Cracking the Code Through Mentoring

“Web Developer, Programmer, Professional Nerd  whatever you want to call the job, it is a deceptively difficult career to get started in. While there are many online resources for learning how to program, there is a steep learning curve between making a program that repeats ‘Hello World’ and working on an application used daily by thousands of users. You can learn a language from a book, but it’s much harder to learn how to be a good citizen of programming.  This is where the concept of mentoring comes in.”   Meeka Gayhart, developer and consultant at Quick Left

Why Do I Need A Mentor?

Technology is now such a major part of our personal and industrial lives that employees with stellar computer skills are indispensable to the marketplace.  Creating new applications is as important as maintaining existing technology, but our nation is not computationally prepared.  Most people who are good with computers consider themselves tech-savvy but, echoing Meeka, Code.org CEO, Hadi Partovi, says that there is a big knowledge difference in knowing how to use Facebook and knowing how to create the next Facebook.  As technology becomes the center of everything we do, computer mentoring programs play an increasingly important role in our lives.

“Finding experienced mentors and peers might be the most important thing you can do if you want to become a great programmer.” Breck Yunit 

Computer mentoring programs seek to offer everything a program like Big Brothers/Big Sisters or City Year offer:  alternatives to risky situations through companionship, accountability, advice on life and career choices, networking, and the sharing of knowledge and resources. Technology mentorship programs add to these benefits the specific goal of increasing interest in the computer keep-calm-and-find-a-mentor_bluesciences and engineering and ensuring that the current shortage of IT graduates does not continue to follow us into the future.

If we do not catch up, experts say, by the year 2020 there could be as many as 1.4 million technology jobs in US cities going unfilled because of an increasing IT “talent void.”  And that’s not just in the hallowed halls of computer engineering labs; the estimate is that nearly 2/3 of all IT jobs will be outside the technology sector.

How Does Mentoring Work?

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Learning early and learning together is a powerful combination!

Just like learning to walk and talk, or read, children learn computer code or other IT tasks easier, and retain them more deeply, the earlier they are exposed to them.  Some mentoring programs take advantage of this by getting kids involved as early as kindergarten by inserting computers into the classrooms and curriculum.  This instills the use of computers and how they work as a natural part of growing up, giving those children the decided advantage of understanding computer functions and languages as intuitively as a second dialect.

However, most mentoring programs for kids target those between the ages of 9 to 15, when development is still very flexible.  These programs take on many forms, from online instruction and face-time to after-school meetings and summer camps. Organizations like Girls Who Code and All Star Code place an emphasis on cultivating the interest of minorities, an under-represented demographic in the technology world.  Whether serving our youth or adults already in the workforce, the idea is to pair experienced programmers with those new to computer science.

“. . . The mentors provide an outside perspective which might reinforce or might differ from the instructor’s opinions. That’s really valuable. It’s just not possible for a few instructors to spend much one-on-one time with each student . . . outside mentors are typically more available . . . [i]t’s great for the hiring process; we’ve had students from every class go to work with mentors.”  – Jeff  Casimir (Executive Director of the Turing School of Software and Design and Jumpstart Lab)

Mentorship programs can be as informal as one person in the neighborhood befriending another, or they can be formal programs administered by the local school, community club, or college.  The details of mentor/mentee sessions can vary wildly, depending on factors such as the time allotted for the session and the needs and level of computing of the mentee.  The mentee can expect to gain insight into the field and get constructive criticism and positive feedback from their mentor.

What Can I Expect From Mentoring?

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“I left each session feeling excited, motivated, challenged, and ready to take on the world.” This is the sentiment expressed by a mentee, but most mentors would say the same!

In order for the relationship to be beneficial, both parties must be proactive.  The mentor has to be willing to carve time out of her schedule for the mentee and be dedicated to the mentee’s success.  One goal of the mentor is to answer questions or help with troubleshooting some code.  More importantly, though, the mentor should try to provide deep understanding of computer science and problem-solving.

The mentee is expected to work on her own, doing her homework or having a plan for what she would like to accomplish during the session.  Ideally, she will be prepared and attentive during her time with her mentor, asking questions pertaining to computer programming or developing, discussing computer theory, or debugging code.  Sometimes, mentor and mentee meet just to touch base about the circumstances in their lives or to prepare for job interviews.

“For me, [the most important thing to keep in mind while working with a mentor] is to value the other’s person time to the fullest. No one gets paid to be a mentor, and they are doing it because they believe they can help along on your journey. I always gave my full attention during mentoring sessions.” – Persa (Mentee)

Mentors regularly report that they get as much or more than the students out of giving their time and expertise.

“I think the most important realization is that someone is not either a mentee or a mentor. . . . I learned as much from my ‘mentee’ as I taught.”  – Raphael (Mentor)       

Where Can I Find A Mentoring Program?

