How To Discover a Coding Mentor | Hacker Noon

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You’re not here to mess around. You want a job that pays you for your technical skills and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to land that job offer. But the journey’s been tough. You’re concerned with if you’re learning the right things. You’re not sure if you’re heading in the right direction. You’ve tried coding something, looked at coding docs, and then realized the docs weren’t that helpful. 

You wish you had someone to help show you the way. 

You wish you had a mentor. 

But there are a few roadblocks in your way. You may not know anyone in the field you’re looking to get into. You may not know how to ask somebody if they would be your mentor. 

That’s okay. 

Several years ago, I started looking for a coding mentor. I wasn’t making any progress with my programming skills and I needed somebody to help me. I tried to sit down and think of the people I already knew. Computer science majors? Established software engineers? Self-taught coders? Almost all blanks. The few people I thought of were nice. But I hadn’t talked to them in years and I wasn’t comfortable with asking them for help. 

Fast forward six months later and I had five mentors who were willing to help me with my coding journey. They helped me land interviews, improve my programming skills, and gave me helpful resources to learn more code. The best part of the search process? There wasn’t a search. I wasn’t looking for mentors. But looking back, I see what I did to run into people who’d be willing to help me. If you want to know how to find a coding mentor, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the ways I found coding mentors who gave me certainty I was heading in the right direction:

First Stop: LinkedIn

One of the first places I thought to look for a coding mentor was LinkedIn. When I got to the site, I went right to the search box. I searched for terms like “software”, “software engineer”, and “developer”. I made sure to limit my search to 1st connections. Turns out I had ten connections who were software engineers. But I didn’t stop there. I looked through each of their profiles and sought to understand what they did. I identified their roles, responsibilities, and the type of companies they worked at. If they were a back-end software engineer at a software company, I was especially eager to reach out. Reason being is that, at the time, I was more interested in consumer software companies. Given this, I wanted to find someone who could help me learn more about consumer software.

After I looked through my 1st connections, I started my search with 2nd connections. Even if I didn’t know any software engineers, I was optimistic I knew somebody who did. I found 2nd connections interesting because I had one degree of separation from them. Which meant, we shared at least one mutual connection. If you feel you have a good relationship with that mutual connection, you can ask to for an introduction. If you don’t feel comfortable with asking for an introduction, reach out to the 2nd connection. With these things in mind, I reached out to a couple 1st connections to make an introduction for me. Feel free to use my message as a template. I said something like:

“Hi [name],

hope you’ve been well! I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts on content marketing. You and your 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.

Anyways, let me know! Thanks [name]!

Best,

[your name]”

At this point, I identified several 1st connections to either reach out to or ask for an introduction. I also directly reached out to a few 2nd connections.

For software engineers I wanted to reach out to, I crafted an outreach message. Feel free to also use this as a template, but make sure to include a personalized touch:

“Hi [name],

I noticed you’re working as a developer at [company] working on back-end client services. Just saw you guys raised a series A-huge congrats to you!

Anyways, I’ve been learning to program myself and have found coding to be enormously fun. I know you’re busy, but 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 name] ”

I sent out ten outreach messages and heard back from three. After I heard back, I scheduled a phone call with each of them. My goal with the twenty minute phone call was to ask questions and build rapport. I made sure to mention nothing about mentoring or what I needed. In fact, all I did was ask questions and tell them how cool I thought their job was. People love to give advice and talk about themselves. Don’t overdo it, but make sure they’re feelin’ the love. Once the call was over I followed up with them again. I told them how much I appreciated their time. I also mentioned the possibility of connecting again. Three out of three contacts gave a resounding ‘yes’.

For the second call, I was a bit more intentional. I still asked questions, but I made my curiosity and mentoring needs clear. They were more than willing to help. They suggested coding topics to look into, pointed me to resources, and offered their ongoing help.

Try searching through your 1st and 2nd connections. Were you surprised by the people you knew or had mutual friends with? Once you’ve found a few connections, use the scripts I gave you and let me know how it goes! I’m happy to provided more context and answer any questions 🙂

Follow the Code and See Where it Takes You

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.

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.

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.

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?”

The first place I would look is LinkedIn. I would be on the lookout for people who are offering network help during COVID-19. I’m sure you’ve seen several posts about people offering to connect others to opportunities. While COVID-19 may have not affected you, I encourage you to lean on people who are willing to help. 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. You can say something like:

“Hi [name],

I hope you are well during this time and pushing through COVID. Thank you for being an inspiration and encouragement during this time. I saw your most recent post about helping out during COVID and I thought I’d reach out.

I’ve wanted to take the next step with my programming, but have found the journey difficult to get through on my own. I want to meet with other programmers, but I haven’t been able to gather in-person with anyone.

I took some time to look through some of your connections and I noticed you know [potential coding mentor]. Would you be willing to introduce us? I’d love to ask [him/her] a few questions and it would really help me along with my programming skills.

Anyways, let me know! Thanks [name]!

Best,

[your name]”

The best case scenario is that they offer to make an introduction. The worse thing that can happen is that person says no.

Second, I would text friends who you think might know someone who could mentor you. This also works off the principal I discussed in the LinkedIn section. You may not know an experienced coder, but you probably know someone who does and can connect you. Don’t be spammy. Be passionate. You’re someone who’s put in a lot of time and hard work into learning how to code. Let that passion lead your conversations. Again, talk about your projects, but that you’re struggling. Your friends will see that and do their best to think of people they can connect you to.

Third, I would 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. 

P.S. If you like this type of content, give Hacker Noon a follow! I’ll also be sending more of this type of content out here. I want to help people go from taking a coding course to landing a job offer.

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