We talk a lot about mentorship and training programs and the many approaches that are available for each. But, do mentorship and training programs really work? That always seems to be the question of the day. Each company or corporation always has their own approach and everyone has their own opinions. But, when it comes right down to it, how do you know whether or not the mentorship program or training program is going to benefit you and your career?
As professionals, we always strive for excellence in what we do. The hunger for knowledge is a constant craving at the back of our minds. Not everyone learns in the same manner, method, or pace, but learn we do and learn we must. Without that burning desire to fulfill that need, we cannot grow and our careers are at risk of becoming stagnant, especially in the ever-changing field of technology. In technology, there is an infinite bank of opportunities to grow, but not every one of them may be the right path. It just depends on what your career goals are.
One of the best ways to grow is by obtaining a mentor or going through additional training. Sometimes, that may include both. But, is either method for everyone and do both have a proven track record of success? Episode 30 of Mentoring Developers covers all this and more. Special guest, Jennifer Kelly offers her expert opinions and experience on the matter. Listen in to learn more.
Jennifer Kelly is a mother of a year (6 months at the time of the interview), a programmer of a year and a half, and a student for life. Her career began in accounting, transitioned to finance, and then leapt to programming based on her desire to build, create, and tinker. She sporadically attends COJUG and Girl Develop It events when not wrapped in the fascination that comes with raising a little human.
Connect with her on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferkehnkelly
Episode Highlights and Show Notes:
Arsalan: Today we have Jennifer Kelly with us. Jennifer, how are you today?
Jennifer: I’m doing great. How are you, Arsalan?
Arsalan: I’m doing fantastic. I know that it’s hard for you to be on the show at this time because you just had a baby and you’re dealing with that. So, his name is Oliver, right?
Jennifer: Yes, he’s five months old.
Arsalan: What is the thing that you like most about him right now?
Jennifer: I would say morning smiles and he babbles a lot. It’s cute.
Arsalan: I have a daughter about 15 months ago and she’s a real joy. She has her moments, though. Overall, it’s just an incredible experience to have a child.
Jennifer: Absolutely. It’s really cool. It’ll be even cooler when he starts sleeping through the night.
Arsalan: Out of all the things the baby does to you lack of sleep is not fun.
Jennifer: Yeah, we’re making it work, though. So, it’s good.
Arsalan: I think all of us want to know Jennifer Kelly is. We know that you have a baby and that you’re probably a software developer, but we want to know from you how you describe yourself. Who is Jennifer?
Jennifer: I am a very curious person. My background is actually accounting and finance. I am a big Excel nerd and I love creating things and Excel. It was through discussions with some of my friends over the years that I should try programming, since I love Excel models. That was the first time that I thought about it, but I put it in the back of my head.
Jennifer: Then just over time there was an opportunity for me to either continue with finance or break from finance and I just decided to explore this other world. So at that time I didn’t even know what HTML or CSS was. I would say that I’m just a very curious person because I always have these ideas that I wish this existed, I wish that existed. I wish that I could just poke around and play with this. I think that’s kind of lent itself to me going down this avenue.
Arsalan: That’s a good way to get into anything that excites you. It’s good to have something that just piques your interest and you follow it.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s just a fun way to tweak and explore and play around. It’s like a fun little sandbox and people can relate to it because we all have experience with the Internet now. It’s a fun field to get into, overwhelming, but really interesting and exciting.
Arsalan: How long ago was that when you were doing Excel?
Jennifer: I left the finance world at the end of 2013. In 2014 I tried a couple of different things. I wrote a book. I started a small business. We were starting to build the website through Volusion, I think. We ended up moving up to Joomla and having someone build it. But, it was one of those situations where I just really wish that I could do it myself. It seemed interesting and I wanted to be able to make changes and do other things. When you’re on chat with the Volusion people you are limited as to what you can do. That was the first time that I was remotely interested in it. That was around June 2014.
