Željana Hrkač studies Information Technology in Croatia and during her studies she has conducted an eight-month web development internship at the Coding Bootcamp Praha. In her interview, she reflects on her experience as a mentor and shares her tips on how to become a good programmer.
How would you compare learning to code at a university and at a coding bootcamp?
It’s definitely different. At Coding Bootcamp Praha the learning is more engaging and better-structured. It is an intensive experience but with the help of the great mentors and instructors available, we are opening our minds to this new experience. At a university you get a good base like theory and supporting practice, but if you want to go beyond that and try out some real world examples you have to do it in your free time. At a university the classes don’t always relate to what is actually important in a real life coding situation, and that is definitely a disadvantage.
There is also more time for practicing on your own or in teams at coding bootcamp, while at university it is mostly demonstrated or instructed exercises.
What have you studied at your university and what have you learned at the bootcamp?
The Bachelor's programme I did was Information Science and a big part of it is information technology so we had subjects like markup languages, web design, database development, and similar. For the Master’s programme we could choose a more specialised field and I chose IT because I really liked it and was doing well in all the IT related subjects.
During the internship I gained a better understanding of many core programming concepts I learned at the university, thanks to following the lessons and helping out students. I learned how to debug code more easily and I also learned a lot about React library and Laravel framework.
Have you already had any previous experience in teaching or mentoring?
I had some experience in teaching but not that much. Together with my friend, I was volunteering at a local branch of Code Club Croatia and at that time they were organizing Scratch programming workshops for kids. So we were teaching one workshop per week during one school year. It wasn’t all that easy, it took time preparing for each workshop like how to explain some programming concepts to kids so they would understand it and also working with kids in general as they have shorter attention spans and they can get impatient.
What were the biggest challenges?
I was often contributing to creating and updating small quizzes for the students and it was challenging to find the balance between "too easy" and "too hard" questions. I also worked on my English and communication skills as I had the opportunity to work with so many different people - in the team and with the students.
Another challenge was helping out students with concepts that were relatively new for me too, such as more advanced concepts in React. But these moments were also really helpful for me, as it was a great push to learn something new.
Željana with our other mentors
Was there any specific memorable moment? What did you enjoy most?
It’s hard to single out one specific moment. But hackathons were always fun and seeing what students accomplished at the end of the day and how much they learned in the weeks before the hackathon was incredible.
What I really enjoyed was working with people who have a real passion for learning and becoming developers. Working in this environment was not only fun but also very motivating.
I liked having the opportunity to co-create new exercises for the students. It enabled me to put my knowledge into practice but also to be creative. It was rewarding to see that the students found these useful!
What would you advise to people who are struggling with learning to code?
The most important thing is not to give up easily. It takes time and practice to get the hang of some topics. It takes dedication. But remember to take breaks too. They will help avoid burnouts. It doesn't matter whether it is a coffee break, afternoon off or the whole weekend, it will help you rest your mind and be more ready to continue.
Finding a “study buddy” can help you out a lot too and not just for the learning part but for motivation as well. Talk with your buddy - or yourself - and decide how to break the task into a number of smaller subtasks. Then discuss how to find a solution for each of these tasks and how to connect them together. Step by step you build your entire solution!
What is your tip for someone who would like to become a mentor?
Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the answer when students ask you to help them out. No one has all the answers, but there is always another mentor to whom you can redirect the question or you can try to google it. Another tip would be to try to communicate as much as possible with students so they can find you more approachable when they have something to ask you. And have fun as it’s important that you enjoy the experience yourself!