Developer Mentors Invade Kings College London

It was great to meet so many eager minds at Kings College during the Meet a Mentor session for the Graduate Developer community.

Kings College is a stunning setting for helping students understand the expectations that will be put upon them when they get into industry.

The approach

In the same approach as speed-dating and speed-flatsharing, the Meet a memtor evening has a number of tables of students and the mentors have 15 minutes to introduce themselves and answer questions.

Normally we pair mentors per table, however there was such a demand this time at Kings College, each table had one mentor at a time.  The tables had around 50 students distributed evenly over them.

Every mentor has a different background, this isnt by design its just that most people in the IT industry have a very unique set of experiences.  Even if the students are asking the same questions over again then they get different answers.

The podcast

We had request from the GDC members to record the Meet the Mentor sessions.  I was a bit skeptical on how well this would work.  I had my second session recorded, where I talk about the pros and cons of working as a consultant, how much I dislike PHP and whether understanding performance really matters.

Listen to the session and find out for yourself if you think recording these sessions are useful

I have been told that I talk more than the other mentors, but do well to engage with everyone on the table.  The best way to stop me taking is to ask more questions.

Common Questions

Having been a mentor at many of these events, there are common questions that the students ask and we have run specific sessions in the past to cover topics such as open source projects and developer tools.

Improve your development skills with Test Driven Development from John Stevenson

This limited experience with common development tools and practices is something that is very prevelent when developers go for their first role.  It would be great to get some blog posts tackling these common gaps with opinions from the mentors and others in the community.

  • How to get into an open source project - its easier than you think
  • How to boost your job prospects with Github and blogging
  • The value of community involvement

If there are any topics you want to see or have written on this subject, please leave a comment on this post or get in touch.

Its not just developers, its not just men!

The people I met at the Kings College event were mainly interested in development roles, although some were asking about consultancy, some about the business side of IT and even had a great talk with one person creating their own startup company (and looking for developers to help him).

It was also great to see a mixture of men and women at the event, with an approximate 40% to 60% ratio. Its wonderful to see software development attracting so many different people.

Discussing startups

As I mentioned, I had a very long chat with someone in the student union bar afterwards about finding developers and other options to getting there startup going with minimal risk.  Starting your own business is a great adventure and its very simple to get going.  All you need is an idea and less than £100 to register a company and buy a domain name.  The real trick is actually making money though!

We talked around the idea of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP), essentially thinking about the smallest most valuable service or product you could offer to your customers and find out quickly if anyone is interested.  If you invest 3 months of your time and money before you find out if anyone will pay you for something then its a big risk!  If you can get something out there in 3 days, getting very fast feedback, reducing the the pain of failure and affording you the opportunity to fail quite a few times.  This fast feedback approach helps you fail fast and learn quickly from your failures and eventually find a sustainable business.

I told the story that now seems to be urban legend, regarding Forward Internet and the Pet Store.  Forward create the most successfully pet store business in the UK, all from one of there team not finding anywhere they could buy a parrot cage on the Internet.  Forward tested the demand for parrot cages by creating a mock website and collecting email addresses of those interested.  Once they understood the demand in terms of scale and desirable products, they moved quickly to provide the a real service.

Using cages and other accessories manufactured in China, a cargo service that delivered containers of product to the UK and a logistics service that would unpack the cargo ships, package and deliver the cages to their customers, Forward was increadibly successful all without handling an actual cage themselves.  Its a great example of creating a business from an idea and something all companies should invest more in, whether they be a startup or not.

In Summary

The Graduate Developer Community was started by Barry Cranford, CTO of RecWorks, and only works due to the effort of mentors and the great people at RecWorks.  I enjoy meeting students and getting asked interesting and challenging questions (the simplest ones are usually the most challenging), its a great way to help me understand what I do every day.

If you are a student or recent graduate, then come along to a meet the mentor session.  If you have been in industry for 5+ years then volunteer to be a mentor, its amazing fun!

Thank you.
jr0cket