Coding Mentor: Why You Should Become One and How to Do It
Developer relations manager at Skyeng - EdTech company
Hi! My name is Oleg Sklyarov, I work as a team leader of kids mobile development at Skyeng. In my free time, I mentor IT students. It’s been a great experience for me, so I want to share my story and insights I got from it.
How I became a mentor
A couple of years ago, my average day looked pretty dull. I used to leave home at 9 am, come to work around 10, chat with my teammates over coffee before lunch, have lunch, watch some YouTube and actually start working around 3 pm. To get anything done, I had to stay at the office till 9 pm.
At some point, it hit me — where does all my time go? I leave home for 12 hours but get paid only for 8. So I did some calculations. The result was horrifying — 33% of my time went down the drain.
Insight #1: understand where your time is going
I was not satisfied with this result. Besides, I felt as I wasn’t growing as fast as I could. I had prospects of becoming a team leader in five years, maybe an architect in ten years. But this seemed very slow. I had the example of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in front of me — they achieved way more when they were my age.
Insight #2: it’s not that those guys are cool, it’s that I’m doing something wrong
At this point, realized that if want to be anywhere near Gates or Jobs, I need to change something about myself. I can become more productive and efficient if I make some adjustments.
Once, while browsing YouTube after lunch, I saw Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech. And it really changed something in me.
I realized all those guys — Steve, Bill, Mark Zuckerberg — share. Steve Jobs shared this video. I’m sure that’s not the only thing he did out of a free will. Bill Gates donated half of his wealth to charity and convinced half of the Forbes list to do the same. They share what they can — but I’d never even had such an idea.
Insight #3: if you do things the old way, they’re gonna stay the old way
I wanted to change something. First thing first, I changed my office job for a remote job at Skyeng. I didn’t get my four hours back — only two. But that was something to start with.
I looked at all those guys and thought — maybe I should try mentoring. I contacted my local university, then searched platforms for tutors. That’s how I found the place I work at now — an online platform with programming courses. Everything came together, and I became a mentor.
What I do now as a mentor
My job is to check students’ homework at Github and give feedback. We have consultations once a week via video chat. They ask questions, I answer them. Often they share their screen and we write the code together. Sometimes students text me their questions. Like, “how do I merge two arrays”. And I explain how to merge arrays. I’m like Google, but more advanced.
Sure enough, not everything goes smoothly. These are some of the most painful episodes:
- I took too many students. At some point, I had five students — and that was too much. Grading homework and answering questions takes a lot of time, but mentoring doesn’t pay as good as programming. As a result, I spent more time working but earned less. My wife was not too happy about it.
- I realized my knowledge of PHP was lacking. I’ve been programming in Yii Framework for ages and in Symfony for a couple of years. So when someone would ask, “How do I merge two arrays using plus, not array merge?” I’ld be like, “Let’s have a break.” I had to brush up my knowledge to explain it to them.
- I didn’t set boundaries from the very beginning. And students can be rather intrusive. They can do nothing for the whole week and then show up like, “I’ve sent my push request, have you checked it? And now? Have you checked it now?” You need to set out the rules of your communication not to become some kind of robot.
It all was quite frustrating; I felt like my heroes betrayed me. I was thinking about going back to an office job but decided to give mentoring one last shot.
Insight #4: if you don’t succeed right away, don’t give up. Work on your mistakes and things might get better.
I made some adjustments and reaped the first results of my work. The rough patch was over.
Perks of being a mentor
- Ego boost. When you do a project with your students and then an independent expert grades it 90 out of 100 and higher — that’s inspiring. I feel like, “Wow, look at them, they’ve actually learned something.”
- Confidence reserve. For me, that’s feedback from my most annoying student. In the beginning, he criticized my every move and was always unhappy about something. But at the end of the course, he gave me 9 out of 10 and commented, “It used to suck, but now with your help everything is ok.” I re-read this comment whenever I feel down — it inspires me to go on.
- Skills boost. I thoroughly upgraded my technical skills. At work, you sometimes use things without understanding how they work. But once you study them from the very beginning, it becomes much easier to find and fix bugs.
- Soft skills boost. This one is my favorite. At my job, I manage a team of seven developers. Mentoring helped me become a better manager. Since I interact with many people, I learned different approaches and types of motivation. Now I know exactly how to motivate my programmers.
Why you should be a mentor
Once I met a guy from my old job. I told him about my mentorship — and he didn’t quite understand why I was doing it. I explained it to him and will explain to you:
- Making a difference. For me, being a mentor is about being proactive. Today you don’t need a PhD to teach, you can share what you know and use at your job. If you’re not happy with the educational system in your country, you have every chance to change it. I’m happy to be a part of that change.
- Boosting your skills. As I already said, teaching immensely grows your own skills. You’ll get tons of insights about programming and engineering. Besides, you’ll get better at communicating with people and managing them. These two points will help you with your main career.
- Investing in the future. Many people wonder why I do mentoring instead of taking two extra hours of work. For me, that’s like investing — I invest in myself by growing my skills and in other people by helping them grow. I think it’s more wholesome than stacking paper.
If my story resonated with you, give mentoring a try. It’s really simple, and it has a real tangible impact on people around you and the professional community.
If you have any questions, ask away in the comments. Let’s grow together!
By Oleg Sklyarov
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