figuring out exactly what that “thing” is and how it’s going to be programmed. I tend to think that in the grand scheme of looking at different pedagogies for programming, the more of an equilibrium there is in honing critical thinking skills, creativity, and imagination alongside traditional approaches to getting students facile with programming languages, the better. Fortunately, I think TTS students are getting exposure and practice with all of these skills, which, in addition to its immersive nature, is part of the value of the program.
5. Overall, if you had to choose, what were a few of your favorite aspects of the program once you became a graduate?
Well, getting the key to the city and riding in the motorcade through the ticker tape parade at the end of class was great… of course, I’m kidding. While there was a lot that I enjoyed about TTS during my period of study (and after), one of the things I was really impressed by and appreciative of was our instructor’s tenacity and attention to his students. I could tell from the beginning of class that our instructor really cared for his students and was committed to ensuring that we understood everything we were exploring in class. He would routinely offer considerable time outside of the classroom to provide students with the individual attention we sometimes needed to wrap our minds around new types of programming we were exploring.
I’ve had the good fortune of teaching a lot of different tech-centered classes over the years to a lot of different audiences and I have a lot of respect and admiration for teachers out there who really care about their students and are invested in their success. I considered myself both lucky and grateful to have had such a terrific instructor while studying with TTS.
6. What’s brewing for you now? We’ve heard you have some awesome opportunities coming your way these days!
Since the Winter-2014 cohort ended, I’ve grown considerably in my position and am enjoying the opportunity to play a more integral role with everything from basic web-based projects to being neck- deep in the trenches of web application development. One of the most exciting experiences since graduation from TTS is the sense of empowerment and possibility I feel both as a Sr. Developer and as a filmmaker. By day, I hope to continue to use my programming skills to advance simulation- based education and, by night, use those same skills to pioneer new approaches to filmmaking.