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NexStream Interviews: Tygan

By Lilian Xu

Tygan is a 20-year-old Computer Science Major at UCLA. He is an instructor at NexStream, and he focuses on the development of curriculum for the ML (machine learning)-100 flow. He started working at NexStream in August of 2020.

In this interview, Tygan will talk about his experiences as a college student and a NexStream educator, as well as give some advice to aspiring computer science students.

Q: How do you balance academics as a CS Major at UCLA and a part-time job?
A (Tygan): My schedule at UCLA isn’t too rigorous this semester. Overall, I think three classes and a part-time job is doable. I teach 3-4 hours a week, and treat NexStream as a fourth class. I also try to get a lot of work done over the weekend.

Q: Is your college workload a lot more than your highschool?
A: It’s around the same amount of work. There is less busy work but a lot more big, time-consuming projects. But a lot of my classmates are saying they are struggling with the workflow. (Tygan graduated from Canyon Crest Academy (CCA)  in California, a notoriously rigorous high school).

Q: How do you deal with failures (both big and small) and continue to motivate yourself?
A: I separate failures into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. Avoidable failures are when I could have tried harder to prevent it. If I think it is unavoidable, I try to not be too hard on myself and move on. If I think I have encountered an avoidable failure, I treat it as a wakeup call and strive to try harder and do better for the next challenge I face. 

Q:What’s your favorite part about working with NexStream?
A: I enjoy teaching both myself and others. I started teaching others in middle school. I think teaching others is the best part because it brings a sense of fulfillment. Once, I had a student that was slightly behind the others in Python knowledge. “It feels really good when you teach [someone] a concept and they understand it and they can start doing questions on their own...It's just a very satisfying feeling.”

I believe it is a common problem for students to be scared of annoying the instructors by asking questions. Contrary to many students’ beliefs, instructors and teachers usually love it when students step forward and ask questions. 

Q: What are the steps you take when you’re writing curriculum (do you have a specific procedure)?
A: I am currently working on a unit that integrates machine learning and android development. My first step is to break it up into multiple sub-units: 1. Intro to androids 2. Intro to Java 3. Intro to android studio 4. Build an app with all these concepts combined. I work my way backwards to make sure I cover the hardest and most important topics in the curriculum.

Q: How do you plan or manage the 90-minute-long class?
A: 90-minutes seems like a long time but in reality, it passes by quickly. Firstly, the instructors start out the first 30 minutes with announcements and a warm-up. Then we provide an activity that allows the students to work together, like a cooperative coding challenge or machine learning games. Afterwards, the students go into breakout rooms to work on their actual classwork. 

Q: With distance learning, is it difficult to facilitate discussions? 
A: Yes, it can be difficult, especially when not all the students turn on their cameras. Staring at a black screen can be intimidating for students to strike up conversations with their peers. Sometimes, students will not always answer the instructors. It is hard for the instructors to understand the students’ emotions or thoughts without seeing their facial expressions.

Q: Do you have any plans to use breakout rooms or other methods to further facilitate discussions?
A: We are unsure of what other methods to try. Sometimes breakout rooms work pretty well. It is best for an instructor to be in the breakout room with the students to stimulate conversation. I like to have one person share their coding challenge and have them explain it to their peers. It’s good because their peers can help them out during this process.

Q: Do you hope to continue working with students and teaching people about STEM?
A: Yes, I am very happy to keep teaching, but I also hope to get industry experience. I hope to find a balance between teaching and working. A NexStream founder, Tony Mauro, is a big inspiration. Mauro started out working many years in the industry, and then he became a teacher at CCA. I hope for my career path to be similar to Mauro’s. 

Q: What are some changes you hope to make in order to keep improving the quality of the curriculum?
A: I plan to do QA (Quality Assurance) checking on the curriculum and increasing the amount of hours he works. Currently, students are having trouble on certain units, and I plan on focusing on improving those. “There’s always somewhere...you can make it easier for the students to get through.”

Mauro and I have also discussed reordering the curriculum, including combining Python and the first Machine Learning Flow together. Additionally, I would like to make a standardized format for warm ups.

Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for students that are interested in starting machine learning or those who want to continue pursuing computer science?
A: Start early. Work on something you’re really interested in. Although it isn’t necessary to choose machine learning as your focus, I believe NexStream sets up a great foundation for machine learning. I think I underestimated the importance of finding an internship, since recruiters will be looking for that experience. I regret not spending enough time doing projects.

Q: In regards to your advice for “starting early on”, is high school too late to start? 
A: No, not at all. If you are starting in high school, you are already ahead of the game, since I know some college computer science majors who have never written a program before.

Thank you to Tygan for letting us see his perspective as an educator and a curriculum designer

Flow

About the Author

Lilian Xu is a Junior at Canyon Crest Academy in California. She is interested in pursuing medicine in the future. Currently, she mainly manages our Facebook platform and writes STEM-related blogs. Through this internship, she has honed her writing skills, learned about interview etiquette, and explored the STEM fields more deeply. In her free time, she enjoys baking, ice skating, singing, and graphic design.

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