Like many young adults, Elena Raffay was unsure of what she wanted to do in life while at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. After enrolling in some coding classes, Raffay, 25, realized that coding was not only something she enjoyed, but it afforded her a variety of career opportunities.
“I was at university and I started taking some coding classes,” she recalls, “and I thought it was pretty cool, the logic puzzle side of things.”
Growing up the daughter of a Spanish mother and American father in Kentucky, Raffay spent many summers in Madrid. After completing her final year of university at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and graduating with a computer science degree, Raffay wanted to experience what living full time in Spain would be like.
She was able to find a job at ThoughtWorks — where she currently works as a full stack developer — and moved to Barcelona in 2017. It was here that she first heard about Migracode from a coworker and volunteer instructor earlier this year.
Since Raffay was looking for a way to give back to her new home community, Migracode’s purpose and goals appealed to her.
“I figured with my skill set, this was the most impactful thing that I could be doing,” she says. “Especially for a group that’s been so historically underrepresented.”
Raffay started at Migracode in March as a supporting instructor, helping to teach the modules on HTML and CSS. She only taught one class before the government announced a state of alarm due to the coronavirus outbreak, Raffay, along with other teachers and students, had to adapt to a fully online instruction method.
Even without a global pandemic, teaching at Migracode, as with any academic or technical program, is not without challenges.
Raffay acknowledges that the sheer amount of content that students are presented and expected to learn in a relatively short period of time can be intimidating. That can be exacerbated when paired with the challenges many students face who are trying to navigate the Spanish immigration system.
Despite the obstacles many students have to overcome, Raffay says that they are “picking [the material] up pretty well.”
However, teaching online provides its own issues.
While in-person classes allow instructors the opportunity to read body language and be physically present with students, online classes can create a feeling of disconnect.
“You have to take more for granted that people are following along and listening and everything, because you can’t always tell that online,” she says. “I think one thing that’s missing from online is the ability to have those ad-hoc conversations — if you’re helping one student and another student overhears you helping them, and is like ‘oh, I have the same problem,’ they can jump in and also get that help.”
The inability to see students’ body language and clearly see all their faces at the same time (as students can turn cameras off), makes it harder to tell if they all actually understand the material, she adds.
“You can’t tell if people are understanding you as much or if you need to go deeper into things.” Raffay says. “And maybe students are more hesitant to bring up their questions online because everyone can see it or they’re interrupting the lecture in some way.”
However, while fully online classes aren’t ideal, Raffay still says she enjoys being part of this community of coders — from all different walks of life — who are able to learn and teach in such a short amount of time.
The feeling of empowerment that comes from learning and teaching a new skill is not a new feeling for Raffay. While in university, she volunteered with the non-profit Girls on the Run, which works to empower pre-teen girls by emphasizing confidence, self-respect and healthy lifestyles through a small curriculum that concludes with a 5K race.
For any Barcelona coders who are thinking of volunteering as an instructor, Raffay warns not to let fear of a time commitment stop you.
“From grading homeworks to being a main instructor, you can really put in whatever amount of time you want… it’s really as time intensive as you make it.”
And, to any prospective Migracode students, Raffay recommends to take the jump. “If you’re considering even for a second, I would go ahead and apply and do it because you never know if you’re going to get in, or what opportunities will arise…” she says. “I would go for it.”