Instructor 1-on-1: Mina Mikhail

Mina Mikhail has been at the heart of Bitmaker’s team for the past three years. Our longest serving instructor and CTO, he’s also a computer engineer, designer, and developer who’s worked around the world. He’s taught well over 500 full-time students, if we’re being conservative, making him the top bootcamp instructor in Canada (if not the world).

In our 1-on-1 with Mina, we learned about his love of film, teaching, and development – and the ways that he has incorporated all three into his career to date.

You’re a self-professed film buff. How has your love of film impacted your passion for development?

My friend Ryan and I made Tiffr, a film screening scheduling app designed to plan out what you’re going to see during the Toronto International Film Festival. Each year there’s total of 1,200 screenings to sift through – and I only buy 10 tickets. Until recently, all listings for advanced ticket buyers were on paper. Online or not, it’s a long process to decide what to see.

Our app simplifies the process, building a calendar for you in just a couple of steps. You shortlist films of interest, which are then presented as a big calendar view of only the screenings for the films that you care about. When you click on the ones you want in your calendar, the other ones collapse away.

We launched Tiffr in 2009 as a Ruby on Rails app - it was the first Ruby project I ever did and we did it to learn the language. Now I teach it. A major point I give to students is that you have to have your own projects and build stuff for yourself, because that’s the only way you’re going to learn and stay interested.

Web Development

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After learning Rails, where did Tiffr take you?

When promoting Tiffr on the street during TIFF one year, Ryan and I were approached by a guy who invited us to London to work on a project which is now MUBI, the international movie streaming database.

My Visa expired and I returned to Canada. Ryan and I were considering launching a startup and were looking for work to help with cash flow. I was asked by a couple of Bitmaker's founders to teach here part time – since then my role has expanded into Lead Instructor of Web Development and Chief Technology Officer of the company.

So when you got involved with Bitmaker, what did you take from your own educational experiences?

There are certain things that I learned through university that accompany me wherever I go: I know how to get stuff done under pressure, break down problems, and get myself out of seemingly impossible situations. Unfortunately, those who taught me managed to take my enthusiasm for any subject and bury it.

I like the practical aspect of the bootcamp format. I hope the enthusiasm we bring carries forward with the students after they leave the course, so they can continue to learn and fill in theoretical learning. I try to do things a lot differently than what I experienced when I was an engineering student at Waterloo. Getting 1-on-1 help from an industry professional, for example, doesn’t happen in a university format like it does here.

When you started, what did you think of bootcamp-style education?

Going in I was familiar with the immersive approach, as I had heard of similar programs in the US. I thought there were pretty aggressive expectations for a quick turnaround but it interested me - I have always thought anyone can learn what I do day-to-day if they want to and put the time in.

The first cohort’s outcomes really impressed me. I wondered if it would feel repetitive to instruct short cohorts repeatedly, but each group of students is so different and we are always looking to change and improve our course content.

What stands out as major a strength in the bootcamp course structure?

Instead of testing students, we continually evaluate and help people out on the spot if they’re having problems. This emphasizes personal interaction among students as well as between students and instructors.

Along similar lines, our lectures are interactive. We’re always trying to minimize the format of “talking at” people. Going forward I want to keep shifting away from traditional lecturing and find more ways to teach through active engagement.

There is definitely value in university education in that it often expands your mind more broadly. In that respect, though, diving into an immersive course isn’t necessarily that different.

This is often a re-careering moment for people, a huge gear shift – and you're navigating this both independently and as a collective. One of our main goals at Bitmaker is to turn our students into our peers and it’s very humbling to work alongside alumni whom we’ve taught these skills from the ground up.