• Advice

How mentoring made me a better programmer

Alexandra Ackerman is a 2014 Opportunity Fund Fellow at General Assembly, an educational institution dedicated to creating a global community of individuals empowered to pursue work they love. GA offers full and part-time courses and workshops on the most relevant skills of the 21st century – from web development and user experience design, to business fundamentals, data science, product management, and digital marketing.

I entered my first day as a programming mentor just as timidly as I had when I first started General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive back in June. After finishing the 12-week program, I was confident that I knew a lot about programming, but I was not-so-confident that I could pass on my knowledge to impressionable children.

However, as an Opportunity Fund Fellow with GA, I agreed to volunteer 100+ hours to mentor youth to impart the valuable skills that I learned during WDI, so mentoring was part of the deal, whether I was nervous or not. Luckily, the kids at CoderDojo weren’t nearly as scary as I’d thought, and I picked up mentoring right away.

Learn By Teaching

CoderDojo is a volunteer-led non-profit organization that hosts programming clubs for youth, between the ages of 7 and 17, to build websites, apps and games. As anOpportunity Fund Fellow with GA, I agreed to volunteer 100+ hours to mentor youth and pass along the valuable skills that I learned during WDI.

When I arrived at CoderDojo last Saturday morning, I was greeted by other first-time mentors and we shared our excitement (and anxiety) about the coming activities. Each mentor was instructed to choose a station to teach: HTML and CSS, Scratch, Circuits or iOS. Because I was more familiar with HTML and CSS, I chose that station and (in a burst of excited ambition) volunteered to be the lead mentor at the table.

After the kids and their parents arrived, we started by planning the children’s projects–a choose your own pathway story with different web pages representing specific elements of the narrative. By the time we started coding the website, each mentor was paired up with one kid, which made teaching the basics like elements and attributes individualized and fun.

As my partner built his website, I started to notice that every page was more complicated than the last, and he began to ask more complex questions about CSS and Javascript alerts. As the questions became more difficult, they became more challenging to answer, and there were a few occasions when I was stumped. But that didn’t stop me from figuring out the solution (with some help from Google), and encouraging him to troubleshoot as he progressed.

Both programming and mentoring has taught me to push my limits. When I was stumped or unsure (in either scenario), I knew that if I asked the right questions and pushed myself to work through the uncertainty I succeed and make a difference. Having my buddy question by knowledge encouraged me to think critically about my skills, and do research when I didn’t know the answer. Ultimately, this is how I will continue to learn and improve my skills in programming, and in life.

I have an unwavering belief that learning how to write code is an invaluable skill that allows people to express ideas in fun, innovative ways, and I often wish that I had the opportunity to learn these skills at a younger age.

CoderDojo and other organizations that teach youth about technology are absolutely invaluable, and I am thrilled that I get to share my knowledge with the kids who will be the next generation of creators and tech innovators.

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