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Adventures in Mentorship

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This fall, I participated in the formal mentorship program at the Code Platoon bootcamp here in Chicago. In this post, I'd like to talk about my experience as a mentor.

For the past few years, myself and a few Hashrocket colleagues have taught a workshop at Code Platoon, focusing on test driven development, Ruby, and PostgreSQL. As a veteran, it's one of my favorite days of the year, and I'm grateful Hashrocket supports this outreach.

When Code Platoon put out a call for mentors this Summer to work with the upcoming cohort, 'Golf Platoon', I decided to give it a try.

Why Mentor?

My drive to mentor comes from the fact that I have been mentored myself by many great people. These advisors helped me find opportunities and direct my professional growth. From the beginning, I hoped someday to be able to provide that same service to others.

I visualized getting something out of it for myself, too. Being around new programmers is refreshing; they ask great questions, challenge conventions, try unconventional solutions. They often work with the latest technology, or old technology you might have forgotten. I hoped that being around a junior developer might expose me to some new things, help me refine or rethink the opinions that I take for granted, and expose blind spots in my own career.

Prep

To prepare for this engagement, I took some time to think about what I wanted the experience to be, summarized in this mission statement:

As a mentor I will strive to listen, be an advocate, and be an inspiration.

Code Platoon smartly sent me a survey where I could indicate the level of intensity I wanted out of the relationship; I settled on level 10 because there was no level 11 on the survey. My mentee took the same survey and we were matched up based on compatibility. I attribute much of our chemistry to this survey.

Our Sessions

My mentee and I met for an hour, once a week, for about three months. Before long, I started to truly look forward to our time together.

Sometimes we talked about code; sometimes we talked about our industry; sometimes we blew off steam talking about movies and travel. The students have instructors and TA's help with the technical stuff, so I tried to stay focused on the bigger picture. What's it like to be a programmer? What are some of the joys and pitfalls of the field? What sort of obstacles was he facing that I could eliminate or explain?

When we did code, we reviewed his projects, played coding games, and practiced my favorite brainstorming activity, writing on the whiteboard. A cheap thing that I'm proud of: I bought my mentee a copy of 'The Pragmatic Programmer', a book that has greatly impacted me.

Next Steps

Working with mentee was gratifying: I helped somebody else, and I learned about myself.

The next cohort, Hotel Platoon, is starting in January, and I've signed up to mentor again. If mentorship interests you, do it! It's one of the most powerful ways you can give back to the profession. Like any group not loudly represented in tech, veterans benefit from seeing a path to success that somebody else has walked before; I'd like illuminating that path to be part of my legacy in this field.


Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

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