PyDev of the Week: Kelly Schuster-Paredes

This week we welcome Kelly (@KellyPared) Schuster-Paredes. Kelly is the co-host of the popular Python podcast, Teaching Python. Kelly specializes in curriculum design and development. She blogs a bit over on her website which you should check out if you have the time.

For now though, let’s take a few moments to get to know Kelly better!

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

I am a Middle School Computer Science Teacher and a Technology Integration Specialist. I have been teaching for 23 years and have taught in the US, UK and in Peru. I have a Masters in Curriculum, Instruction and Technology, which means I know a lot about how to teach and invent cool lessons. Besides working and co-hosting Teaching Python, I spend most of my time with my two boys outside playing sports in the south Florida sun.

Why did you start using Python?

I started using Python almost two years ago. My boss told me in April 2018 that I was going to be teaching Python to middle school kids in August of that year. And I said, “Over my dead body I am learning Python, why not Javascript?” Needless to say, I didn’t win the battle, thankfully! Seriously though, my boss knew I loved challenges and will take on anything presented to me and then make it awesome. I believe wholeheartedly, she made the right choice.

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

I “know” HTML and what most educators call Block Code, and that is the extent of my coding language. I can write a few lines of Javascript and a few lines of SWIFT but Python is my only language that I can communicate in somewhat fluently.

What projects are you working on now?

I do not have any major projects formulated currently. Do to my role and how I teach in computer science, I am constantly having to know a little about everything. We allow our students to follow their passions, so at any one moment in time I may be helping a student with circuitpython, micropython, pygame, matplotlib, tensorflow, raspberrypi, turtle, pandas, and even libraries like requests, and translate.

I am dreaming of developing a program that can act as a “dashboard” to analyze all points of data on a student, from grades, attendance, homelife, standardized test scores, academic behavior, you name it. However, this will take quite a bit more time than I have at the moment, so I currently just have the start of the ‘database’ aspect. I hope to find time one day to put in the full effort to make it happen. I am also in the process of writing a book, called Code Like a Native: Becoming a Polyglot, but this too is a very slow process and I hope to get this done in the near future.

Which Python libraries are your favorite (core or 3rd party)?

I am a former pre-med student and love everything about science and math. I love graphs and seeing things visually. I think my favorite libraries are the ones that deal with Data Science. I especially like MatPlotLib because of its readability and simplicity to make amazing graphs.

I also have to say, I have a love hate relationship with CIrcuitPython. I really like fashion design and the possibilities of designing some really cool tech fashionware keeps me hooked. I watch some of the pythonistas on Twitter with their cool color changing fairy wings and LED patterned dresses and think, “Oooh one day, that is going to be one of my students creating that!”

How did your podcast, Teaching Python, come about?

Teaching Python came about because of the amazing teaching partner and friend that I have, Sean Tibor. Sean and I started working together almost two years ago. He has a brilliant mind and a big caring heart. I was his mentor as a new teacher and he quickly became my mentor in learning code. We started having these very deep, theoretical and critical conversations about teaching and learning python and one day we said, we need to record these!

There is a strong passion for teaching and learning to code that we felt more people should hear about what we do. We teach 370 kids a year how to code and we take 10 year old students who only know Scratch and get them making cool Python projects in less than 9 weeks. We thought, “Wow, this can be shared and more people can learn to code!”

Sean is also into digital marketing and he said, “Let’s make a podcast!”. I laughed, but we did and 36 episodes and 96,000+ downloads later, here we are.

We originally thought that our listeners would be only computer science or STEM teachers but we are realizing that we are also reaching adult, college students and other newbie coders and this is super cool for us. We have interviewed a variety of people, from former teachers, new authors, college professors and even agriculturalist! I am hoping that I can help other teachers like me make the change or take the risk and start to learn something new.

Favorite episodes?

I really like the episodes where we dive into the teaching and reflecting aspect of learning a coding language. I think episode 23 was a very open, honest and has helped me plan out and set a few goals for this year.

What have you learned as a podcaster?

We have learned so much as podcasters! From our first recording with the fuzzy background noise to where we are today, there have been a lot of bloopers. Thank goodness for editing. We record our podcasts with just an outline of topics and our conversations are live and typically unstructured. Sometimes Sean says things before I do and I am like, “oh crap, pause, I have nothing to say on that topic” and then Sean is patient and then we move on. We constantly learn from each other even during recordings.

Because of our recent new sponsors, we have now been able to purchase new microphones and recording hardware. We are also able to outsource some of our editing. This was a huge learning moment. Michael Kennedy and Brian Okken have been helpful in giving advice on what to use to record and things like that. They have been our podcast “mentors” from the beginning and supportive of our show.

Do you have any advice for others who might be interested in podcasting or blogging?

If I had to give my top five advice tips on starting a podcast they would be:

  • Just start recording don’t talk about it, just do it. It does not hurt to record and put it out there, what is the worst that can happen?
  • Ask for help! There are so many people that know so much more than you do at any specific moment in time. Do not feel that you have to know everything.
  • Pick something that you love to talk about and that you can never exhaust all the topics. Sean and I have an endless list of topics that we seem to not be able to get through.
  • Be deliberate about it all. Set a time to record, get a specific place to host, and make it happen. Be intentional and focused on what and who you are talking to everytime you record.
  • Enjoy and have fun while recording, if it becomes something you ‘have to’ do and not something you ‘want to’ do, your listeners will know and your podcast will be boring.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Learning python has really changed my way of learning. It has opened the doors to a lot of new things in my life. As a veteran teacher, I can say that it is critical to never stop learning. I started out as a Biology teacher at 22 years of age, got into helping teachers use computers and teaching Computational skills to students at 28 and this all helped me to move to where I am today. Understanding how to code is a very important skill to have, not because I am going to be a successful programmer later in life, but because it has trained my brain to make new connections and to solve really hard problems. And that is important.

Learning Python has also introduced me to a really great community of people. I think the Python community is one of the most caring, empathetic and open communities I have met. Whether it is your first day of learning Python or you 28th year, everyone accepts you and is willing to help you solve your coding problems or answer questions.

Thanks for doing the interview, Kelly!