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Ask HN: Is it too late to find a mentor after 30 for a software developer?
118 points by akaralar 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments
I got into software development without any education or prior experience at the age of 25 and learned iOS development. I work as an iOS developer & consultant and I feel I'm doing dead-end freelance gigs, which doesn't feel like they will get me very far. I want to be involved in backend development as well but I don't have a clear path as to how I can make that happen. A mentor might have been very good to have here to at least offer second opinions, but I am unable to find one, since the people good enough to be a valuable mentor usually don't stay in this country(I'm in Turkey). Even if there was, I feel like age might be an issue. Where and how does one find a mentor? Is it too late to find a mentor after 30?



My best advice from a fellow 30 year old: Try to find an in-home caretaker that also knows programming.

They're uncommon but invaluable when you find one. My caretaker is a young man currently in school for computer science. He comes by once a day to check on me and gives me brief programming lessons while heating up my soup, helping me up the stairs or doing jigsaw puzzles with me.


I was going to go for something funny, but you can't top this.


I'm guessing this is a reference from something. What's it from?


I assumed it was mocking the tech industry's infamous tendency to assume that anyone 30+ is past their prime, e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15974603


Thanks, Haruki Murakami.


Generally, I find ageism wrong and a genuine form of discrimination. Regardless, I couldn't help but chuckle at this.

I think the point is no age is too old to start something new if you still have control of your faculties.


you are my favorite person on the internet


Sounds like obscure anime.


Its not too late at 30, 40, 50, or any other age... a mentor is simply someone who guides you down a road you haven't been down before, and that can happen at any stage of your career. That applies whether you're a new developer or one who's mentoring your own mentees.

Look for someone who is doing what you want to be doing, who's friendly and open to starting that kind of relationship. It doesn't have to be someone near you geographically, though that helps if you want to have frequent face-to-face meetings over coffee or a meal. I would encourage you to look for someone who's not only doing the things you want to be doing, but who has also faced similar challenges getting to where they want to be. For example, because you're currently freelancing, it might be helpful to find someone who has experienced life as a freelancer or a consultant in the same kind of commercial environment. I don't know but I'm guessing that being in Turkey is going to work differently than being based in the US, for business reasons if nothing else (a fair bit of the advice I give out to young consultants revolves around our own somewhat Byzantine tax system.)

Finding someone you feel comfortable asking to be a mentor may be tricky if you're not well-established, but go to a lot of meetups in your area, and don't be shy about talking to the speakers afterwards. Often a small group of individuals will end up chatting, and if you keep seeing the same small groups doing so you can bet that one of them will have some good advice for you. And don't let your age become the issue here—you're not at all too old to be getting into this field, and its really irrelevant to what you need at this stage of your career.


Stop worrying about age. Shit... 30 is young. You have plenty of time to follow these dreams.

Depending on what type of back end development you want to do pick up a book and start learning back end languages. Java, Go, Javascript (Typescript) etc. Also, start learning databases like MySQL or Redis etc.

Just make a simple web based notes app or something that will allow you to hit all these back end technologies.

Just start!


I think everyone here is being a bit cavalier when they say "it's never too late". Sure, just like it's theoretically never too late to start a company or even run for president. In reality, mentors tend to gravitate toward younger mentees. There are various reasons for this. Younger folks tend to be, in general, more enthusiastic and less knowledgeable and experienced -- fertile ground when you have something to give as a mentor. Obviously not an absolute but definitely something to consider when you are older yet still looking for a mentor. I think there is also something alluring to mentoring younger folks you think are talented that has to do with getting the chance to help have a hand in some outsized success the young mentee might experience. Ostensibly younger folks have more time to achieve this success so perhaps they seem like a better bet to invest time in as a mentor however unconscious that decision may be on the mentor's part. I'm well into my thirties and do plenty of mentoring but I wish I had mentors of my own still. They get harder and harder to find every year of age and experience I get and I find it to mostly be due to the reasons above.


