Despite the fact that programming is all about writing instructions for a computer, you won’t learn to code without face-to-face interactions with actual humans. Finding a trusted and committed mentor is the vital hole you need to fill in order to make it to becoming a software engineer. Here’s what that will look like, and at the end, we’ll explain how we can help you with this as early as next week.
Advanced Learning from Your Mentor
At some point, you’ll exhaust all your “beginner resources” (like codecadmy) and you’ll have no idea what you’re doing or what to do next. If you’re like most people, you’ll soon enter the “learning cycle of death” (don't google that, we just made that up). The “learning cycle of death” is the perpetual cycle of starting new learning paths only to discover that there might be a different and better path after you start.
For example, let’s imagine that you’re convinced that the best way to learn to code is by starting with the “MEAN” stack (Mongo, Express, Angular and Node) and you find a great, detailed tutorial for this. You realize that this is a huge mountain to climb and it will take you months to learn all of this. At some point you freak out and wonder if this is a waste of time - is there a better, more efficient way to learn, or a better topic to learn? You read a blog post that tells you that “this_other_tutorial” is the best one ever. So you quit what you’re doing and start on that one, only to realize that you did it again. You’ve essentially learned nothing substantial.
A mentor can prevent this. Having a trusted guide that’s been there and know’s how to advise you will save you time and energy and will likely prevent you from failing altogether.
A mentor will evaluate your learning
Code reviews are an essential part of any software engineering team. This is the process in which developers evaluate and give feedback on the code their peers write. This is probably the single most effective and efficient way to learn how to code, but this is impossible for you if you have no one around that can review and evaluate your work. Find a mentor and ask them to review your most recent work.
A mentor can motivate you
At the end of the day, having a mentor for emotional support is just as crucial as the technical support they’ll provide. A mentor can tell you that the frustration you're experiencing is normal and that everyone has a hard time grasping certain concepts at first. Your mentor will also be able to explain things in unique and emphatic ways that no tutorial or online resource can. These small, encouraging points of touch can be the difference between you giving up and putting your fingers back on the keyboard.
How to find a mentor
First, identify a list of 5 to 10 potential mentors. These might be friends from college or even the developers at the company that you work at. If you don’t know any developers, head to meetup.com, find a local coding meetup, go there, introduce yourself to everyone you can, share your story, and add them to your list of potential mentors. There is no such thing as not having connections. Everyone has the potential to get them, you just need to tackle your social anxiety.
Next, ask ALL of them if you can buy them lunch or a quick coffee (individually of course). Initiate this by sending a text or email and concisely explaining that you really want to learn from them. Developers are almost always heavily opinionated and love to share their passion, so hopefully, they’ll be game for taking time out of their day to meet.
During your time together, your agenda should have 3 things on it. Be sure to share your story of why you're passionate about learning to code and want to go all in on changing careers. You might be tempted to feel like an imposter and think they’re judging you, but they were once in your shoes too! Next, ask good questions. Ask them what they love about their job, what’s hard, the favorite problems they’ve solved, etc. This is a great learning experience and will give you a good idea of what it’s like to be a developer at their company. Finally, if you feel like this is the right mentor for you, make the ask! Ask them for something specific such as a weekly or monthly meeting for X of minutes each time.
We believe that finding a mentor is one of 4 essential "must do's" to getting a full-time job coding, and transitioning careers.
For more information on how to code for a living, download our updated ebook - 2019's Guide To Coding For a Living