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Clarity’s engineers are spending some of their free time teaching college courses. Wanting to share their technical experience and specific expertise, Bill, Terri, and Chris have been teaching. In a three-part series, we talk about what they are bringing to their students in classrooms and online.

PART 1 — How to wrangle data  

Clarity’s Vice President of Engineering, Bill Farmer, currently serves as a Principal Software Engineer and Technical Lead on a client project. He also made time this semester to teach “Data Sources and Manipulation” for the UMD iSchool at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) campus in Rockville. Bill’s class is an upper-level undergraduate course that provides an introduction to data science. “I was always interested in finding an opportunity to be an adjunct,” Bill said of his decision to contribute at the School, adding that learning from a blend of full-time professors and adjunct faculty benefits students.

Headshot of Bill Farmer who is teaching technical courses at the UMD iSchool.
Bill Farmer, Vice President of Engineering
photo: Tatyana Goldman

On campus & online

When the semester began in January, Bill traveled to the USG campus every Friday to meet with his students for almost three hours to provide a lecture, discuss materials and methods, and answer questions. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, in March, the University moved to an all-online class schedule. Bill quickly acquired the e-learning software he needed, and with guidance from the iSchool, devised an online teaching plan. 

I love teaching. I like helping people learn new things and knowing one day it will pay off for them.”

Since then, students have been doing well, and throughout, they’ve been enthusiastic about their course work. In Data Sources and Manipulation, Bill’s students are learning “data wrangling.” Through practical lessons, they gain experience identifying data sources, getting data, and cleaning and manipulating it to prepare it for use in some form of data science or machine learning exercise. Each week, using Jupyter Notebook, Bill provides some sample Python code. Students review it and then demonstrate their understanding of Python and its capabilities by doing a lab in Jupyter Notebook. Every week, students also complete required reading and another assignment. At the end of the semester, Bill’s students will choose to do a final exam or a final project.

Always learning

“I love teaching,” Bill said of his time with the School. “I’ve learned so much. Some techniques I’m teaching are new to me, but some are old.” Bill’s daughter, Elizabeth, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy majoring in Computer Science, and his son, Isaac, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh studying Finance and Entrepreneurship, are both learning from home this semester. They have talked with Bill about what it’s like to be an undergraduate student in an all-online environment. Their insights have been helpful.

Bill plans to teach the same course again. He will host a Tech Talk at Clarity to share some of the material from his class. In the fall, Bill will be an instructor for a class titled Dynamic Web Applications. The course will explore the methods, tools, and processes used in developing dynamic, database-driven user interfaces and websites. “I like helping people learn new things and knowing one day it will pay off for them,” Bill noted. In the future, he hopes to teach a more advanced machine learning course. 

Bill’s bio

Bill Farmer is a Principal Software Engineer, Technical Project Lead, and Clarity’s Vice President of Engineering. With 21 years of programming experience, he provides expertise in a mix of technologies and delivers complex, high-value software products for government and commercial clients. In his free time, Bill has enjoyed volunteering as the Vice President of Scientific Education of AFCEA CMD as well as coaching his kids in travel soccer. He accepted a position as an adjunct faculty member at the UMD iSchool in 2020.

More on UMD iSchool

Located in College Park, the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (iSchool) was founded in 1965. From the institution’s website: From labs to libraries, we are combining principles of information science with cutting edge technology to foster access to information, improve information interfaces, and expand how information is used in government, education, business, social media, and more. U.S. News & World Report ranks the College in the top ten nationally. Visit ischool.umd.edu for more information.

About USG

Part of the University System of Maryland, the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Maryland, is a campus shared by nine public universities, including the University of Maryland. USG offers select undergraduate and graduate degree programs — they are provided by one of the nine partner institutions. From USG’s website: USG’s innovative and pioneering partnership approach to higher education is designed to connect local college students to outstanding career opportunities while providing regional employers with a highly educated, skilled workforce. Visit shadygrove.umd.edu for more information.

PART 2: Lessons in agility & impact. Senior Software Engineer, Chris Howard, talks about his experience teaching at UMGC and Prince George’s Community College.

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a color photo of Chris Howard