In 2007 I graduated with a Geography degree. It's a reasonably narrow field - and not having many in-state prospects I took the first and only job offer. It was a small family owned firm that sold GPS and surveying equipment. A technical support gig for GPS and surveying equipment. As a new graduate with only a single child, living in an apartment and low expenses it was a good fit. But it didn't stay that way. Life changes, but the one thing that held constant was my pay - for 7 years. By year 4 I was looking at opportunities - but lacking other experience, and a crashed economy had flattened hopes of getting somewhere better.
But at the end of every day, coming home to my growing family, making enough to scrape by began to wear on me. Around year 5 I decided I would approach my boss about a raise to my pay. That didn't go over well. I couldn't find any new opportunities with my experience. I couldn't get a raise. I was trapped. I went back to school online.
I found a college with a competency-based learning model. Basically, if you already know stuff, you take a pre-assessment and if you do well, study for a week or two then take the final. The tuition was a fixed amount per term too, so you take a full-time load (for Fed student aid reasons) and if you finish early in your 6 month term - you register for a new class, and then a new one when you finish that. I think my record was 21 credit hours in one 6 month term. So just like Ben Folds said, it was only 15 grand. Took me 2 1/2 years.
It was super hard.
1 year prior to graduating with a degree in software from the online college, I applied at a hot tech startup in my area. I knew I couldn't start out there as a developer, but I could work technical support and move up. I announced this ambition in my interview to the recruiter, hiring manager - everyone was on board.
And they offered me a job. So I just hustled. Because like Harry Potter, I really wanted to be a Gryphindor, and I wouldn't settle for any other house. I wanted to be the best, so I did my best. By the 3rd week my boss pulled me aside and asked me to be one of the Tier 2 technical leads.
I had no idea they were watching me for this, I just went to work every day and worked hard. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts, I learned whatever anyone would be willing to teach me. I was driven and hungry.
I served as the Tier 2 technical lead over my cohort in support for a year. New hires came onboard as the department ramped up. 2 fantastic peers joined me on the Tier 2 team and they were superior to me in so many ways. I learned so much from them.
During this time I began courting my future boss in product development. I went to his standup every day to report escalations from the support department. During this time I forged a partnership and friendship with him that is still strong today. In time I finished my degree and talked to him about bringing me over to his team.
He provided a mentor to test my development skills. I was given real work. My mentor sacrificed her lunch time to help me out. So I coded a storm at night and brought questions for her at lunch. (She's super rad, and recently now she's my technical lead!)
He told me that my move to development would be a one-way move. Meaning if it wasn't a good fit, there wouldn't be a way back.
I was terrified but confident in my ability to make it on the team. I knew the company already had taken a chance on me to hire me in technical support, and I'd proven myself there. I could do this.
After getting my feet under me on the job for almost a year, I was approached by my boss to provide some mentoring for an employee in support. He wanted to become a developer and my boss wanted me to help answer any questions and guide him through the process of development.
As it turned out, there were more. Others in support that wanted to become developers and came from varying backgrounds - some college, or a finished degree but not enough experience, some currently in college.
This is when I launched Project Space Kittens. Because when you need a cool name, you look at your mousepad, and yep. That's a cool name.
It's a cat, riding bacon, in space. Literally Reaching for the Stars!
The Space Kittens meet up weekly during lunch and discuss personal wins, show & tell cool dev projects we've done and work through problems. I try my best to make it a meritocracy - basically you can take more time if you do your due diligence on your time out of the group. But if you're there to ask arbitrary questions and haven't Googled them, you won't get time unless nobody else has anything to get help on.
I've been doing Project Space Kittens for over 2 years now. And last month something big happened. One of the members of the Space Kittens was offered a position in development on my team. And the irony is, that I was reassigned to a new technical lead on the same team, and he took my place.
The greatest gift that a mentor can receive is a protege qualified to take their place.
It was such a humbling and amazing experience to see this all go full circle. Looking back at my own progression to become a mentor, and now for one of my proteges to become a mentor - I can't express my gratitude for everyone that's helped me on the way. And to see the growth of the Space Kittens over time. It's so awesome to be part of it all and help everyone do their best.
So this is why I mentor, because I know the struggle of making it to the top of the success mountain. And as long as I'm alive on this little blue rock in space, I'll help as many people up to the summit as I can.