"The biggest advantage of Turing College is the community."
So says Deividas Skiparis. By day he is a Machine Learning Engineer at Vinted, an international online marketplace for pre-loved clothes and Lithuania's first tech startup to reach unicorn status. By night (or more precisely, at different times during the week), he is a Senior Team Lead at Turing College. Whatever time of day it is, he is a genuine superhero - an experienced industry professional who guides Turing College learners on their way to data science success.
In total, there are 8 Senior Team Leads(or STLs for short) at Turing College at the moment. To get the inside story on what they do and how they help Turing College learners to succeed, we caught up with 3 of them. Along with Deividas, we spoke to Lukas Buteliauskas, a Data Scientist at kids money management app (and card) goHenry, and Adomas Lingevičius, a Data Scientist at WePower, a platform that enables companies to buy green energy directly from producers.
The 3 of them told us a little bit about their role in Turing College, their approach to giving feedback, and, most importantly, what it takes to successfully pass the Turing College course.
What is the role of STLs at Turing College?
The Turing College community that Deividas rates so highly has many different components:
- the learners themselves, who support one another and learn to give and receive feedback just like a real IT team;
- the Turing College staff, including a curriculum team and a dedicated community team;
- the Hiring Partners, who help to create the curriculum and recruit successful Turing College learners on graduation;
- and the Senior Team Leads, industry professionals who are currently working but dedicate their time and effort to mentor Turing College learners.
You can think of the Senior Team Leads as supervisors. These experienced professionals are available for consultations, and they review projects and give feedback to learners.
"Learners are evaluated regularly," explains Deividas. "In their subprojects they are evaluated with lesson-specific multiple choice questions. Then each topic culminates in a day-long project, while each module finishes with a week-long capstone project. All of these are evaluated by STLs."
For Adomas, the most important job for the STLs at Turing College is to provide a clear idea of the standards required by the industry itself: "My job is to set a kind of benchmark that learners can refer to when evaluating their progress."
This is one of the key advantages Turing College offers over self-learning. A professional working at a top tech company can tell you if you're working at the right level or not.
The importance of feedback in the Turing College learning process
Clearly, providing feedback is a critical part of the STL role, and it happens in 2 main ways, as Adomas explains: "Learners are assessed during standups and corrections".
- Standups: "Standups are daily meetings with learners in which we discuss their progress and upcoming plans, help them out with current issues and encourage them to share helpful or cheerful tips and/or news. The assessment during standups is more informal and works as a check up mechanism on students progress."
- Corrections: "These are checks the STL makes when a learner submits a project for review. The learner gives a live presentation. Then the STL checks the learner's understanding of the project itself, and also of the theoretical and practical topics related to that project."
According to Deividas, the frequency of the feedback offered is critical to how the Turing College educational model works. "Live evaluation and feedback is one of the most important parts of efficient learning," he points out. "The frequency of this feedback is one of the biggest advantages Turing College has to offer. It helps to create a mindset of growth, and to develop people who are ready to enter a company as soon as they finish the course."
What kind of feedback should you expect from STLs?
So, how do Adomas, Deividas and Lukas approach the topic of feedback? Needless to say, they each have their own unique way of delivering feedback. Nevertheless, there are some overall features that are common to all STLs at Turing College. Here are 3 things all STLs do when giving feedback.
1. They find the balance between positive and negative.
"Feedback should be positive and negative," Lukas comments. "And any negative feedback should always be given constructively. The balance between positive and negative depends on the individual, and on your ability to assess when they need which kind."
Adomas agrees, adding that encouraging able learners to share their knowledge with others is a great way to motivate them. "Overall, I think feedback should be more positive. This means if a learner needs help to get to that benchmark I've set, I provide that help. And if they're above it, I encourage them further and ask them to share their useful knowledge with others."
2. They offer constructive feedback
Lukas believes that negative feedback, when offered constructively, is more useful for learners. However, finding the right way to give constructive feedback is a challenge. "You have to judge the person well. You have to pick the right medium, the right tone of voice, the right words. You also have to make sure that the feedback elicits an 'action'. In this way, the learner is aware not only of what to improve on, but how. This constructive feedback could be done by providing a learning resource, explaining a concept, providing a real world scenario to exemplify the point, or something similar."
Lukas also has a specific approach to delivering positive feedback: "compliment sparingly, but genuinely." He believes that "compliments that are handed out too often are usually overlooked, so it helps to give them when they have been truly earned."
3. They listen carefully and adopt a proactive approach
For Deividas, taking the time to get to know a learner and explain concepts in detail is critical for the feedback process to be effective. "Giving feedback is something that must not be rushed," he says. "I find that spending more time with learners early on in the learning process - even helping them to understand the most minor details - sets a strong foundation. Then they deliver higher quality work, even when they are tackling more advanced topics."
Lukas shares this responsive, learner-oriented approach: "Fundamentally, giving effective feedback is as much about listening and understanding as it is about the actual feedback you give."
How to succeed in your studies at Turing College, according to the STLs
After working with the first batches of Data Science learners, what can Adomas, Lukas and Deividas say about being successful at Turing College? After all, its courses are designed to be challenging and to have learners work-ready by the end. So knowing qualities will help you to complete it successfully could be useful to know.
Naturally, there are many skills and qualities that a successful Turing College learner will need. 4 ingredients that the STLs agree are vital for success are:
- A passion for data, coding and related subjects,
- A committed, participatory and proactive approach,
- Good communication skills,
- And the ability to motivate and drive yourself.
A passion for data, coding and related subjects
"Successful learners must have a fondness for data and coding," says Deividas. Adomas agrees, adding analytics to the list of key subjects you'll need to love. And for Lukas, the key to success is having "logical reasoning and acumen in maths and statistics."
It's important to note that having a passion for these subjects does not necessarily mean having in-depth experience of them. There are plenty of successful applicants to Turing College who have no formal experience of maths or coding (for example, check out the story of Daumantas, a Turing College learner who majored in social sciences).
In fact, Lukas also identifies "curiosity, and having a generalist disposition," as valuable traits for successful Turing College learners.
A committed, participatory and proactive approach
Adomas argues this is the single most important characteristic for a successful learner to have: "They need to have time to actually work on the materials every day. Daily incremental learning is the key to acquiring lasting knowledge." In other words, while the Turing College platform is self-paced and flexible, learners need to be committed.
Being active and involved is also essential, say Deividas. "Learners need to be proactive when looking for answers. They will learn by actively participating in team events and helping out their peers," he explains.
Good communication skills
Replicating the modern working environment, the Turing College platform asks a lot of learners in terms of their communication skills. "It's an all-online school, so this raises challenges in terms of communication," Devidas points out." This could be presenting your work, or communicating with other learners, STLs and staff."
And Lukas emphasises the importance of being able to "ask good questions" in the learning process.
The ability to motivate and drive yourself
Finally, there is the question of inner strength and motivation. "The learners who do well at Turing College are people who are self-structured, autonomous, and constantly curious," argues Adomas. Lukas agrees, pointing out that "the ability to problem solve and learn independently is essential."