It’s a Sunday morning in Berlin, and I’m standing in front of a local co-working space. With me, there’s a man in his fifties. He apologizes for leaving the free workshop I helped organize earlier. We chat about the weather, life, and Berlin. It turns out he’s a Math professor at a very well known German university. He changes the topic and starts asking me a few questions.
Why am I doing this? And how did I get here?
The professor was right — why am I doing this?
A few years back, my day job was to sit in front of large audio mixers. I was responsible for the sound of German television shows. It was a lot of fun, but I reached the point of feeling stuck. I knew my job, my responsibilities, and great people were around me. Unfortunately, in the end, there was nothing new to learn. Every day was the same.
“I was always good with computers, but …”
A career change was needed. One of the local universities offered the Bachelor’s study program “Media and Computer Science”. I was always good with computers but never considered to make them my day job. Could becoming a programmer be the next step?
I became a student. Java, C++ and even a little bit of Ruby now replaced my mixer. It didn’t take long until I fell in love with the power of programming. There is always something new to learn. There are always solutions to the problems we have. And yes, you read that right - plural! Two people can solve the same problem with completely different approaches. I loved that!
I enjoyed the variety of topics taught in the program but felt lost. The number of possibilities seemed to be endless.
Encouragement and a safety net — the power of mentoring
To get my Bachelors degree I had to make a mandatory internship. I was lucky and met the most important mentors in my programming career. A group of three very talented developers took me under their wings and gave me a direction. I got introduced to Node.js, web servers and how to work in a team.
They pushed me the right amount while providing with a safe environment to ask questions. It didn’t take long, and I altered hundreds of production CMS pages the wrong way with a faulty SQL query. The team still encouraged me; I got responsibilities for important projects shortly after. I felt safe.
I enjoyed working there so much that I stayed at the company after finishing my studies. But eventually, the company went south. We all planned to start working somewhere else together. With a lot of free time on our hands, we dreamed of running a blog read by thousands of fellow developers. Unfortunately, finding a new job as a group and running a popular blog are tough things to do. Both never happened, but I got to write my first few blog posts.
Web development is more than writing code
Writing gave me a sense of progress while being in front of this massive amount of stuff I wanted to learn. I also received my first “Thank you, that saved me a lot of time” response and couldn’t believe it. Someone actually read my posts, thought it was helpful and even bothered to tell me about it.
I learned a valuable lesson. Web development can be way more than googling problems and writing code. There is a whole community of people behind it! Thousands of people sharing what they learned, talking about what excites them and hanging out together.
Discovering the community and giving back
Knowing about this new online community, I found out that there were dozens of user groups, meetups, and co-learning events in Berlin, too. I became a regular attendee and I even made my first experiences in public speaking at a local meetup.
(I presented my first grunt plugin — in case anyone remembers grunt)
And the more people I met, the more I enjoyed being part of these communities.
The wish to give back to the community rose. It was right at the time when someone presented the idea of OpenTechSchool at a meetup. They were looking for mentors to teach Node.js to beginners. All materials were ready. There was no need for preparation. Show up and teach.
Going to the other side of mentoring
The idea was straightforward. Go to the event, hand the people learning materials and help them when they’re struggling. It sounded great, but self-doubts kicked in. Who am I to think that I should teach? Am I enough of an expert?
And there I was, standing in front of 30 students, explaining programming principles from different angles up to the moment when I looked into a pair of eyes starting to sparkle followed by a “That’s soooo cool!”. And god... did I enjoy this experience! Seeing someone getting excited about something you are passionate about is priceless.
I kept helping people; online and offline. I taught CSS and Node.js, and even co-organized a conference about the importance of an accessible web.
Serving the Twilio community
This is what brought me there, standing in front of a co-working space talking to a Math professor on a lovely Sunday morning. It was a few years ago, and I don’t want to miss this experience. I still enjoy enabling people and helping them to succeed.
Today, I can say that I’m very excited to join the Twilio Developer Network to help with enabling more developers on a daily basis. And who knows, maybe the mentioned professor will send a text message some day.
If you want to say “Hi” you can reach me under the following channels: