What makes a good mentor?

In an industry driven by an open exchange of information, mentoring is a valuable skill to nurture in both new and seasoned web developers. I look up to my instructors at HackerYou because they are rock stars in coding and teaching (and life in general, too).

So when the time came to volunteer at a Ladies Learning Code workshop, they were the voices in the back of my mind, reminding me of these three qualities of a top-notch mentor:

Be Attentive and Proactive: Make it known that you are available and open to help. While much of what the student gets out of the experience rests on their willingness to ask questions, it doesn’t mean mentors can’t reach out to their students when the situation calls for them to make the first step. This means observing their students’ body language, offering to help before being asked, and anticipating questions or problems before students encounter them.

Be Adaptive and Patient: The best mentors I’ve encountered were those who took the time to observe and adapt to their students’ individual learning styles, strengths, and concerns. This goes beyond recognizing that there is more than one way to learn, although that is a key part of mentoring. More importantly, I think, it involves adjusting your pace to the student’s level. In a previous volunteer position, I found out the person I was working with needed me to speak slower and explain the same concept multiple times for her to understand it. It was certainly a practice in patience, but I felt her confusions were more reflections of my abilities as a mentor than her abilities as a student. Mentors can play a major role in determining whether a student feels more frustrated or enlightened at the end of the day, and having some self-awareness about your own habits, techniques, and assumptions can be instrumental in improving your mentoring skills.

Ask Questions: One thing I learned from observing my instructors at HackerYou is, when students ask for help, it can be more effective to ask questions that will lead them to discover solutions on their own. During the two weeks we dedicated to learning JavaScript, I was met with a question whenever I asked for another pair of eyes to look over a function that wasn’t working properly—or working at all: Is this a local or global variable? How do you call a function that includes a parameter? What notation is used to call a method? Real learning comes not from dictation and recitation, but critical and independent thinking, and the mentors from whom I learnt the most asked more questions than gave answers.

Of course, there are many different kinds of good mentors, and they developed their distinct teaching styles by taking after the traits they admired most in the people who taught them. I’m thankful I get the chance to learn from some of the best.


Further Reading: Check out this fantastic blog post by HackerYou mentor Drew Minns (@drewisthe) about his experiences as a teacher: http://bit.ly/1t8Vte8

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What I learned at Accessibility Camp Toronto

This past weekend, I learned that “accessible design” was more than just a buzz word at Accessibility Camp Toronto.

One in a series of sister events around the world that generate awareness and dialogue about digital accessibility, Accessibility Camp Toronto brought students, professionals, and end-users of all levels and abilities together at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre.

I found out about the event over the summer, when I was exploring potential areas of specialization in the web development industry. As a new face in the community, I was nervous to attend the first event where I publicly identified my self as a front-end web developer. But after listening to some inspirational opening remarks, I was confident I was in the right place.

Here are my top three lessons I took away from this year’s Accessibility Camp Toronto:

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web dev toolbox: week 1

Earlier this summer, I started compiling a folder of online web development tools in my Internet Browser for future reference. This list of “Web Dev Tools” has grown by about 50 percent after my first week at HackerYou!

With the constant exchange of information that takes place in the Lab, I seem to come across at least two or three new helpful sites, web apps, or plugins everyday. Here are some of my favourite tools that were passed along to me last week:

CanIUse.com:

caniuse

Not sure if a CSS property you’re using requires a vendor prefix? Simply search for the property on “Can I Use”, and it will generate an easy-to-read graphic that tells you 1) which browsers support or don’t support that property; 2) which versions of a particular browser support or don’t support that property; and 3) if that property is supported by mobile Internet browsers.

CSS Font Stack

fontstack

Designed for the visually-oriented, CSS Font Stack neatly delineates the web safe fonts you can list as defaults or fall-backs in your stylesheet. It definitely challenged my assumption that web safe font stacks were too limiting.

Placeholder Image Generators
(People’s Choice: PlaceCage)

300

It’s safe to say that PlaceCage is the unofficial favourite of my HackerYou cohort, and the results were as hilarious as they were terrifying. Some honourable mentions: Bacon Mockup, Fill Murray, and the always SFW option, placehold.it.

Blooper Reel: Animating a navigation bar using jQuery

It’s often said that we can learn from our mistakes, so I thought it would be helpful to track some of my trials and errors as a web developer—both for future reference and for laughs. In the first of many “Blooper Reels” I hope to share with you, I’ll go through the steps I took to make a simple animated navigation bar using jQuery. 

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Making a HackerYou-turn

This week, I took my first official steps to becoming a professional web developer. My journey begins with HackerYou. I was accepted into their immersive front-end web development bootcamp back in July, and the decision to enrol in the nine-week course came at the cost of my place in a graduate program at York University. While it was not a decision I made lightly, it was one I made with more confidence than any other since graduating from university in 2013.

I got my first taste of web design when I was about ten years old. My mother was just starting her career as a web designer in Toronto after completing a post-graduate Applied Information Technology program. She eventually shared some of her knowledge with me, and after grasping the basics, I gained the confidence to experiment on my own. Since then, I’ve taught myself most of what I know about multimedia design and production.

While I went through high school with the intention of becoming a web designer, there was a part of me that really wanted an interdisciplinary university education that combined my aptitude in visual communication with my burgeoning social consciousness. Four years later, I earned a Honors Double Major in Media & the Public Interest (MPI) and Political Science from Western University.

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I actively pursued opportunities to use my technical skills in ways that facilitated the interests and goals of nonprofit organizations. I cannot overestimate the extent to which my greatest contributions as a volunteer or an intern were indebted to my ability to create things for the web. When post-grad realities forced me to reevaluate my goals and priorities, I took this enduring appetite for multimedia and design as a sign of what I should be doing for a living.

The next step was to decide how and where to gain the qualifications needed to achieve my new career plans. Unsatisfied with the post-graduate courses offered at nearby colleges (which seemed to be lagging behind industry standards), I looked for alternative forms of training to kickstart my web dev adventure.

So, why HackerYou?

One of the selling points that drew me to HackerYou was its commitment to fostering a stimulating and supportive atmosphere that embraces the collaborative nature of the web development community. Its instructors also seemed to have more freedom to adapt to the current practices and trends of an industry that is constantly evolving, since they were not beholden to a predetermined curriculum. HackerYou also got bonus points from me for not issuing grades to evaluate students’ work; As someone who is prone to setting excessively high standards for herself, I was definitely looking forward to being in an educational environment where I could learn without worrying about my GPA.

As I spent the summer preparing for the bootcamp, I realized how much had changed in web development since I started dabbling in HTML. What ever happened to my old friends <b>, <i>, and <u>? It is a little daunting to find oneself back at square one; I certainly have a great deal to learn in nine weeks if I want to get the most out of this experience. But this unexpected u-turn holds the prospect of new beginnings, and I’m glad to be in the company of creative, friendly, and determined peers at HackerYou.