Coaching at codebar has given me a lot

Juha-Matti Santala
Nov 6, 2020 · 5 min read

Hi, I’m Juhis! I’ve been coaching at codebar’s Helsinki chapter since its inception in June 2018. Over the past 8 years, I’ve also coached, mentored, and taught in various other workshops and as a software developer, I’ve gotten a lot out of it and I wanted to share those with the world.

First I’ll talk about some of the positives coaching has given me in my professional and personal life and at the end, I’ll talk about who can coach and help others learn.

I have gotten so much from coaching

Being a software developer is a never-ending learning journey. There’s always some new technologies or frameworks to learn and new aspects and processes in software development to become better at.

Coaching juniors and people new to the industry, I’ve explained the same basic concepts of software development over and over — often from a bit different viewpoints or related to different specific problems. Through that, my basic understanding of the fundamentals of software development has strengthened a lot.

It also sparks an internal desire to explain things well and understand them on a deeper level than you might if you’re just writing code and implementing features. If I know beforehand that I’m teaching something specific or if I’m writing a blog post or preparing a technical talk, I do a lot of research to make sure that what I say is something I understand very well. And the more I know, the more confident I am with my skills and working as a developer.

I have worked both in product companies and in consultancy as a developer and one of my biggest strengths has been my ability to communicate my work and technical concepts to people with different backgrounds. I contribute that skill to the fact that I’ve been coaching people for so long. It’s one thing to know what you’re doing and another thing to effectively communicate that to someone.

At codebar, people I coach have different levels of knowledge of the topic and programming in general, and different people learn things differently. Being in situations where I need to figure out the right level and style of communication is bound to make my communication better outside the workshop setting.

The third professional benefit I’ve gained from coaching has been widening my world view and perspective on technology. Codebar students come from all walks of life and learning how different people see technology, its opportunities and challenges, and the impact it can have on their lives is very helpful.

The software that we write is used by all sorts of people and understanding different people, different situations and different cultures can help us build apps and services that serve those people the best. And it’s not just the tech discussions that lead to it: it’s all the discussions I’ve had with people during the events, on breaks, or after the event after we’ve closed the laptops and sit around chatting about all things in life.

I would be lying if I’d stop here or I’d say that these professional benefits are the only things that drive me to coach. For me, they are more of a nice side effect. What brings me back to the workshops time after time are the personal benefits.

First of all, coaching is fun and fulfilling. It’s been a long time since I realized the power of technology for the first time but seeing that spark in the eyes of the students when they realize they can create things themselves is something that makes me happy every single time.

Coaching at codebar workshops is also a great way for me to do my part in making this industry more diverse. I want to provide the opportunity for people to gain experience as a developer to see if it’s something that they’d like to do more. Just like gaining perspective on the world helps me build better software, having a diverse group of people creating those apps and services helps the industry build better software.

And then there are the people. The amazing students, fellow coaches, and organizers that you get to meet and code with and become friends with. I can’t even count how many incredible people I’ve met throughout my years of coaching. With some, I’ve become really close friends while with some, it’s always great to see them in workshops and events and hear what’s happening in their lives.

The software industry is often locally quite a small group of people after all. It’s very likely that you end up working with some of the people you’ve met by coaching. And it’s so much more fun to start working with someone you already know and have been coaching or learning with.

A #fridayhug with codebar Helsinki coaches and students in August 2018

Can I coach and how can I get started?

I originally started helping others learn during my first year at the university. I had some prior experience in development before starting my computer science degree so I helped out my classmates to understand the basics. What really opened the doors for me was the moment I first coached in a programming workshop similar to codebar: I was very nervous to join as I didn’t see myself as a great experienced developer.

I’m so happy I ended up joining that workshop and dozens after that. I think we all have something to share with each other. People who have been beginners more recently have a different understanding of what it’s like to learn and grasp the concepts while experienced developers have a wider perspective and understanding of what makes code good and they can help students debug and learn more efficiently.

As a coach, you’re not expected to know everything. It’s perfectly fine to say I don’t know, let’s work this out together! or ask for help from a fellow coach. Finding information from the internet together with your students is also a great way to help them learn how to find the information. I often do that even when I do know the answer: just telling someone what code to write isn’t super helpful but helping them learn how to find the information or debug the issue themselves is very valuable.

My favorite line in codebar’s Coach Guide is “Assume that anyone you’re teaching has no knowledge but infinite intelligence”. It’s been a guiding principle in my coaching for years and will be for years to come.

To get started with coaching, I recommend joining your local codebar chapter. You can find upcoming events from the website. My experience with codebar has been that everyone is super warm and welcoming and it’s a wonderful place to get started. If you’re interested in signing up, visit here https://codebar.io/member/new

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