Jennifer: I came across a web article that was talking about boot camps across the country and I noticed that one was in Akron, Ohio. Since I was from Columbus, I found that really exciting. So I started to explore it, and at the time they had a session that was starting in August and we were already in July. It was waitlisted and there was no chance of getting in, but I continue to be a pest, and asked to interview anyway. I planned to do their January session, but just wanted to continue on.
Jennifer: At that time I didn’t understand what HTML, CSS, or any of that was. I was thinking forward 10 or 20 years and thinking that I would be so grateful to have experience in the technology field, the knowledge base and the skill set. A spot did open up so I was able to start the boot camp that late August. It was very overwhelming, but it was also very exciting and things started to piece together. I felt that I never would’ve learned web development on my own. Their readings and blogs kind of gave me a frame of the world of web development. It was a grueling 12 weeks, but I was very appreciative that I did it.
Arsalan: That’s great because a lot of people are doing these boot camps and hacker schools. What was your end goal. Was it to learn to be able to do a website that you were trying to do it earlier? Was it an e-commerce website or a blog?
Jennifer: It was an e-commerce website selling bath and body products. That’s what started all of this. I couldn’t build any of it with the products that we had because we had very limited functionality. I think that e-commerce websites are pretty easy to put together now, but in my head of thinking through the different ideas that it would be fun to do to engage people in a certain way was what I wanted.
Jennifer: So, in my head when I decided to do this, I knew what I wanted the end goal to be. I wanted to be a confident developer. Then you go into the boot camp realizing how little you know and developing an appreciation how big and challenging the whole world of software development is. So, I think my eyes are really opened in that.
Jennifer: From there knowing that this was a skill set that I wanted to continue to develop and do I could either continue into the world of finance and do this in the evenings or I could change career paths and go into this IT world and get exposure and practice with that. It involved taking a step back and changing careers, but that supplemented the learning involved in all that I was doing after work.
Arsalan: How many years did you spend in finance?
Jennifer: I started out in accounting and did that for three years and then I did finance for another five years. It was a good experience. I had a great career and I was moving up the ranks and enjoying what I did. I loved the Excel modeling and I was getting further away from that and into management. I think a lot of traditional finance roles there’s all a lot of budgeting and forecasting, and what I really love to do was more working with sales and operations and being able to build something. That’s what I really enjoyed. I had some experience in SharePoint and then my other experience was in Excel. That was my tool belt. The big pull for me was realizing how much my tool belt was going to expand by going into software development.
Arsalan: Here’s what I’m thinking. You knew one tool really well and that worked okay but it doesn’t do all the things you want to do. So, you decide to learn website building or software development. Then you have to decide which technology stack because you can learn HTML and CSS, and that’s good, but nobody hand codes these anymore. So then we have to worry about server-side stuff and consider may be doing PHP, Ruby, or Java, or go into the Microsoft stacks or something else. So now you have to make a choice on which one is good. The second thing is you could keep going down because there are so many things to learn. I feel like this must be so overwhelming. So are you overwhelmed or are you on top of it?
Jennifer: I’m incredibly overwhelmed. So I think starting out with that optimism was probably good because if I would’ve realized all the layers before I began I probably would’ve been too intimidated to enter the world. So when I was looking at this Akron location, I wasn’t considering going to New York or San Francisco or all that. The Akron opportunity offered either.NET or Java. That made no difference to me because I had no idea, but it felt like there was more flexibility in Java. So I just randomly picked it. It is a little challenging because I didn’t really know what my end goal was, but Java seems to be the way to go.
Jennifer: I think that what I struggle with the most now is that there are all these shiny objects and new technologies and you kind of want to follow them but know that you need to practice what you’ve already learned. I went to learn some of these other tools but I have to keep reminding myself to follow down this path, get comfortable and get some confidence before adding some more things later on down the road.
- The Software Guild
- Complete Web Developer Course from Udemy
- Four Hour Work Week
- Java Posse
- Stack Overflow
- The Spring Blog
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