A self-described “long-term technophile” Dave McConeghy taught religious studies at universities for 15 years before the pandemic dealt a blow to his teaching career. Like most professors, he had to use an online course management system to upload the syllabus, record lectures, and create rubrics for assignments. He started teaching himself programming so he could write scripts to automate these repetitive tasks. He also learned how to do web scraping on Twitter for his academic research.
When college campuses shuttered during the pandemic, Dave began to reconsider his career path. He wanted to enter a tech-related field and work in a fast-paced industry with plenty of room for learning. Software engineering ticked all the boxes.
While enrolled in the Software Engineering Career Track, Dave was one of the first Springboard students to join the Community Advocates Program—a new program that provides former students with the opportunity to mentor current students who are enrolled in Springboard. He now hosts community events including hackathons, fireside chats, and collaborative Leetcode sessions to help other students build job readiness skills.
I was a religious studies professor for almost 15 years. It’s the academic study of religion, which combines history, anthropology, and the social sciences. I taught a lot of courses, including world religions, the history of religion in America, and popular culture in religion. I had a long and successful run in academia, but it came to an end during the pandemic.
I wanted a career where there would be a constant urge to learn new things. What’s the next optimization we can make? What needs to change going forward? That seems to be the basic premise of software development–things are constantly evolving and you have to be on top of it. Every year there's going to be a new programming language, library, or framework.
When I first started teaching myself programming, I had to narrowly focus on writing a script that would continuously feed me data. Beyond that, I didn’t have any major plans. The best part of my journey has been learning the fundamentals so I can build things in the future.
I want to work on a long-term, large-scale problem. Teaching can be a pretty isolating experience. When you're leading a classroom, you're the one in charge. You're the one grading, making lesson plans, and giving lectures. You can engage with your students, but you’re still the one in charge. I really want to work on a team and be a small gear within a larger machine.
I’m really interested in things like machine learning, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT). These are areas with enormous opportunities for growth. But no one person or company is going to solve the problem. It will be a team within a larger company, and maybe several companies working together, each one solving a different piece of the problem. That’s the kind of ecosystem I want to be part of in my career.
I am an organizer by habit. When you’re teaching in a classroom full of students who don’t really want to be there–maybe the course you’re offering is a requirement for graduation–you need to find a way to get everybody on board. I've used Slack, Discord and other message boards for almost 30 years, so I have been focused on building online participation and community as part of the learning experience
Because we study asynchronously, it’s helpful to be able to ask questions on Slack at any time. Software development is not usually a solo sport. One of the things that students want that maybe is not available within the curriculum is opportunities to code directly with other students. So I’ve been hosting sessions where students can work together on problems regarding data structures and algorithms using Leetcode.
I feel strongly that Slack is both a professional and a social space. Students are often confused about how to use it when they first join. Is it okay to share silly memes? Is it only for asking technical questions? Our Slack space is whatever we make it.
From being an organizer in the Community Advocates Program, I can also say that our community events are what we make them. We have social events, job-oriented events, and events where we collaborate together–but that’s just my preference. If you want to see something different, then you can make that change.
I learned a lot of skills in my prior career, including communication, writing, presenting, organizing groups, and teaching others. Transitioning careers is not going to be easy, but the students I’ve connected with through the Community Advocates Group have been a really helpful sounding board.