For an interesting conversation, we turn to Speros Misirlakis. Speros is the Head of Curriculum at Coding Dojo, a 14-week award-winning coding bootcamp that has 10 campuses across the US. He’s been in the world of computers since he was a child, and has formed a career around his love for programming.
Speros is a full stack developer, full-fledged instructor, MIT certified in cybersecurity, and an MBA graduate in finance. At the Dojo, he teaches MEAN, Ruby on Rails, Python, Django and LAMP — and in his time has mentored over 300 students, producing 50 double black belt holders.
His experience ranges from sales training and management, to structure development and process implementation to teaching. When he’s not working, he codes his own projects, reads cybersecurity topics, does weight lifting, and participates in weekly basketball games.
What made you interested in programming?
I’ve always liked computers, and I’ve really enjoyed using them since I was nine years old. After some time, I realized that there’s something I could do that would keep me close to computers: programming.
“Programming is not just about writing the code, and it has so much more beyond that. It’s going to take a long time for somebody to become an expert at all the pieces that relate to actual codes.” – Speros Misirlakis
When did you learn to code?
At the age of 26, after receiving my MBA in Finance. I decided to change my career and follow my passion for programming.
Who’s your greatest mentor in programming?
It’s Michael [Choi, CEO of Coding Dojo]. Actually, he was my instructor at Coding Dojo for 13 weeks. I had a great opportunity of having Michael mentor me through most of my time, even after I graduated the bootcamp and became a teaching assistant at Coding Dojo. And now, I still learn things from him, I think I still consider him my mentor.
What is mentorship for you? Why is there a need for mentorship from experienced developers?
Mentorship can give you a clear direction or path. If you don’t know which way to go because it’s a new field for you, a mentor is able to tell you, “You need to get here,” and “Don’t worry about this stuff.” “Just get to this point.”
[More importantly], a mentor is dynamic, they can respond to you when you have clarifying questions. It’s different when there’s someone to teach you, guide you, and encourage you to pull you out of a fog.
What are the most unforgettable lessons you’ve learned from your mentor?
I remembered one time Michael came over to my computer after he saw me working on something for more than 20 minutes.
He said, “Did you get it?” And I replied, “Yeah, I got it! It’s awesome! Awesome!” and he said, “Did you understand it?” I answered, “Oh, yeah, I understand it! This is great!”
Then, he deleted my code. He was like, “Okay! You understand it, do it over again.”
And I did.
It took me a little while to redo it, but I did a lot faster, apparently. It really taught me that just because I wrote the code doesn’t mean I fully understand it. It made me humble. In programming like anything, practice makes perfect.
Another thing I learned from him is, “If you can explain something simply you understand it. If you can’t, probably you don’t understand it well.” For people to understand things, you should explain things simply as much as possible.
How mentorship affect your life and your career?
I don’t think I’d be anywhere near where I am now, or at least anywhere near as fast I got to where I am now, without my mentors and Coding Dojo.
Also, when I became an instructor, I didn’t realize the impact I had on my students until certain students came back to thank me in person when they landed the job they’d been wanting.
How can someone find a good mentor?
It’s actually not easy to find a mentor if you’re not a part of the programming circle. So, you need to do is to get yourself involved in the industry. Once you do — establish connections to expose yourself more on the programming world.
You can do this by either enrolling yourself in coding bootcamp/workshop, or attending coding school, or even by finding an amazing environment where you can study different codes/frameworks and learn them [by heart].
Also, look for inspiration; listen to tech talks or watch online coding tutorials. Maybe, one of them would become your mentor in some way.
For you, what are the characteristics or qualifications of a good mentor?
Someone who is knowledgeable and well-experienced on programming. You need to have a broad knowledge of your own craft—to have a deeper understanding of its concepts. And experience goes with that to justify and validate facts.
Do you think attending a bootcamp is better than self-learning and online tutorial? Why?
[I’m] not sure, because it depends on the needs, preference and learning style of the developer.
However, I’m more concerned with the percentage of those people who become full-fledged developer from self-learning and online tutorials, and how long it took them to completely understand specific framework/language and create their own programs and projects. Because in a coding bootcamp those things are transparent — especially on the quantitative aspects.
Aside from mentorship, give other strategies that can help and accelerate the progress of the students on programming.
Repetition, keep on practicing… do it again and again, [participate in] group discussion, join a coding community, read programming books and articles, and do pair programming. Work together with your cohorts, share ideas!
From a mentor’s perspective, strategies are necessary to grow as a developer, but it won’t work without inner motivation.
What’s your advice on new developers to become successful in their career?
First, keep building things.
It’s similar to the advice given to me by Sal, my other mentor, “Build build, build, build!.” He told me, “…just continue building. The best way you can get better at programming is to build projects continuously.”
Second, follow your passion. You can’t spend most of your money and time on something you don’t like. It will kill your creativity.
Lastly, you need to have the right attitude.
If you’re interested in learning more about web development, visit our website: www.codingdojo.com.
Written by: Noemi Balog 11/16/18