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Being a mentor for the first time

Posted Sep 04, 2019

Today, I’m going to talk about the first time I was able to mentor a friend with their change in career.

Back in July a friend of mine, Katy, got in touch about her change in career. She’s someone that was interested in becoming a developer and she started off by just asking for some basic advice on where to begin!

I am looking into coding and not 100% sure where to start…”

At first, my initial reaction was I’ve never taught anyone anything and I don’t think I’d be good at it.” But I quickly realised this was my Impostor Syndrome talking. I started by talking her through my journey from leaving college to where I am now as a freelance developer.

After chatting a bit about where I was and where I felt she could go for information I actually ended up helping her get setup with the core basics of a good IDE (integrated development environment), and covered what jobs the three key starter languages do (HTML, CSS and JS).

Visual Studio Code is my IDE of choice, so we got her up and running with that. I know something like textedit (where I started) would be great for her to really learn the basics, but I felt the syntax highlighting and getting used to being in an IDE would be really beneficial in the long run.

I also gave one or two pointers on where to go for learning resources like StackOverflow and the huge amount of tutorials on YouTube.

So, we organised an evening to have a screen-share one-on-one lesson.

👨🏻‍🏫 One-on-one lesson

Now, I am no teacher. I don’t know everything by a long shot. I still have to Google the most mundane things every day (the biggest offender being the order of borders for pseudo-element triangles!) but I thought it couldn’t hurt.

We got started by actually giving an introduction to how IDEs are the best places to start and some of the basic tools she’d find herself using in no time at all.

Once Katy was comfortable with where we were working we went all the way back to day one. We set up a base /index.html file and threw in some headings with a bit of paragraph text to understand the different types of tags and how everything has its purpose.

🎨 Getting some style

Once we had a bog standard HTML file with no custom styling, I built upon the introduction to CSS Katy already had.

To this point Katy had only been using inline styles or the style tag in the <head>.

By this time, Katy’s understanding of CSS, what it does and the formatting of the language was already pretty well established so the next logical step was to introduce a separate stylesheet.

Introducing /styles.css. 👋🏻

This is where the most awkward moment happened for me. I’d completely forgotten the syntax for the externally linked stylesheet! Thanks to using a boilerplate for every project for the last god-knows-how-long, I can’t remember the last time I’d really looked at this sort of markup in any detail.

Katy and I learned along together for this one, but it was a good way of showing Katy not to fear Google. I use it every day. However, when I started I thought I’d stop relying on it one day, so it was maybe a good opportunity to show that you never grow out of Googling even the most basic things.

After a short lesson on how to target elements with classes, ids or tags themselves, Katy was ready to play.

Katy’s own code playground

At this point, Katy had both her HTML and CSS files working in perfect harmony. I’d illustrated how to use them together and now she was ready to just go and learn stuff!

I left Katy to go find something she wanted to build and to just learn by applying herself now she had the environment to do it.

I learned a lot, too!

As it turns out, teaching others is actually really bloody rewarding. Not only does it feel great to help Katy on her new career path, but the feeling of Look how far I’ve come!” was something I didn’t expect.

I’d come away from our two hour call with a massive grin on my face. Building a simple page without a single task manager or bundler running really took me back and made it super fun creating everything by hand. What’s Gulp, again? Content Management, what? 

This experience turned out to be a really valuable experience to put in my DotAll 2019 talk about Impostor Syndrome.

Spoiler alert for those that are planning on watching my talk in Montréal… but I have a segment full of coping methods I’ve used (and those around me) to deal with my own Impostor Syndrome, and this has gone straight in there.

I came away believing I’m good at what I do and I deserve to be where I am, little victories like this are worth taking at every opportunity, so if you’re tempted to pass on what you know, I can’t recommend it enough.

I’m hoping to graduate one day from HTML and CSS 101 to posting some useful resources on this very blog one day, but for now going back to the beginning will have to do!

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I’m keen to make my posts are helpful as possible for other developers. Let me know on Twitter or email if you found this post useful or even if there’s something specific you’d like me to talk about. 

Catching up

I’ve been mega busy on an incredible project (I’ll be blogging about that soon), renovating the house and preparing for giving my talk at DotAll 2019 over the last few months so I’ve let my blog go quiet.

I’m going to try and put some effort over September in an attempt to get caught up on all the ideas I’ve had for posts that I’m keen to share.