In our new series "Meet Our Mentors," we shine a spotlight on the CareerFoundry mentors, the professionals who guide our students towards successfully learning how to code and the principles and best practices of UX design. We take a look at their backgrounds and experience, where their passions lie, and how they work to get our students to where they want to be in their education and careers.
Today's Q & A is with Samuel Boguslawski, our first Europe-based Real Time Mentor for our Web Development Course.
Sam is a Berlin-based web developer and passionate music fan. When he started with us in June of 2015 he took on the job of being our very first Europe-based Real Time Mentor, a role that requires him to be online and available to answer questions and queries from our students as and when they have them.
Aside from his love of writing code Sam also enjoys writing, performing and producing all sorts of music--a common theme here among the team at CareerFoundry. Luckily for the music lovers amongst us, our office at the Factory Berlin is just a stone's throw from music discovery platform SoundCloud's HQ! Can one office have too many DJs? We'll let you think about that one.
First, let's get back to Sam.
What were you doing before you worked as a CareerFoundry mentor?
Before signing up as a CareerFoundry mentor I studied music production in Berlin. I enjoy building things and problem-solving, which is why web development complements my other technical and musical abilities so well.
What attracted you to a career in web development?
I was always excited about programming. After I finished high school, I had a hard time trying to decide between studying programming or studying music. I finally decided on music, but I kept teaching myself programming on the side. I particularly enjoy the creativity of programming, creating new things and solving problems.
A screenshot from our Web Development mentor Sam's budgeting app.
When you were learning, what was your toughest obstacle? How did you overcome it?
Like with many other self-taught developers, I had to learn and relearn the solutions to certain technical problems many times because I had such difficulties keeping myself motivated. Staying focused on my learning for one long period of time was often difficult.
It wasn’t until I started learning with the >help of a mentor that I was able to stay focused on what I was doing, and make massive progress on projects within a much smaller timeframe (than when I was learning by myself). Once I had a good foundation of knowledge, I was motivated enough to keep learning on my own because I was then able to build really exciting things.
How important was having a mentor to your own learning?
Very! The great thing about having a mentor was that I was able to ask him a lot of questions along the way. His answers pointed me in the right direction and motivated me to keep working. As a result of his quick responses I was able to learn much faster than I would have without a mentor.
As a web developer, which online resources do you find most useful?
Google and StackOverflow of course! If I am looking to implement a feature that I don’t know how to implement, or if I have found a bug which I can’t fix, then these two pages are likely to help me find the answer 90% of the time.
Depending on what I use, I also always keep the documentations open. For example with Bootstrap, I always use the official Bootstrap documentation. With Rails I use RailsGuide.
One page I still visit fairly regularly is CanIUse. Here I can check if the code I would like to use is supported in all browsers.
A screenshot from one of Sam's personal projects.
How do you connect with your CareerFoundry students?
We communicate almost exclusively on Slack. For our video calls we use appear.in. This works really well because for simple problems they can just send me a question on Slack and I respond to them during my office hours within a few minutes. If the problem turns out to be more complex we can switch to a video call. Either they or I can share the screen, and we can work together on finding a solution to their problem.
How do you manage your time between working as a web developer and mentoring?
Since I am a Real Time Mentor, managing my time is actually very simple. I have my office hours for 4 hours a day and the rest of the day I work on my own programming projects.
What are the most common difficulties your students face and how do you help them overcome them?
It is really hard to think of one or even a few difficulties that all of my students share (due to the variety of students I get) . When my students start, they are often at different levels and are all very different personalities. Some have difficulties understanding basic concepts while others understand the concept, but run into problems trying to solve more advanced problems.
One thing I have discovered is that due to the amount of the course material, the students sometimes need me to explain the content from the lessons one more time. By hearing the course content explained in a new, and perhaps simpler way, this helps them process what they have learned and gain a better understanding.
How would you advise students managing their own time while studying the course?
My advice would be for students to undertake a short chunk of learning every day, rather than attempting to study for a long time with long breaks in between studying. It is really important for students to keep programming (even if they are not doing any lesson from the course)! Otherwise it's easy to just forget and if that happens they'll have to start all over again.
Another of Sam's websites!
How do you help your students become confident in their skills?
I always point out my student's achievements and what they have done well. I understand how hard it is to notice your own progress if you go through the material quickly. That’s why I always remind them of what they have accomplished. I also encourage them to work on their own projects, and if needed, I give them hints on how to use the skills they have learned on different projects.
Are you working on any personal projects? Tell us about them!
Always. My problem is I have too many ideas and want to do too much at the same time.
One of my projects is almost completed and my wife and I are using it already. It is a little tool to create and manage personal budgets as well as expenses. You put in the expenses and it tells you how much money you can spend until the end of the month.
Another one is an online multiplayer text adventure written using Angular and Material Design.
Lastly I am working on my own responsive frontend framework as I build simple static websites.
There are many more things I would like to work on, the list keeps on growing!
What’s the most important thing students need to do to succeed in their courses?
Students need to have a willingness to read and learn more than just the course materials, and to use what they have learned to try things out. Having fun playing around with code is crucial to success!
If students follow the course exactly and don't do anything other than what the course tells them to do then of course they will be able to build websites, but they might not get a full understanding of how things work and what else is possible with their skills. That’s why I always encourage my students to try new things, break their website, play around with the code and see what happens. It is only by trying these things that you get the best understanding of what you are actually doing.
What are you most excited about in the tech industry right now?
I really like the growing startup scene and the culture, atmosphere and dynamic of these companies. I’m also excited about all the new ideas and technologies coming up every day in programming.
Do you have any questions you'd like to ask our mentors? If so, let's get the discussion started in the comments below!