Old Guy New Trick

An old guys journey to learn how to code.

In Search of Mentor

Author: John on February 28, 2014

When I began my journey to become a better programmer, I didn't have a clear path.  I had been programming in Perl for my day job, and I have ideas sketched out for some web and mobile apps.  Most the programming I do at work is for single task automation or data lookup.  I want to be a better programmer at work, and I want to see my ideas in use for myself and others.

I reached out to a friend of mine in early 2012.  I shared with him some of my buisness and software ideas.  He has a lot of experience as an entrepreneur, and as a software developer.  When I finally settled on working on my software projects, we had several discussion sessions together and he helped point me in a direction.  I started to learn the Zend framework as I had some previous experience hacking away at php based websites.  My progress went slow, buy my friend, Bill, helped to gently nudge me in the appropriate direction and answer my battery of questions.  I'm sure it must have been tough for him as I had a lot of questions and kept switching what I was trying to focus on.

Fast forward to about this time in 2013.  I was a little frustrated with myself and slow progress.  It took me a real long time to get the user registration and login part of my app working.  I realized that I had major gaps in core programming knowledge.  Using Amazon.com I found some books to study (see my post "To Book or Not to Book".)  While reading one of these books I ran into a guy who was the catalyst in rebooting my programming journey.  He, Shane, introduced me to Ruby on Rails.

Shane told me about some online resources to help get me started - the ones at CodeSchool and RailsCasts.  I went back to Amazon and ordered the Hartl book.  With my nose in the books, laptop comfortably on my lap, I started studying Ruby and Rails.  The beginner resources I came across were excellent.  I found a much better selection of books and online resources from the Ruby community, especially compared to PHP which I had previously been studying.  My "home schooling" was going well.

What took me over a month to learn and do in PHP, the user registration/login code of my website, I was able to learn and complete in a weekend using Rails.  For me, learning Ruby and Rails is actually fun.  I feel that I have been able to comprehend the basics, and some intermediate stuff pretty well just by reading or watching online videos (both free and paid for.)  But I've noticed that I'm starting to hit some more challenging concepts and material.

My application has some models that aren't as simple as a one-to-one, or one-to-many relationship.  My app needs to interact with the user for more than just simple data entry. I'm seeing that I need to learn more about JavaScript/CoffeeScript and jQuery.  I'm having issues with Geolocation.  The concepts are getting a little more complicated for me.  I need someone to talk to and work through these challenges.  I need a more structured learning environment where I'm able to ask questions for topics I do not understand.  Thus my search for more knowledge.

Since I work full time, I had some contraints to work within.  Either I needed to find some programming courses at a local college, that I could attend at night, or find some on-line resource.  While I find my subscriptions to CodeSchool, RailsCasts and PluralSight useful, the draw back is I can't ask questions when I get stuck.  Off to Google I went to start my search.  I was overwhelmed by how many different solutions there are.  One can review a pretty good list of solutions at the Quora site.

Some of the more popular sites I found were, in no particular order: http://www.launchacademy.com/  http://www.appacademy.io/ http://www.thinkful.com/  http://www.gotealeaf.com/  http://devbootcamp.com/ https://www.bloc.io/  https://training.bignerdranch.com  http://www.hackreactor.com/ and https://learn.thoughtbot.com/

Off the above though, only four seemed to fit my criteria of being able to attend on-line, at my own time: Bloc, Thinkful, Teaeaf Academy and Thoughbot.  The pricing for these courses are roughly in the same price range, with Bloc being the most expensive.  But Bloc costs more for a good reason I feel - more time with a mentor.  I talked with people from Bloc and Thinkful - both of them had a live session to code with a mentor.  Bloc seems more proactive in having numerous info sessions and answering questions from potential students.  

Through my research and conversations, I've narrowed my search down to Bloc and Tealeaf.  Tealeaf is getting a strong consideration because one of their founders is a Hashrocket alumni which I found out about after talking with two folks from Hashrocket.  But Bloc is the leader and I've pre-registered with them.  I wish Tealeaf had hosted some info sessions so I could get a taste of how they work.  I'm still considering them as their course is broken down into 3 components, with the last one covering advanced concepts.  Upon completion of Bloc, I may enroll in that third course.

I've had exposure to three mentors at Bloc.  Each one has impressed me.  Keep an eye out for my follow up posts regarding how my training goes with Bloc.  I have a mentor in mind, but I will not know for sure until I get through the formal registration and enrollment.

Learn Something New Everyday

Last Edited by: John on December 30, 2015