Yep.

There is something in the human heart that falls for people who are young enough to be their children. That same awe-shucks people get when they see a baby is the same feeling one gets when they feel the desire to mentor someone.

In an industry where there isn't many people older than 30, it's going to be much harder to find someone who looks at you as the child they never had.


I don't really agree with this. 30 isn't that old. Also, some 30 year olds still look like they're in their early 20s, so you can't tell their age to begin with.

OP, in a university setting it is easier to find mentors. Look for professors, grad students and in-class TAs if possible.


I'm often mistaken for a 20 something even though I'm near 40. There is a mentality to older people that isn't the same as a 20 something.

In any case, I was only confirming the answer I was replying to and sharing my thoughts, which you can choose to agree with or not.

The OP is 30, perhaps a bit late to take on a full college schedule.


Thanks for taking the time to clarify your points. Although, I still disagree on a few views. Even if OP is 30 there isn't an inherent reason college is too late either at the undergraduate or graduate level. If OP had the funds or made specific life choices they could enroll back into a university and study. Some people aren't married/have kids at that age and can work side jobs or what have you to enroll back in school. Not everyone studied CS in their 20s and are satisfied with the careers they had up until that point. I know of individuals that made career changes in their mid-20s/30s. Most of them went back to school in one form or another. I think for those that did that actually set themselves up for a "career upgrade". I've seen students in class that look much older than everyone else taking undergraduate courses. I don't know their story but they aren't treated any differently by the university and I've even heard from professors they prefer older students over younger ones as their graduate students. Also, I've seen a CS PhD student that is 40+.


Trying to get a mentor is a little like trying to get a Significant Other. In theory, you can "just ask", but in practice you have to fundamentally understand the other person before you can 'ask'.

This article sums up how to get a mentor:

https://pindancing.blogspot.com/2010/12/answer-to-will-you-m...


pfft. First time i hear someone around balkans to want to be mentored... everyone here thinks hirself a know-it-all. See, i have 30y of experience and have mentored people @20 , @30 and @45, and it all works (and happened in several countries). Now i have one @23, one @28.. Basically physical age/skin/gender does not matter, mental age is what matters - i have met 30y people who have become pensioneer-like with "unchangeable" mentality, and know 65y+ old ppl that still think quicker than me...

one thing u have to know though... real mentorship isn't just about how to use screwdriver X or technology Y.. it is also about how to live being someone knowing all about screwdrivers and technology. Esp. in programming where multidimensional schizophrenia is your everyday state of mind :). Without that, it's teaching/lectoring/RTFM, not mentoring.. btw Best way is to find a job where you would be mentored into close-to-desired direction, even if somewhat underpaid for beginning. But there are other ways too.


You're only 30? I thought you meant after a 30 year career and was going to call your bluff on starting with iOS. I'm nearly 30 and just last year switched into my first software engineer role after studying electrical engineering. Everyone has been very supportive of teaching me things I miss, and has been happy to leverage my electrical experience to better interface with the electrical teams in the company.


When I hit a wall in my early 30s, after a decade of testing and writing software, I went back to school and got a bachelors degree in CS. It has proven to be a good decision. It was not easy to manage the logistics, and it cost a small fortune in loans to maintain a family and mortgage through that, but it was worth it. I started out taking night classes at community college and eventually went back full time to finish up. If you just want to branch out a bit a mentor may help but this is such a broad field it’s hard to teach yourself all the basics, especially once you have financial pressures and need to keep working. Good luck!


I did the same thing. Times are good now, but they were not in 2001, or 2009, and having a degree helps. even saying you're halfway through your CS degree helps.

I was working and took one class a week, at nights and/or on weekends. This was not all that bad because even if it went slowly, I really learned each subject well and got high marks.

At one point I got laid off, and went full-time on my severance, unemployment and savings. When unemployment ran out I got a low paying, part time consulting gig (and cut my classes from 5 a semester to 4 and then 3).

