In 1989, the film Dead Poets Society was released, in which a host of well-known actors reflect on the meaning of life, the cost of human achievement and the heights to which the human spirit can reach through education and the search for what is meaningful in life. It is there that Robin Williams impersonates the teacher John Keating and says the following to his students:
„No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.“
“At Skillo, this is one of the pillars that drives and motivates us to work relentlessly to create a quality learning environment for IT people who truly want to develop themselves to move the world and bring quality change to society and themselves.”
And who is Skillo, anyway?
Skillo is a Bulgarian company founded in 2018 by two IT professionals – Petar Milev and Hussein Turkmen. Former colleagues and current friends and business partners, Pesho and Hugh, as everyone calls them, not only share many years of experience as IT professionals in leadership positions, but also united around the mission to create a company with a special cause – building an IT academy, with the belief that Bulgaria has a lot of potential talent and conditions that can make our country the Silicon Valley of Europe, but it takes a qualitative change of the educational environment in which people grow and learn for this to happen. The Academy works both with individual learners and with some of the largest IT companies in our market as corporate clients.
Apart from the IT academy, in the years back they developed another business line that works on recruitment and development of IT professionals through which they have the opportunity to connect professionals in the market with attractive and meaningful job opportunities.
Today we bring you an interview with Hugh, who talks a bit more about Skillo’s IT Academy and in particular how by developing good educators and good IT professionals, we are actually changing the whole industry.
Hugh, tell us briefly about yourself and how your journey as a professional and teacher started?
My start in the IT industry was more than 12 years ago when I started as a Database Developer, but very quickly I realized that software testing was what I was really interested in and I knew I would be good at it. After intense years of learning and lots of practice, I was able to move through various projects and roles where I had the opportunity to both manage teams and interview IT professionals as well as create and build testing processes, environments and be responsible for overall product quality. About 9 years ago was also my first exposure to teaching. Up until that point, I had done in-house training for my colleagues, but it’s very different to train people who are already in the industry and those who are yet to enter the field. So, a friend of mine invited me to teach Software Testing Fundamentals at the school where he was lecturing and I decided to give it a try. It was a big challenge for me, but I knew I could do it because I had a strong interest, and usually when something is interesting and really important to you, you can’t help but do well.
How did you feel in the beginning as a young teacher and what motivated you to develop in this role?
I remember at the beginning I was very excited but also nervous. I had to put in a lot of hours of effort preparing lectures, practicing the actual teaching and delivery of the information, and thinking about how to optimize the content that I would teach to the students so that they would get the most out of the course time. My motivation has always been about two main things: by teaching, you are making a multiplied contribution of your knowledge and skills and secondly, you are a change generator for the future professionals who are now starting their education and development in IT.
Could you explain in a little more detail what it means to multiply your contribution of knowledge and skills?
Imagine a professional who is good at what they do, goes to work accordingly, applies their knowledge and skills and gets paid for it. In such a situation, the contribution is 1:1 – you contribute certain knowledge, you put in effort and you get paid for it. In teaching, however, you are still using the same knowledge that you do your job with, but by teaching people who draw on your knowledge, you multiply the effect of what you achieve. For me, that has always been a tremendous motivator to keep doing teaching, besides of course the fact that I enjoy doing it.
You have built up quite a few faculty members yourself, some of whom are now part of the Skillo teaching staff. Tell us a bit more about the key skills of a good tutor.
Of course, for all lecturers there is one set of classic skills that are a must – for example good presentation skills, freedom to speak in front of an audience, clear diction, structured thought, working within the tight time frame of a lecture, being able to moderate a discussion etc. At the same time, there are more specific skills for being a good IT teacher.
However, before we talk about skills, good teachers are first and foremost good professionals in their field. If they don’t have years of practical experience behind them that allow them to see many different work cases, they won’t have a base from which to share experience and knowledge. Otherwise, on the topic of skills – a key one is for the teacher to be able to explain technical matter in an understandable and accessible way to people who are not technical specialists, giving accessible and easy to understand examples and explanations. This is something I have worked hard to develop myself and I know it takes time. It’s also very important not to leave the trainees with the feeling that you are the knower and they know nothing, because that would inhibit them and shut them down to the learning process.
Another very important thing is that the trainer actively works with the group – both to stimulate those who are active and to motivate those trainees who are quieter and more withdrawn. It is important to find the pace of the group – neither too fast nor too slow. Also to give the participants the opportunity to think and solve cases and problems in which the teacher does not give the ready answer, but moderates the process of searching and discovering the solution to the problem together with the group.
Does the teacher need to adapt to the group of students?
Certainly adaptability and a personalised approach are particularly important for a good tutor. Every group I’ve taught over the years has been different from others and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will always work. It’s important for me to break up the group environment, to be able to achieve a more informal feel where people relax and friendships are made, jokes are shared, work cases are thought about together and experiences are shared. Along these lines, the tutor needs to have a good sense of humour, but also the social intelligence to make sure that the group environment is respectful of everyone and not discriminatory or exclusionary towards any of the students. Now with the current virtual environment we are teaching in it is very important to motivate people to put their cameras down and participate fully in the lecture because the distractions when we are in a digital environment are many and the lecturer sometimes has an unequal battle. However, I always set rules for the group and frame virtual hygiene.
You can read the full interview here.