Amber

I really enjoyed teaching in Porto last week. It was like having a week-long series of CodeBar sessions.

Whenever I’m teaching at CodeBar, I like to be paired up with people who are just starting out. There’s something about explaining the web and HTML from first principles that I really like. And people often have lots and lots of questions that I enjoy answering (if I can). At CodeBar—and at The New Digital School—I found myself saying “Great question!” multiple times. The really great questions are the ones that I respond to with “I don’t know …let’s find out!”

CodeBar is always a very rewarding experience for me. It has given me the opportunity to try teaching. And having tried it, I can now safely say that I like it. It’s also a great chance to meet people from all walks of life. It gets me out of my bubble.

I can’t remember when I was first paired up with Amber at CodeBar. It must have been sometime last year. I do remember that she had lots of great questions—at some point I found myself explaining how hexadecimal colours work.

I was impressed with Amber’s eagerness to learn. I also liked that she was making her own website. I told her about Homebrew Website Club and she started coming along to that (along with other CodeBar people like Cassie and Alice).

I’ve mentioned to multiple CodeBar students that there’s pretty much an open-door policy at Clearleft when it comes to shadowing: feel free to come along and sit with a front-end developer while they’re working on client projects. A few people have taken up the offer and enjoyed observing myself or Charlotte at work. Amber was one of those people. Again, I was very impressed with her drive. She’s got a full-time job (with sometimes-crazy hours) but she’s so determined to get into the world of web design and development that she’s willing to spend her free time visiting Clearleft to soak up the atmosphere of a design studio.

We’ve decided to turn this into something more structured. Amber and I will get together for a couple of hours once a week. She’s given me a list of some of the areas she wants to explore, and I think it’s a fine-looking list:

  • I want to gather base, structural knowledge about the web and all related aspects. Things seem to float around in a big cloud at the moment.
  • I want to adhere to best practices.
  • I want to learn more about what direction I want to go in, find a niche.
  • I’d love to opportunity to chat with the brilliant people who work at Clearleft and gain a broad range of knowledge from them.

My plan right now is to take a two-track approach: one track about the theory, and another track about the practicalities. The practicalities will be HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and related technologies. The theory will be about understanding the history of the web and its strengths and weaknesses as a medium. And I want to make sure there’s plenty of UX, research, information architecture and content strategy covered too.

Seeing as we’ll only have a couple of hours every week, this won’t be quite like the masterclass I just finished up in Porto. Instead I imagine I’ll be laying some groundwork and then pointing to topics to research. I guess it’s a kind of homework. For example, after we talked today, I set Amber this little bit of research for the next time we meet: “What is the difference between the internet and the World Wide Web?”

I’m excited to see where this will lead. I find Amber’s drive and enthusiasm very inspiring. I also feel a certain weight of responsibility—I don’t want to enter into this lightly.

I’m not really sure what to call this though. Is it mentorship? Or is it coaching? Or training? All of the above?

Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to documenting the journey. Amber will be writing about it too. She is already demonstrating a way with words.

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Amber Wilson

It was around October last year when I arrived at 68 Middle Street for a codebar session. It was the first time I had been in the building and I was immediately struck by how spaceous and well-designed it was. Even if I wasn’t entirely sure what people did there. I had begun coming to codebar about two months prior, and hadn’t missed a single session. I loved how I got to see a different working environment each week and meet developers from any and all backgrounds. Not to mention, I was completely blown away when I first attended. The brilliant Lotte Jackson, Rosa Fox and Dorothy Wingrove showed me that strong, intelligent, kind, ambitious (+ many more adjectives) women could feel comfortable in the tech world and that there is indeed a place for us there after all.

After the half-hour informal chat, I made my way along with the other code newbies and tutors into a room further to the back that had a projector screen and a number of round tables, dotted with chairs. I found a group of people I knew at a table, but all the chairs were taken. I went to sit on an empty table with someone else I knew. Here, we were both greeted by a man I hadn’t met before. He sat between us, introduced himself as Jeremy, and said he’d help by sharing his time between us. I began getting on with my CSS tutorial. A little while in, the other student asked about hex codes.

Busy with my tutorial, I was only half listening. About five minutes later, I realised Jeremy was still talking about hex codes and what’s more, he seemed to be enjoying it. So, I began to listen properly. I really liked how in depth his knowledge was and that he was so happy to share it. After a few minutes, we moved onto a discussion about HTML and I asked Jeremy if he could recommend any tutorials or books to me. Without hesitation, he kindly offered to give me a book on the subject! He told me there were a few spare copies lying around. He returned with a small, thin orange book called HTML 5 for Web Designers, which he handed to me. I was so busy thanking him that I didn’t notice it was his book. He set me an HTML task based on the book, which I wrote down. Shortly after this, the session wrapped up for the evening.

It wasn’t until some months later that I was at a pub after a codebar session. It was cold, windy and wet outside. I remember it well. Sitting with me was a developer I had not previously met, Charlotte, Julian, and Cassie. All wonderful people. We were chatting happily and the conversation arrived at experience. It was then Charlotte told me that, If I liked, I could come along to her company, Clearleft, for a few hours of shadowing. I was very excited at the prospect and gladly accepted. It wasn’t long before I’d paid my first visit to Clearleft. This visit was amazing - I got to have one-on-one conversations with so many people, including the company’s founders. I learned about how many different skill sets are needed in order to run a successful, innovative digital company. To my delight, I was invited back again. I spent a lot of my free time between long work hours coming to Clearleft to soak up the atmosphere and learn from the great staff.

Each time I was there, I began to chat more and more with Jeremy. I found that his passion didn’t stop at hex codes. He possesses a deep knowledge and enthusiasm for what makes the web tick, and what lies behind the scenes of what we see on the screen. He knows that in order to create a fair, robust web that is as true to its content as to its users, developers must respect where the web came from and what brought it to greatness in the first place. I easily learned more about this in my free time by listening to Jeremy’s book Resilient Web Design, which is all about the history of the web.

One day in January, I had spent a morning at Clearleft, and Jeremy decided to make me a really neat offer. He asked me whether I’d like him to mentor me, but that I didn’t have to take him up on the offer if it didn’t sound like something I wanted. I was thrilled with the offer and gladly accepted, but was immediately worried that I’d be taking up too much of his time. I asked him about this and he reassured me that although he had not offered to mentor someone before, it was something he wanted to try and to do right. I thanked him once again and over the next few weeks, we planned what the mentorship would look like. I came up with some things I’d like to get out of it, which we discussed together. Jeremy blogged about these things, as well as how we came to be mentor and mentee, here. I am so grateful for his kind words and the offer of his time, and I am looking forward to working very hard and learning as much as I can! :-) Hooray!

Also published on Medium.

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