Pluralsight Mentors: What it's like to have an on-call mentor

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What do you do when you’re stuck on that tough problem? Where do you turn when you’re in the depths of a challenging project? And who do you ask when there’s no teacher around?

How about us? You can now enhance your learning experience with live mentoring. Mentoring is like raising your hand in a classroom, as it gives you a way to ask a question when you don't understand or when you’re stuck. Nearly a year ago, we acquired HackHands, an online service that helps you do this. HackHands offers 24/7 help for live programming. As part of this exciting new chapter, we’ve been working hard to roll out a new product: Pluralsight Mentors.

Here’s what happens when you pair a willing learner with an experienced mentor--amazing things. And who better to tell you about it than a mentee who recently built her dream app through mentoring? We sat down with Jenny Kortina, a mentee based in New York City, to hear about her experience with her coding mentor, Josh Kovach, who lives and works in Michigan. They meet once a week for 90 minutes, and have logged 21.5 hours together so far.

What led Jenny to sign up for a mentor

“I just always build stuff,” said Jenny. “Learning is important to me so it's a priority during my free time.”

Jenny’s had a fascinating career path. After graduating with a degree in management and marketing, she spent a year working in tech in high-end fashion in New York. Deciding that wasn’t for her, she shifted gears and worked for Sesame Street, where she spent four years building the front end of their website, creating plans and leading teams to integrate external services such as Google search appliance. 

“I produced their first bilingual game,” said Jenny. “It was English and Spanish, Grover selling lemonade.”

She left Sesame Street when she founded the startup Blokify, a 3D modeling software that lets kids create toys they can play with virtually or physically via 3D printing. After a few years, she sold her business to 3D Systems, a leader in 3D products and digital design tools, where she now works full-time.

When she’s not working, learning or coding, Jenny hits the gym. Always looking to have technology simplify her life, Jenny uses a popular online tool to schedule her gym classes.

“Sitting at dinner with my brother one night, I mentioned how this scheduling program didn’t give a great user experience,” remembers Jenny. “He suggested I build my own platform as a competitor, using Rails.”

That one comment inspired quick action. Jenny didn’t know Rails at the time, but signed up for a boot camp that would start the following week. When it ended, she wanted a capable mentor to help her as she started applying her new knowledge. Enter, HackHands. She came across Josh’s mentor profile and reached out about weekly sessions.

A peek into Jenny and Josh’s mentoring sessions

“When we first started, my code was not great, so we started by looking at the state of affairs and doing a bunch of refactoring,” said Jenny. “I also didn't have any testing scripts, so Josh taught me about testing and why it's important.”

The first few months were about fixing what Jenny had already attempted in her app to improve performance and code readability. 

“A lot of times I would say, ‘This is how you can do this in Rails and simplify the code,” said Josh, “So I was showing Jenny more of the ins and outs of the framework that she didn't learn from the boot camp.”

Now the pair have a cadence in their sessions. They start by catching up on what Jenny tried the following week, then code together and wrap up with assignments for the coming week that Jenny can try on her own. For example, Josh told Jenny about Devise Invitable, which she integrated and modified to create an invite only beta. When he comes across useful resources, Josh sends them to Jenny throughout the week.

Pluralsight Mentoring: a live view

Building the next big app – with a mentor as a guide

Jenny and Josh use several different technologies in their sessions. Jenny will often come with ideas on features she wants to add to her gym-scheduling app (which you can check out at Sesher.co), and Josh helps her find the right tools to create them.

“Before I met Josh, I wanted to integrate Stripe (a suite of APIs that powers commerce for businesses), but I had no idea what I was doing,” said Jenny. She integrated a gem herself, but the gem ended up being more work in the long run, so Josh and Jenny worked together to roll their own Stripe integration.

Josh intervened when he saw the path Jenny was taking.

“We needed more flexibility to meet Jenny’s needs and what she was using wouldn’t let us do it,” said Josh. “We decided to just use Stripe on its own and change the architecture.”

Another technology Jenny uses to manage tickets and features is GitHub . In her weekly sessions with Josh, she’ll save complex questions and he’ll help her find answers to them.

For example, Jenny wanted to program her app to email notifications to remind customers the day before a gym session. At the same time, she wanted to give businesses the benefit of a opting for a cancellation period, say 24 hours. For this complex customized code to enable automatic email receipts, the mentor and mentee worked together to build a solution.

They’re also working on another complex feature.

“I want to add favoriting to my app, so in case you see a business but don't want to book any classes, you can favorite them and then they'll show up in a favorite list,” said Jenny.

Why is having a mentor important?

“It’s like the difference between going to the gym on your own or having a personal trainer,” said Jenny. “I could go to the gym and go through the motions the best I could, but a trainer will always push you and explain things you might not be able to understand.”

Jenny knows that time is a valuable resource, and mentoring sessions with Josh save her time and energy that would otherwise be wasted.

“I could spend like four hours on Stack Overflow, trying to figure out the right query. Or Josh can walk me through the syntax in like two minutes,” said Jenny.

In addition to saving time, Jenny benefits from learning the why behind what she’s doing, rather than simply how.

“Before mentoring sessions with Josh, I really didn't have a proper understanding of what I was doing. I was just going through the motions and following tutorials,” said Jenny. “Now I feel more confident and I'm comfortable enough now I can talk to Josh about Rails infrastructure or come up with solutions myself.”

This confidence is a big reason behind mentoring – and it’s satisfying for both mentees and mentors.

“Jenny's taken off and done all kinds of stuff that I didn't expect when we started,” said Josh. “It's been pretty rewarding to see her progress.”

Get Josh’s take on being a mentor here. Or, if you’re interested in mentoring, sign up to get help or become a mentor.

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Pluralsight

Pluralsight is the technology learning platform. We enable individuals and teams to grow their skills, accelerate their careers and create the future.