"How long does it take to figure something out on your own? A lifetime.
How long does it take to learn from someone else's experience? Lunch."
As developers, we like to be lazy. We like to use tools that are already effective and help us build products faster. We don't like reinventing the wheel. We like getting ship done! The technology space already moves fast enough and we constantly need to keep up with today's trends. For new developers, getting up to speed and eventually landing your first gig takes a ton of effort, practice, and failure along the way. Challenges and struggle are inevitable, but the reward at the end will become that much sweeter.
What if there was a way to fast track your learning, results on the job hunt, and your overall growth as a person. Whether you're just out of university or just graduated from a coding bootcamp, you'll need all the help you can get to become the best developer you can be.
This is where mentors come in.
As a young adult, I learned that one of the fastest ways to get where you want to go in life is finding someone who is in a position that you want to be in and asking them how they did it. A mentor is simply a person who can help point you in the right direction.
When you hear the word "mentor", it can often feel like it's this formal relationship between a mentor and a mentee. This is definitely true, but we get mentored by all kinds of people in our daily life: parents, teachers, classmates, coworkers, and friends. Any person who can give you a new perspective on your current situation can serve as a mentor in some fashion. They can help shape your decisions, ideas, perspectives, and teach you something you might not have figured out on your own.
I personally believe that receiving guidance in a relationship with another person is one of the most powerful ways to be mentored. However, there are a ton of other resources out there to gain similar insights if you have questions or want new perspectives.
- Online communities
You can learn anything you want today. That's what Google has done for us. Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
One of the mindsets that can be detrimental to a developers growth is believing that you should try to figure out something on your own. Or believing that if you ask for help from someone, you're either bothering them or they might think you're stupid. Nonsense!
In general, if you give a good attempt at trying to figure something out on your own and then reach out to someone who could help you troubleshoot, they'd be more than happy to help (even flattered).
- LinkedIn. Twitter. IG. You can find anyone online.
Pro-tip: ABN (Always Be Networking). You never know who you're going to meet and often its in situations where you serendipitously meet someone who could potentially want to help you out.
Pro-tip: Have your elevator pitch ready.
When you're searching for potential people to reach out, you should think about what type of person would be most helpful for your situation. If you're someone who is graduating from a coding bootcamp, what makes more sense: reaching out to the VP of Engineering who graduated with a BS/MS in CS and has 20 years of industry experience or someone who is 2-3 years out of bootcamp and is currently working their first or second job? Chances are you'll have more luck and have a better conversation with someone who is a few years ahead of you.
Are you looking to become Full-Stack? Front-end? Back-end? QA? SDET? Perhaps as a new beginner, you may not know what type of developer you want to become and that's totally fine. Do your research, try some stuff out, and see what you might be more drawn towards. When you reach out to someone and find out more about their role, they'll give you their perspectives and help guide you in the right direction.
What qualities would you look for in a person? Are they open and willing to help? Do you want someone who is an empathetic listener? Are you looking for someone who comes from a similar background as you?
Especially if you're a person who comes from an underrepresented background, finding a mentor who comes from a similar place as you can be incredibly empowering and motivating. Representation matters!
Pro-tip: try to find meetups that support or create community for whatever background you come from!
Know someone in your network who would be good to reach out to?
Offer to take them out to coffee. Find a time to get on a call with them. Make it as easy as possible for them to connect with you. Build rapport. Find something you have in common.
Pro-tip: Prepare specific questions ahead of time.
Don't have a connection but know the type of person you want to connect with?
LinkedIn is your best friend. You can search for anyone within your city, a specific company, a specific role, and whether you already have any mutual connections.
Always send a personalized message to someone you're requesting to connect with on LinkedIn. And also be specific in your asks when you do connect. If possible, try to connect over something you have in common.
Pro-tip: If you can find some way to add value to their life or build connection right away, they may be more inclined to help you out. Have the mindset to give more than take.
You might not even label your relationship with your new connection as a formal mentor/mentee relationship. It's totally fine if it is, but often times the relationship is kept casual and functions naturally as a mentorship.
Things you might want to do with your mentorship
- Ask them to review your portfolio
- Ask for feedback on projects / your code
- Have them point out areas that you could improve on
- Keep them updated on your progress (job search, networking, etc.)
Some of the best advice you can receive from a mentorship relationship are things that you may not notice about yourself. They can save you a lot of time and effort by helping you focus on the right areas.
Pro-tip: be cognizant of their time and be as prepared as you can. Also just express genuine appreciation to them for helping you out.
If you have an open mind, you can find mentors anywhere, they can make your life a lot easier, and can save you a lot of time as you go through your journey to becoming a great developer. It doesn't have to be a formal mentorship relationship to be effective. Just make sure that the relationship is the right fit for your own needs and goals.
There are a lot of people who have been in your position and are wanting to give back to help others. In the end, it's all about the relationships you build. On your journey towards becoming a developer, these relationships will help you more than you realize and more often than not will lead to your next gig.
Or my nonprofit org that benefits underrepresented high school students interested in entering the tech field:
Destined for X