January 12, 2021 - by Hackbright

If You Give a Mentor a Mentee

Written By Anna Baker

Have you considered volunteering as a mentor with Hackbright Academy? If you’re looking to make a huge impact with a lightweight level of time commitment, their mentorship program might be the perfect fit.

I’ve been partnering with Hackbright Academy as a mentor for future engineers for one full cohort, and I’ve had a phenomenal experience. My hope is that this post will demystify the mentorship program and encourage readers to take the leap and become a mentor.

Overview of the Mentorship Program

The mentor/mentee journey begins at the mixer.

These days, during the COVID shutdowns, everything happens on Zoom and snacks are limited to web cookies.

The Hackbright leaders give an introductory talk about the mentorship program. The students introduce themselves. Then, the mentors and mentees are paired. Currently, this means being sorted into a breakout room where you can exchange contact information and talk a bit about your background.

At this point, the students are about three weeks into the program and about to start on the development of their capstone project.

All of the students develop a full-stack project, but they’re able to make some decisions about their stack. My mentee chose to use vanilla JavaScript, but some students use a framework. Their go-to language for back-end development is Python.

The first seven weeks of the program are spent helping the student with the details of their data model and debugging problems they encounter during development. Mentors are encouraged not to direct the scope of the project but to advise on the finer details and to encourage and invest in your mentee.

The last two weeks are spent on interview prep. Optionally, some mentors and mentees continue to maintain a relationship after the 9-week commitment, but this is not required.

My Experience as a Mentor

After being a mentor for the engineering internship program at my company, LaunchDarkly, this summer--I loved it and knew that I wanted to get more involved in mentorship as a whole.

When our CTO, John Kodumal, told me about Hackbright’s mentorship program, I was a little nervous about the time commitment and whether I’d cut it as a mentor, but felt committed to their mission of empowering women to choose engineering and took the leap.

Hackbright’s core mission is to change the ratio in engineering and technology by providing the industry with strong, smart, and talented women.

This mission resonated with me. I didn’t attend a bootcamp, but nonetheless I transitioned into software engineering as a career change from a non-traditional background and I know first-hand the barriers women often face when considering entering the industry. These barriers often exist long before someone considers attending a bootcamp or going back to school. They’re not always obvious, but they might mean that someone who would really love the work, and excel as an engineer or in another technical role, will be discouraged and not pursue that path.

At the Mentor/Mentee Mixer, as the students shared their stories, I heard a lot of things that felt familiar:

“I was interested in programming in high school, but no one encouraged me to consider it as a career.”

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I always thought I’d enjoy the work, but the lack of diversity in tech held me back from making this decision until now.”

“I majored in Computer Science, but didn’t go into technology because the thought of being the only woman in the room made me nervous.”

I felt instantly glad that I was there, able to tell a group of women that I am an engineer and I think it’s the best job ever, and that they’re making a good choice.

My mentee was awesome. She made an app that allows friends to rent each other’s clothes. She worked in marketing and sales previously, and she thought about attending a bootcamp for a long time before finally taking the plunge. She has serious product sense. I was amazed by how her project turned out--and I might be biased, but I went to their demo night and I thought her project was one of the best.

We met for one hour every Wednesday morning. We also set up a Slack workspace and occasionally she would ping me with questions or need some pointers for GIT disaster recovery, but that was rare.

For the first seven weeks, during the project development phase, she came to almost every meeting with questions and usually a problem she needed help debugging. 

At first, I was worried that my lack of expertise with her chosen stack would inhibit my ability to help her. It didn’t really matter at all -- so don’t let that hold you back from signing up to be a mentor. The things that she needed help with the most were developing broadly applicable problem-solving techniques and understanding how the pieces fit together in web development as a whole.

The last two weeks of the program were spent on interview prep. At most, I spent 5-10 minutes selecting an interview question that I was already familiar with, and then we’d work through it together.

It became clear over the nine weeks that what she needed the most was encouragement. For someone to tell her that it’s okay to not know the answers. It’s okay to not understand something right away. It’s okay if you made a mistake and now your GIT branch is a dumpster fire beyond the point of return.

It’s all about iteration and continual growth.

You Can Apply to Be a Mentor Right Now

Hackbright Academy’s mentor program is great for students and mentors. If you are currently or have worked previously as a software engineer, here’s your chance to apply to be a mentor. Simply fill out this form and we’ll be in touch about next steps. Together, we can help #ChangeTheRatio in the technology industry.

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Truths About Being a Software Engineer

Mathilde from Smartcar Skills Up with Hackbright

Interview with Hackbright's Program Director, Ashley Trinh

If You Give a Mentor a Mentee

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