It is not always easy to find a program despite the many resources that have become available in recent years.   Whether you need one or want to become one, it can be hard to find the time to dedicate to a mentoring program, but don’t let that stop you from joining the community or sharing!  There are still ways to get involved.

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Ralph Smith of Computer Mentors helps Dainnea Leggett navigate Linked In.

Breck Yunit, a relatively new programmer, shares some of the ways he has discovered for getting feedback, learning new things, and finding mentors or job leads.  His strategies include joining Github.com and participating actively on the discussion boards as a learner studying the work of more knowledgeable programmers and as a contributor on open source projects.  This can be intimidating, he admits, but hanging out in the same spaces as veteran developers is one of the best ways to get advice and hands-on experience if you can’t meet with a mentor one-on-one.

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Sam Verdin and Jesus Nijera at San Diego’s Mission Valley Mall. Both teens credit their HS mentoring program for helping them to have confidence in a bright future. Click the picture to hear their story.

Recruiting friends with similar programming interests in order to learn together is a way to knock ages off the learning curve.  He says, “My best tutors are my peers, people who I took a class or two with in college. We knew each other when computers were a big mystery to us, so we don’t feel embarrassed when we ask questions that may sound dumb.”  Yunit also recommends regularly attending programming or hacker meetups—Meetup.com has an extensive catalogue of meetups around the country—and going to as many conferences as you can.

Jeff and Susannah, executives with Jumpstart Lab and the Turing School of Software and Design, say that if you can’t get involved with a one-on-one mentoring program, don’t discount the value of online mentoring.  Susannah says, “The cool thing about web development mentorship is that, much like the actual work, it can be done successfully from anywhere.”  Technology affords many avenues for successful online mentorship.  Mentors can tutor mentees through Skype or Google Hangouts, for example, just as if they were in the same room.

They also recommend using Excerism.io.  “[It] is an amazing way to work on solving large and small code challenges, submit your responses for review and receive feedback from other programmers. The platform supports an insane quantity of languages and is also open sourced and wonderfully maintained.” They mention Jekyll as a great place to gain experience and meet other programmers, too.

Breck, Jeff, and Susannah all concur that participating in these ways “significantly increases the chance you’ll strike up a relationship with a potential mentor or mentee.”  As Jeff says, “. . . we find that mentors love putting time into new developers if the mentees are willing to put in the time and effort.”

Mentoring Is Where Its At!

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Research over the years has confirmed the results we can plainly see with our own eyes:  “relationships drive learning.”  In other words, mentoring at-risk youth works on every level, from intervention to prevention.  Mentoring can help kids succeed at home, school, and in the workplace.  Having a caring role model can be life-altering to a young mentee and giving back has its rewards.

Having a mentor can be a big boost up for adults, too.  Guidance in navigating those tricky moments in life can mean the difference between pursuing dreams and giving up.

It can also make the difference in whether or not our society is prepared for the continued rush of technology-dependent jobs.  Whether needing a mentor or volunteering to mentor those in need, there is a place for everyone and everyone benefits.


How Do I Find a Mentor?  

Click the picture to find out more, Dedicated One!

DanielSanAndMrMiyagi_onethatworks

http://nypost.com/2009/11/16/greenpoints-borkowsky-waxes-on-and-off-about-karate/

How Do I Become a Mentor?

This picture you click.  

Gigantic-hearted hero, you are!

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http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/File:Air_yoda.jpg

Mentoring can make a big difference!

Mentoring can make a big difference! Get help or help someone today!

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5 thoughts on “Cracking the Code Through Mentoring

    1. Yay! The fact you mention it, leads me to believe you are thinking about doing so. Go for it! (Please!) Maybe you could start a program here at UALR. I know I would sign up as a mentee. Thanks for reading this post and for commenting 🙂

      Like

  1. Thank you for the interesting article! I spent some time researching the need for mentors, especially among groups that are underrepresented in technology careers, for my own articles, and you’ve pointed out some important resources for those interested in the topic.

    As you pointed out in your article, mentorship can be mutually beneficial for all involved — regardless of age. Hopefully discussions like yours will inspire people to get involved!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think mentoring is so important today! I know when I am working on a web project I really like working with someone else so I can bounce ideas off him/her and together we can make an awesome project even better.

    I think that with the fast pace that technology is changing it is important to have a mentor or just someone to bounce ideas off of if you don’t feel comfortable asking for help. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a super cool article. I’ve got some students that are interested in coding, and I’ve showed them how to do use Code Academy, but I think we definitely need to start clubs in middle and high schools (if not elementary, too) to foster interest in coding and game design. I think there’s a program at UALR for coding for kids, and I’m fairly certain Forest Heights has something, too. I’m going to check out “Girls Who Code.” I’m really happy there are online tools to help learn, too. If not, I’d be in a lot of trouble!

    It would be cool to have coding clubs in all schools, too. Mentoring, at least for a teacher’s perspective, is super important, and given the focus on STEM careers as of late, I think it would give our kids an advantage they haven’t previously had.

    Like

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