Author’s note: I know the term ‘mentor’ can be used in varying ways in different industries. In this post, I’m using it to describe supporting others in learning environments to gain (coding) skills.
My first inklings towards web development were as a teenager, customizing Livejournal themes and creating sites that may or may not have included boyband fan fiction. The path was definitely not a straightforward ‘A to B’ scenario but more of a winding ‘A to J to X to D’ type of deal. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I hit a point where I realized, “Oh, this thing that I used to love doing is out there and it could be my job!”
I started by taking a one-off workshop at a Canadian organization called “Ladies Learning Code,” which ended up being the gateway into a path that connected me with a whole new community of people and skills. And now, I’m in a place where I can give back to the coding community by being a volunteer mentor and/or assistant for LLC workshops.
Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
The first time I mentored, I was so nervous. I was afraid someone would ask me a question that I wouldn’t know the answer to and seem like I had no idea what I’m doing. There is the fear of this being my job and losing credibility in the eyes of others.
But, guess what. The person on the other end is nervous and feeling vulnerable because they’re asking for help. They too, don’t want to be judged on what they know or don’t know in this instance.
The Power of Knowing You Don’t Know
Look, I don’t want to be a naysayer here, but you don’t know everything. You might know A LOT of things, but no one knows everything. And someone you’re helping out might have a question that you’re just not sure about or don’t quite know the whole reasoning behind. These moments used to intimidate me, but as I assisted in helping more people dip their toes into code, I shifted into embracing those instances.
Actually, to be honest, I sort of love those moments now. The beauty of explaining something is that we often both walk away benefiting. They benefit from a foundation to build upon, and I benefit from additional clarity to my own understanding of how something works.
Tech and development are constantly shifting and moving forward. The moments of uncertainty are opportunities to model a form of positive vulnerability. Namely, it’s okay to not know something! What is important is to know how to go about figuring it out.
The Good Parts
Celebrate the victories! Do you know what’s better than having your own “a-ha!” moment? Being part of a group “a-ha!” It increases the joy exponentially. (Let’s blame science.) Encouragement is something everyone benefits from, at any level of learning.
How to Get Started
Depending on where you’re located, there are several different organizations you can get involved with. I’m passionate about helping people who are underrepresented in tech, so those are the environments that I gravitate towards.
Also, check in with your local WordCamp community. Many chapters offer workshops and learning opportunities beyond their usual meetups and can be a great starting place to finding additional resources near you.
If you’re geographically isolated or your schedule doesn’t align properly, have you thought about sharing your knowledge in a blog post? (*ahem*) If you have Googled something to no avail, but eventually discovered a solution, writing it out and sharing it is a great contribution. You won’t be the only person who needed the answer you found. I guarantee it.
What are other ways you share your knowledge? Do you answer questions on Stack Overflow? Create and contribute to public repos on Github? Respond to queries in the WordPress forums? Let us know in the comments.