Followup Email to a Code School Student

Throughout the year I speak to students at code schools. From time to time, the most curious students take me up on an invitation to email additional questions and thoughts. After a recent visit with Tech Talent South students, I received an email from one of their aspiring software engineers.

The following includes his questions and my responses.

“Is it more important to be well versed in both front end and backend, or do most engineers usually gravitate toward one or the other?”

I’d summarize this as going a mile wide or a mile deep. I’ve seen successful versions of both, but often recommend for junior engineers to go broad first, find what they like, then dive deep. I’ve met plenty of people who say they love frontend work but have no backend experience to influence that decision.

By exposing yourself to a diverse number of things, you’re able to formulate a more well rounded perspective and make a more informed decision. Having exposure to both is healthy, otherwise you’re likely to stick with what you know and never discover what you actually enjoy the most.

“I know you mentioned you had a great mentor and I wanted to know how have you seen people starting out facilitate this?”

I like to keep the definition of a mentor pretty broad. For me, a mentor is anyone with more experience and insight into a topic, who freely shares their knowledge. Mentorship can come from a variety of sources, but the individual this question refers to is a personal mentors. A personal mentor is someone who answers your questions when you ask. They respond to your emails or will checkin from time to time.

So, ask good questions to experienced people. I’ve never had the ‘will you be my mentor’ conversation. Rather, I’ve requested small chunks of someone’s time, asked questions, tried what they mentioned, followed up…repeat.

Here is more information about mentorship and how I think about it.

“Once in a job this can happen a bit more organically, but before finding a position how would you suggest someone try and seek out help?”

Start now. Look for local professionals doing great work and connect some dots to spend time with them. Share your career change with people who already know, like, and trust you. Ask them to connect you with anyone they know who is aligned with the work you’re trying to do.

Also, don’t assume your next workplace will value this type of personal growth. Our company makes room for this type of behavior, but that’s not always the case. Own your experience and start reaching out to people now. The questions you ask will evolve over time but listen when they answer and take action on their advice.

“Whether online or local tech, how could one find a resource to get real world applicable advice……without coming across as weirdo!”

Hahah. Some people will think your weird… get used to that. It’s okay when people dismiss you, that just means they’re not a good fit. The people whose opinions actually matter however, will welcome the chance to share what they’ve learned.

In regards to where you’ll find applicable advice, it’s hard to say. Sometimes you’ll ask the wrong people and follow the wrong advice. Don’t get too hung up there. Part of why I emphasis a default to action is because at first it’s more about quantity that quality. Getting in the habit of asking good questions has the added benefit of forcing you to parse through people’s responses.

On a more tactical note, you’re in a code school. That means you have instructors and guest speakers who are already taking their time to come speak to you. Reach out to them. Ask them about someone who influenced them or if they’d be willing to connect you with someone else.

“Okay…Polar Notion? I am terribly interested in the origin of your company’s name.”

Haha. It’s at the intersection of ideas and exploration. A notion is the simplest form of an idea and the genesis for any great adventure. Much like the polar explorers of old, there is similar attitude within modern entreprenuers and idea-people. It’s about taking risks, making mistakes, and pressing onward.

Polar also has a double meaning in that it’s a magnet force or guiding light. Compelling missions have a clear direction for others to follow. We help businesses craft and advance that mission.

Exploration + Ideas… Polar Notion.