How I Went from Middle School Robotics Teacher to Codecademy Associate Instructional Designer

5 minutes

Learning to code so that you can land a job in tech can feel daunting. That’s why we’re sharing inspiring stories from Codecademy’s community — to show how people like you (yes, you!) can embark on a learning journey and end up with a totally new career. We hope these stories serve as a reminder that there’s no single path to a more fulfilling work life.

Today’s story is a special back-to-school edition from Hisham Touma, a Codecademy Associate Instructional Designer who taught middle school robotics and computer programming before joining our team. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“When I was in high school, I was in an International Baccalaureate program, and one of the electives offered was computer science. Up until then, I’d never heard of programming. They made me go sit in for one of the classes as a sophomore, because the elective started in junior year. The teacher was teaching Java, and I was like, Ah, this is pretty cool. I signed up for the elective. Unfortunately for me, that summer I got a call from the principal of the school telling me that they couldn’t register me for the computer science class, because not enough students had signed up for it. I later found out that I was the only one that signed up.

Learn something new for free

That said, I actually wanted to learn programming. I liked airplanes and the concept of flight. I took a physics course in high school, and I realized I was kind of good at it. My teacher told me, ‘You know, rockets and airplanes have a lot to do with programming, especially the embedded systems. All of these computer chips are programmed with languages.’”

How I made time to learn

“Being incredibly curious, when I was 15 years old, I picked up a book on C++ called Sams Teach Yourself C++ in 24 Hours. I basically started studying and just tried to the best of my abilities to teach myself C++, of all languages. The very first thing I did when I learned C++ was design calculators for physics that could calculate kinetic energy, just to practice programming. I liked it, so I just kept going and going. When I was a little older, I discovered Arduino and started playing with it, and continued to program.

I am a self-taught programmer, mostly from reading books and watching tutorials. In college, I majored in mechanical engineering with the intent of working for the aerospace industry. My focus was the field of computational fluid dynamics, which is basically the application of math and computer science in mechanical engineering.”

What got me interested in the job

“I have 17 years of teaching experience — basically any job I’ve had my entire life has been in education. My first job out of school, I ran the outreach program at my university for teachers trying to learn coding. I was teaching the teachers how to code. I used to be a robotics teacher at a school on the Upper West Side, and I coached the robotics teams, both FLL and FTC. And I also gave courses in computer programming, basic mechatronics, and electronic design.

Programming is 20% knowing the syntax and 80% knowing how to think.

Hisham Touma
Associate Instructional Designer at Codecademy

In 2017, I taught a summer program for middle schoolers on basic programming at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, and in the very last week, we used Codecademy. Codecademy has the lesson plan already laid out for you, and everything is right there prepared for you in the learning environment to start coding. The students would basically go through the tutorials, and I was just there to help out and guide them if they got stuck. Mind you, these students were 12 years old, so naturally a lot of questions can arise.

Programming is a nice thing to know, not only just for the coding part, but just to teach you how to think. At that age, learning to code and computational thinking is more of a brain exercise than a career move. I like to see someone who didn’t know anything about this subject suddenly develop the interest that I did when I was a child. That’s probably the most rewarding part.”

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Here’s what you need to get started

“I learned how to program in 2004, a year before YouTube came out, so all I had was books. Now there are way more resources, like Codecademy and YouTube — there’s just a wealth of information on the internet. With AI, now you don’t even need a book. If you get stuck, you can just ask a robot.

Programming is 20% knowing the syntax and 80% knowing how to think. There are patterns, algorithms, data structures, and all these conceptual ideas that you have to absorb to make programs and apps. Programming languages are how you implement those ideas.”

My advice for students learning how to code

“Revisit why you want to learn how to code. Say you’re someone who really likes video games and is very curious how they work. Perhaps your school doesn’t have a programming curriculum that focuses on game development? You may want to look at more coding courses that will guide you more towards programming video games, for example, in Python you have Pygame. Look back and remember why you started, and if you’re deviating from that, get yourself back on track.”

Conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Learn like Hisham

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Not sure where to start? Check out our personality quiz! We’ll help you find the best programming language to learn based on your strengths and interests.

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