A Foot In The Door

I had no background in programming. None. Zero. The closest thing I’d done previously was creating a site using Squarespace. Squarespace is a great solution for anyone who isn’t inclined to spend hours tinkering with a header that just won’t go where you want it to. It does a whole lot of the heavy lifting for you, and it’s good at what it does.

I always thought of programming as some sort of black box that only the super-smart were able to peer into. I thought that if I hadn’t started tinkering when I was 9, I had missed the boat. So, for many years I just went along with a distant interest rooted firmly in ignorance. I have a friend who programs for a living, and at one point I had expressed an interest in learning enough to begin a career. He told me “[It]…would be very difficult for me.” That comment was passed along with a translation on my part that conveyed “give up, you can’t,” though I don’t think it was intended as such.

I remember that interaction clearly because it was powerful, and it was powerful because my friend is in the club and I’m not. I think it’s very important (not only in coding) to always be aware of the power dynamic that comes along with topical expertise. I probably put off trying to learn programming for a couple years because of that one comment. I’m not saying that my friend is a jerk (he’s actually a great guy), or that it’s his fault I didn’t start learning till now, just that his offhand remark carried a lot of weight in my mind simply because of the disparity in our knowledge on the subject. I’m sure that was not his intent, but that’s my point. If you are an “expert” or even just a level or two above someone, when they ask you questions, your answers will probably be more powerful than you realize.

I’m a really good woodworker/furniture craftsman. It’s something I know about myself, and it’s hard won expertise that comes from thousands of hours of work. I get a lot of people asking me how to learn to do woodwork. When I’m in a position to do so, I’ll offer to teach them the basics. Sort of a mentorship in miniature. That’s the best case, but I’m not always in that position, and I’m not advocating that it’s always necessary. If I’m not able to offer that personal guidance, I just try to point them in a direction that will be helpful (which incidentally is usually Red Rocks Community College). I feel like that’s a really important step. Offer something. Whether that something is your time, a resource, a contact to another person who might be helpful, a meetup you know about, or whatever. “That would be very difficult” is a closed door. Offering anything to that person cracks that door, and even a tiny crack is something to work with. Hell, even saying “that would be very difficult, but here’s somewhere you could start” is very different.

This post is certainly not intended to be an attack on anyone. I suppose the TLDR here is: if someone is asking you about how to do something, it means they likely see you as a potential resource/expert in that thing. There is a power dynamic in that, and whatever you tell them is likely more influential than you realize. I think this is especially true in the programming world, simply because it seems so mysterious to the uninitiated. You aren’t obligated to mentor anyone, but it’s huge to just say “check out Codeacademy It won’t make any sense at first, but just keep at it.”

Check out this post on my personal site :here: