Today we get the chance to hear from Rajat Talesra, an entrepreneur and outstanding Applied CS with Android facilitator who studied Information and Communication Technology at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute, Gandhinagar from 2012 to 2016. Through his work with Applied CS, he’s trained over 900 students across 13 universities to build simple Android games with important CS concepts.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an enthusiastic entrepreneur, Android application developer, and passionate teacher. In my first two years, I did volunteer work for various clubs and committees during college festivals and also organized and managed events in technical and annual festivals.
How did you get interested in Android/mobile development in the first place?
After completing two years of technical studies in college, I started learning Android application development. I started with online video lectures, and after that, I tried to create one simple Aptitude-based Android application, which was finally uploaded to the Google Play Store. By the end of my third year, I had worked for two different startups as an Android developer. Through this experience, I was able to create some applications on the side, conducted events, and managed a technical festival for our college. I also participated in a good number of competitions and hackathons at my school, which was great exposure to Android technology.
How did you hear about Applied CS and why did you want to participate as a facilitator?
In my third year of university, with the help of the IEEE student branch, the local Google Developer Groups (GDGs), and my enrollment in Udacity Android courses, I was involved not just in learning how to build Android applications, but teaching and supporting other university students learning how to program for Android. Because of this Android and teaching experience, I was nominated to be a facilitator for the Applied CS program.
What are some of the things you learned as a facilitator?
First is that you’re inevitably going to make mistakes, and that’s OK! You don’t have to be an expert, and there are no illusions that you have all the answers. During the first workshop I facilitated, I misspoke a couple of times and had some errors in the code I was writing on the board to demonstrate the functions and app to the participants. Despite those errors at the beginning, the most important part was to be available to help address any and all doubts from every participant during the workshop, troubleshooting and working alongside them, and navigating through any errors or bugs together. This was most important to the participants— that I be flexible and available to help out.
Second, I learned to prepare! I’d also recommend to facilitators to take some additional time to prep—in the two weeks beforehand, I took a look over the materials and the content to strengthen my basic understanding.
Lastly, facilitating this program helped me realize that teaching technology was a passion, and I wanted to take on more of these initiatives on my own. I ended up not joining a company when I got selected for industry placement, but instead, I started teaching Android to various groups and also started working on my initial ideas for some products.
What was the most challenging part of being an Applied CS facilitator?
I quickly realized that reviewing all the required concepts for the program was helpful, but not the most important part of running successful workshops. Even after reviewing the technical concepts we’d be covering, I realized that figuring out the best way to explain them to other students was the more important piece. I started creating different kinds of materials— presentations, some pseudo code, sketches to visualize concepts on board. The most successful resource was comparing the visualizations with the code.
Now, the Applied CS technical unit videos help take off a large amount of the pressure to explain, but I’d still recommend knowing what you will demo or say to introduce the workshop.
What do you think was your greatest success as an Applied CS facilitator?
Since becoming a facilitator, I’ve brought the program to over five universities and hundreds of new students, and been offered opportunities to guest lecture about Android, which is all awesome. But in addition to that, it feels good to see others I’ve worked with benefit from the knowledge and pay it forward through teaching others themselves. Student volunteers who helped me run the workshops have now become facilitators, and it feels great to see them grow and teach others.
Lastly, my love for Android and teaching/facilitating helped inspire my career. I’ve started to create a mobile app that can help teachers mark student attendance in classrooms. And facilitating has opened doors for me to teach Android more formally. I started my own ‘AndroidMonk’ tutorial service, where I have trained even more students and even employees at companies!
What would be your biggest piece of advice to anyone who wants to bring the Applied CS program to their university?
Don’t try to take on the world by yourself. As a facilitator, reach out to friends and other students who are passionate and excited about Android and computer science education to help you out as volunteers or co-facilitators in the workshops. Create one small and strong team to conduct workshops, and then the results will be great. Also, always feel free to reach other facilitators to know what they are doing at their universities.