I have been coding for the majority of my life. The last three years, a focus of mine has been on mentoring junior engineers. I like mentoring because I had a really good mentor, and I know the impact it can have. The mentor that I am specifically refering to now is Dr. Burckel from Kansas State. I remember hearing quiet whispers from my peers that he was a hard professor, so I made sure to take his analysis class. I like to challenge myself.
Now, here is the thing, I took his analysis course and loved the content. Then I pursued him in an independent study on set theory. I think this was, by far, the most rewarding semester in my entire collegiate career. During this semester, it was me up at the board explaining to him the material. This was great, and I learned a ton about how to present mathematics, how to structure my thoughts, and a ton of ways of looking at things.
My only regret is that I no longer teach Mathematics. Now, I'm a software engineer. I try to continue what I learned indirectly by giving quality time to people that I mentor. I enjoy sitting down with people and helping them as best I can.
So, I have people that I am helping professionally. This is great. But I have a problem.
My problem is that I am all over the place. I love making stuff for the sake of making stuff. It's great. I just have only so much time. So, I prioritize and I find myself with limited time for many of my other ideas. I have so many ideas that it is frustrating. I may have between four to twelve hours every week to dedicate to other projects.
Some ideas are massive, and they require serious time commitment. I know that I can make a good start, and I can hack it until it works. The problem is that it will die at the prototype phase. The slow decaying death of a project is not a happy thing. It's sad and depressing. I can try my best to be upbeat about failure, but it still takes an emotional toll.
This is one of the reasons that I tend to spend much of my productive spare time on wood working. Wood projects finish, and they are done. You have something, and everyone rejoices. It's happiness everytime.
Some moons ago, I had an idea that maybe I could mentor a child like in the old days of artisans. Mentoring professionals has the downside that they are busy. Children, on the other hand, have lots of time. Furthermore, I remember being a young hacker. I remember reading books like “Learn How to Program in 21 Days”, and I remember thinking “Now what?“.
I remember making a bunch of junk to entertain myself, but it wasn't until I started to focus on making things for others that I developed myself. I was very lucky because I had two big opportunies in high school. The first was making a web page for my school, and I was working with the librarian. Later, a friend of mine and myself turn this into a independent study course. It was fantastic.
The second big opportuny came from my father. He worked at an engineering firm, and we were in the car and described an idea something like “it would be so great to have a website where people could indicate if they are in or out of the office” (a feature that is now in outlook). What did I do? I built it in C, like a boss. I was 16. The timing was right, and there was a meeting about various things. I was taken in to his work, and I attended my very first meeting. Most of the material was above my head, but I gave a demo. They liked it.
I had my first job. I learned so much stuff, and I built an intranet using real developer tools. It ran on real servers managed by IT. Not only that, I had my own cubicle (which I had to clean out and clean up the IT storage locker). I provided basic IT support, wrote tons of code, and gathered ideas and put them into a product.
Fun fact: I had to do this as self employed (due to HR liability policies) which meant I had to learn and deal with taxes myself. Super fun, and super profitable because I learned that 99% of the things I wanted were business expenses. So, I only paid social security.
I would like to be able to reproduce this experience at some level.
My theory and hope is that the right young person can take some ideas, some notes, and a few answers to their questions and just run and play with it. Maybe I hold office hours at the library? I don't know.
The hard question is how to find the right kid?
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.
Also note, I do not use a spell checker. I maintain this entire site with nano because I'm an old man.