Techless to Tech Teacher: How Nelly Sugira Used Passion to Land a Career as a Coding Instructor
As Nelly Sugira watched his students give their project presentations, he started to cry. The first-time coding instructor at the UC Davis Coding Boot Camp couldn’t believe he had helped these remarkable people to learn and grow. He felt a wave of pride, passion, and excitement—three emotions that had featured prominently in his life’s journey toward teaching.
And it had all started in Rwanda.
Nelly is perhaps the least likely coding instructor on the planet. Growing up in Rwanda, his family had a computer—but it didn’t have internet. At 12, his father took him to an internet café to send his first email, which he says “blew his mind.” At 18, Nelly received a full-ride scholarship to study in the U.S. from California Baptist University, and he learned who the brains were behind that email: electrical engineers and other technologists.
At that point, Nelly immediately switched his major from pre-med to double E.
After graduation, he became a software engineer. And then the fun really began.
Falling in love
With his first paycheck, Nelly ran out to buy an iPhone. Holding it, he realized that these devices and their apps were gateways to the world. And he wanted to use them to open some doors of his own.
One day, Nelly saw his friend playing a video game—not just any game, but one his friend had programmed himself. “I was like, ‘What do you mean you made it? How did you do it?’” he recalls.
Nelly was hooked. He left work at 5pm sharp and read until sunrise, devouring everything he could find about creating a mobile app.
But he ran into a few hurdles. For example, all of the materials were in English, a language he was still learning. Understanding the jargon took longer than usual, since he needed to look up basic words like “requests,” “server,” and “fetching.”
When it came time to write his own game, he thought back to his childhood in Africa. There’s a card game that every Rwandan plays called Amaturufu. “Well, I don’t know anything about Super Mario,” he thought, “but I can definitely recreate this game.”
So he did.
Nelly relearned the game, translated the rules into code, and designed the interface. He pressed download, saw his logo flash, and there it was. It worked perfectly—and resulted in thousands of downloads across the world. Goosebumps.
Finding his stride
Since that day, all of Nelly’s work has been aimed at capturing the same exhilaration—and feeling the pride of creation.
With an electrical and computer engineering degree and four years as an engineer under his belt, Nelly started to mentor his cousin in computer science. It was at that moment when he realized he loved teaching that he spotted a job posting. He applied.
He ended up landing a part-time gig tutoring, helping over 80 students learn and master coding. “I fell in love with unlocking the mental blocks,” Nelly said. “I started really tapping into those days when I didn’t get coding because I didn’t know the language. That’s what made me different as a tutor, because I knew what it was like to struggle.”
Then one Friday afternoon, “They asked if I could move to California,” Nelly remembers. “I hopped on a plane Sunday night, and showed up to class on Tuesday.”
Making a difference
On his first day, Nelly could not contain his excitement—or his nerves. “I think that first class went by in like two minutes,” he said. “I loved every second.”
In six months, there have been the normal ups and downs of turning programming newbies into full stack developers, but Nelly remembers only the good. He recalls a group of students that had struggled with the syntax of coding, just like he had.
Nelly grouped them together, encouraging them to work through the challenges as a team. He recalls the confidence they gained—and the swell of pride he felt when they succeeded.
When the group gave their presentations, Nelly ruminated briefly on the pivotal moments in his life: his first email, his first iPhone, his Amaturufu app, and tutoring. In that moment, Nelly knew that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was born to do.