Why I Want To Be A Code Mentor

Published Jan 08, 2018Last updated May 23, 2018
Why I Want To Be A Code Mentor

I've been repairing computers since I was around 11 years old. After we got our first 386DX 25MHz IBM-Compatible PC when I was in the fourth grade, I quickly became at one with the machine. Cousin Jeff and I would talk about computers at family gatherings. I never thought it was weird to be talking to an adult about such complicated topics when I was 9 or 10. I was mostly concerned that he would find me annoying (or that other people around us would). Dad also inspired me to study computer science. When Cousin Mark let us "borrow" some DOS games and I wondered if we could copy the data on the floppy disks so we could eventually return these games, Dad asked a coworker how one would go about doing that. I woke up one morning to a note on the kitchen counter, right next to my brown lunch bag:

copy a:*.* b:\

I remember thinking about this command all day at school, mostly because I was so excited we were going to be able to "keep" these computer games. However, I was also going nuts trying to figure out what the command actually meant. Dad had some idea about wildcards and the concept of commands. Why a backslash? Why star-dot-star?

I spent a summer reading Kris Jamsa's DOS 5.0 book (at the recommendation of dad's super awesome coworker) and soon came to understand how these things worked. Soon mom was getting calls on the landline from our family dentist, the local judge, the neighbor down the block with issues like their AOL connection not working, running out of disk space, not being able to install software on Windows or, in the case of the judge, the computer won't turn on. The judge's case turned out to be the power supply not being plugged into the wall. Needless to say he was quite embarrassed.

Speaking of embarrassment, I think there were some people who had no shame putting me to work for no compensation and there were others who were embarrassed that a child possessed this knowledge over them. Sometimes people would ask if I would give them lessons so they could learn. This gave me confidence to start offering adults lessons in casual conversations. Some adults did not respond well to this offer and I learned the hard way that no one wants a child to offer them PC training, even if it will benefit them greatly and offer them a new marketable skill.

I felt weird asking adults to pay me. This was especially true because they weren't offering to pay me. They would just call mom and ask if I could come over and fix their AOL. My customers always left very happy and this provided me with a lot of satisfaction except for the fact the the diagnoses and debugging period sometimes took hours away from my weekend. This also grew frustrating but I guess I learned a crap ton about how Windows works and how people are really good at fucking up their computers.

I did not have a paying computer job until my first summer co-op program at Con Edison at age 16. I was a database programmer in the Instrumentation & Controls department for the East River Generating Station on 14th Street and Avenue D. Yes, that is a power plant. I had to wear a hard hat and steel-toed boots to the workshop. There was a lone PC sitting there with a Visual Basic database on it. There was no source code. Someone wrote this software long ago and left them with a semi-working system. My job was to reverse engineer the thing and rebuild it so that it could be maintained and eventually used by the technicians to track their I&C worklogs. It's also worth noting that East River Gen Station was a two-hour commute in each direction from my parent's house in Staten Island. I had to take the S61 local bus to the ferry, the subway to 14th Street and the very specific crosstown M14D bus to Avenue D (not to be confused with the M14 or M14A). The four-hour daily commute was my way of escaping Staten Island and spending as much time in the city as I could.

I also worked in the city when I was 17 right after graduating high school. This time I was at the Union Square headquarters, shaving a solid 20+ minutes off of my commute in each direction. I would be working on gas and steam and environmental remediation database systems. When I started college, I worked at Bobst Library at NYU in their obscure basement-level laptop rental office. I think it was called the "Electronic Resource Center" or ERC. It was not affiliated with the ITS group so it existed on its own bureaucratic island. I soon was offered the opportunity to continue working at Con Ed part-time during the school year and full time during the summer. When I became a junior at NYU, I became an RA while also keeping my part-time coding job.

I was lucky. My career started immediately after graduating college. Fast forward to jobs and career drama and work politics and endless hours of discussions with friends about how frustrating my job is and how unhappy I am at my job. It didn't matter which job. It didn't matter which boss. It didn't matter how cool the office location was (Bryant Park) or how shitty it was (2 Penn Plaza, with literal actual shit in the subway station below). I found myself in situations in every job feeling like I was working very hard, contributing a lot but playing the victim card. I think looking back on it, I was right about all of those things. I also don't think there is anything else I could have done. I was working hard indeed! I was also a victim of politics sometimes. I also contributed to politics sometimes, we all do. What if this last job is the last time I work for another company as an employee?

Let's also add in there that I've only lived in New York City my entire life. Even college was at NYU. the brain grows neurons from environmental changes. Have I been denying myself personal growth opportunities?

I've been working for other people since I was 16. What if I tried working for myself? To create something where I can hold myself accountable? Could there be a possibility that I can grow a business while also traveling the world? I think I would be much happier being my own boss. I think I would be much happier living in different cities as an explorer. What if I can do both at the same time? There is only one way to find out.

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