You Want a Mentor, But Where Do You Find One?
The coding journey’s been tough. You’re concerned with if you’re learning the right things.
You wish you had someone to help show you the way.
You wish you had a mentor.
But how do you find one?
My Peculiar Ways of Finding a Coding Mentor…
Several years ago, I started looking for a coding mentor. I thought of a few software engineers, but I didn’t know them very well and I wasn’t comfortable with asking them to help me, let alone mentor me.
So I had to get creative. Six months and some hustle later, five coding mentors offered their ongoing help.
You can find a coding mentor too. The rest of this article is going to take you through the exact methods I used to find my coding mentors. You’ll find proven strategies and tactics that will help you find at least one person who’s willing to come alongside you for your programming journey. Here’s what you can do to find your next coding mentor:
First Stop: LinkedIn
Double-Check Your 1st Connections
You may have not been able to think about anybody who could mentor you. LinkedIn is a great tool because it does all the work of tracking your network for you. If one of your connections recently became a software engineer, they’ll show up in a search for 1st connections. Here’s how you can see specific types of 1st connections:
When you get to the site, go to the search box in the upper left hand corner and search for terms like “software”, “software engineer”, or “developer”. Make sure you’re searching for these terms “in People” and limit your search to 1st connections.
Look through each of your connections’ profiles and try to understand what they do. Identify each of your connections’ roles, responsibilities, and the type of companies they work at.
Hone in on connections that can teach you what you want to learn. When I was looking for a mentor, I was most interested in consumer software companies. I focused on back end engineers who worked on consumer software products. If you don’t know what you want to learn. That’s okay. Look for connections with titles such as “software engineer” or “software developer” then check if they work in industries you’re interested in.
Once you’ve done steps 1-3, you can reach out. Here’s what I would typically send to people:
my name is [your name] and I just saw you guys raised a series A-huge congrats to you!
I noticed you’re working as a developer at [company] working on back-end client services. I’ve been learning to program myself and have found the back-end to be particularly interesting. Your work is exactly the type of work I’d love to do some day. I’d love to learn more. Would you be able to hop on a twenty minute call sometime in the next few weeks?
Thanks and can’t wait to hear back.
Your goal here isn’t to ask for them to mentor you right off the bat. Ironically, the best mentor relationships are the ones you don’t even have to ask for-it just happens. If they reach back out, setup a call. When you connect with them on a call, remember to take a learner’s posture. Ask open-ended, informed questions such as:
What drew you to (insert specialization here i.e. back-end client services, etc…)
What have been your favorite projects from the last year?
What advice would you give to someone who’s just started their programming journey?
As you ask these questions, pay attention to the other person’s tone and demeanor. Do they seem happy to help or do they seem annoyed? If all goes well, they’ll tell you to reach out anytime or, even better, initiate another call. If they don’t, don’t worry. They graciously gave you 20 minutes of their time and you gained valuable information.
Capitalize on Your 2nd Connections
If none of your 1st connections pan out or you find you don’t have any connections who are potential coding mentors, your 2nd connections can help you. 2nd connections are anybody you share a mutual friend with. If you feel you have a good relationship with that mutual friend, you can ask them to introduce you to a 2nd connection. Here’s how you can find 2nd connections:
Repeat step 1 for finding 1st connections. Except this time, limit your search to only 2nd connections.
Repeat steps 2 and three.
Once you’ve done steps 1-3, look at who your mutual connections are. You want to choose someone who you’ve kept in touch with. If that’s not an option, choose a connection you would say hi to if you saw them in passing. Here’s an outreach message I’ve used in the past:
hope you’ve been well! I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts on [their space i.e. content marketing, product management]. You and [their company] seem to be killing it in that space.
I wanted reach out and see if you’d be able to help me out with something. I’m learning how to program and love it. But I’ve realized I could really use a more experienced engineer’s help with learning. I noticed you’re connected with [potential coding mentor]. Would you be able to introduce us? I’d love to ask [him/her] a few questions and it would really help me along with my programming skills.
Anyway, let me know! Thanks [name]!
If all goes well your mutual connection will place you and your 2nd connection in a LinkedIn group message. Sometimes your mutual connection will even pass along your 2nd connection’s contact info. In both cases, feel free to use the first template I gave you for reaching out for a twenty minute phone call and go from there.
3rd+ Connections and Beyond
3rd+ Connections are valuable because you’re directly expanding your network. When you add a 3rd+ connection you’re not just expanding your network, you’re also creating new 2nd connections. Here’s how you can find 3rd+ connections:
Repeat step 1 for finding 1st connections. Except this time, limit your search to only 3rd connections.
Repeat steps 2 and three.
Once you’ve done steps 1-3, click the “Connect” button in the top right corner of their profile. Sometimes you may need to click on “More” and then select “Connect”. You’ll have the option to add a note. ALWAYS do this. Here’s what I typically say:
"Hi [their name]! [Company] is doing AMAZING things. I love that [authentic reason why you think the company is cool]. Would love to connect!"
As a warning, don’t add 3rd+ connections and then immediately ask them for something. Add them and then initiate a relationship with them. Take some time to like what they post or send them an article you think they would be interested in.
See how they respond. If they start liking your posts or reciprocate any of your behavior, then make your ask to hop on a twenty minute phone call.
Second Stop: Follow the Code and See Where it Takes You
Get Lost…In Your Code
When I first thought of potential coding mentors, I couldn’t think of anybody. I pocketed the idea of finding a mentor for the time being. Instead, I doubled down on my exploration of programming. I started to look for any and every excuse to open my computer and write code. I didn’t want to code by myself so I found myself going to coffee shops where software engineers hung out.
Did Someone Say Philz Coffee?
A couple months later, I found myself at Philz Coffee. I decided to work on a side project I’d been stuck on. I was trying to build a full stack web application with register and login features. I ordered a coffee and looked around for an empty table to work at. I started to walk around when I heard someone say my name. Turns out, it was a family friend! We chatted, caught up for a bit, and then he asked me what I was working on. I told him I was working on a coding project, but that I’d been stuck for quite some time. He mentioned that he was a software engineer and would be happy to help. I was a little surprised by his offer, but touched and excited that someone would be willing to help me.
Let’s Talk Some Code
Later that week I emailed him and asked if he was available for coffee and to talk about code. We met up and he made an amazing effort to understand where I was at as a programmer. He encouraged me and made himself available for questions. He pointed me to books about startups and programming fundamentals. When I left to go back to Texas for school, he made time to connect over the phone and check up on me. Over the course of a year this coding mentor helped me sharpen and refine my programming skills. He’s the one who told me about Angel.co where I landed several interviews and a job offer. He gave me certainty I was heading in the right direction.
Surprise Yourself, You’ll Be Glad You Did
My recommendation to you is to code and code often-see where it takes you. Put on the hat of exploration and follow every inclination. Talk about code everywhere you go. Tell people who show interest or are willing to listen about your latest coding projects. Try being the ultimate geek and walk around with computer. The kind of people you start running into may surprise you. This is all about getting closer to people who can help you. You’ll get to a point where you’re running into experienced programmers who are willing to mentor you. That’s when you’ll be able to make your ask and find a coding mentor.
BONUS: How to Find a Mentor During COVID-19
Confession: I’ve never found a coding mentor during COVID-19. That said, I wanted to challenge myself to think, “if I was looking for a coding mentor right now, what would I do?”. Here’s what I recommend:
Go back to the search box and search for terms like “covid”, “covid help”, or “hiring”.
When you get to the results, select the “Content” option in the upper left-hand corner.
Scroll through the results and look for people who are offering network help during COVID-19.
Look through that person’s connections. Do they know somebody who could help you? If so, reach out to the person offering help and ask for an introduction using the template I shared with you earlier.
The best case scenario is that they offer to make an introduction. The worse thing that can happen is that person says no.
Text Ya Friends
Text friends who you think might know someone who could mentor you. You may not know an experienced coder, but you may know someone who does. Don’t be spammy. Instead, lead with passion. Mention your current projects, but that you’re struggling. Ask them if they know anybody who could help. Your friends will see that and do their best to think of people they can connect you to.
Attend Virtual Coding Meetups
Try meetup.com or codebuddies.org. I imagine virtual meetups aren’t as fun as in-person meetups, but they put you in front of other coders. The more time you can spend with coders, the longer you‘re able to build rapport. The more rapport you can build, you can make the ask them to help you.
Be Patient, Your Coding Mentor is Out There
Coding mentors are some of the most valuable people out there. They’ll help you look through your code, suggest helpful resources, and give you certainty you’re heading in the right direction. Finding a coding mentor may take some time though. It may take six months or even a year. But as you allow your passion for code to shine, you’ll find the right coding mentor. They’ll be happy to help you out and you’ll be one more step closer to landing that tech job.
Happy searching! Good luck.
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