After class or office hours with your CS professors helps. They often know a lot.

Also, there are projects out there like this - https://github.com/danielgindi/Charts . It is in iOS, an OS you know. There are plenty of open issues, and there are plenty of pull requests that have been accepted. It is a pretty popular library, so the devs with commit access probably (although not necessarily) know what they're doing. I'm sure they'd appreciate you jumping in and looking through the issues and seeing if you can solve one of the problems. Then you send it in and see what they say. As you become familiar with the project, you can watch how they handle issues and write code, and will learn more.

That's just one project that might be up your alley, there are many more.


It is not too young. I've been mentored by peers of mine quite a bit that are my age and a bit older (I'm 31).

As another commenter says, stop worrying about age: both yours and theirs. Focus on being willing to leave your comfort zone.


I've mentored people into their sixties.

It's mainly about finding the right relation. Nobody wants to mentor someone they don't see something good in. Most will mentor someone who "gives back" through aptitude, attitude, or gratitude.

Also, try to find an online community or forum. Answer questions from those newer than you, abd ask questions of those more experienced. If you put in the effort to help out, you will likely be helped out in turn. Unevenly and sporadically, but on average, it's true.


I'm more on the bio side, but didn't really have a mentor until I was 35. In retrospect, here's what I'd do:

A) have low expectations, so it's easier to define early success and build motiviation, B) be willing to do work for free, as long as it is mutually beneficial, so likely research with no clear financial incentive C) go to where the mentors are: local universities and corporations and research institutes with open campuses. D) at said campus, find some old person sitting alone at lunch. Ask permission to join them. Strike up a conversation. Rinse and repeat daily until you make some connections, find some mutual interests, and pursue them. This has, in my case, led to actual projects, where they formally sponsor me, I get campus badges (I'd like to think I have a fairly enviable collection of ID badges), and and go as I please. This was especially helpful in residency when I needed a place to study on the weekends, but the thought of returning to the hospital campus on the weekends made me nauseous.

Especially as an iOS freelancer, you need nothing more than a laptop, right? So just work there until lunch. Or after lunch, whatever. I'll bet you can find an accessible power outlet and wi-fi in the same spot if you walk around for awhile.


Age shouldn't be an issue. I'm in my 30s and I have a mentor. I mentor others. I've had both older mentors and younger mentors. I've mentored both older and younger people. To me, age isn't a factor.

As the mentee, it's about finding somebody who knows something you don't know and is willing to talk to you and answer your questions. As a software engineer, I find it valuable to meet with and talk to people who know more about various aspect of engineering -- the tech side of things (coding + architecture) and the business side of things (growing in leadership skills and knowledge of how to function within a business).

Even at a large company, depending on location, it can be difficult to find somebody to meet with. I mentor others both local and remote who work at the same company because sometimes they're not able to find anybody else with a similar role in their location. I'd recommend being willing to meet with remote mentors.


iOS is pretty niche. I started on backend stuff and through (years of) webapps moved through doing a bunch of business stuff. Now I run larger businesses. I am 35, and spent much of my career physically isolated in remote corners of China, working either on my own businesses or remotely for others. So I understand physical isolation and feel qualified to offer you advice.

First of all, if you feel you want to stick with programming, set yourself larger goals. Any server-side language can be effective.

Second, if I were you right now I would leverage your iOS skills by learning React Native to get competent at producing triple-platform (web/Android/iOS) frontend apps in Javascript, then learn Node JS to get competent at server-side.

By doing this you are offering a huge value business solution (overall app and web and potentially backend solution and ongoing hosting/maintenance) instead of a single project (iOS app frontend only). You can charge a lot more.


Google for "development meetup turkey" and go from there. A mentor is unlikely alone, what is likely to work best for you is to find a community, even if it's just online. Substitute meetup with discord, slack, facebook, twitter, irc, etc, all those are places where there may be a community. Different people in there can offer different ideas or pointers to help you move in the direction you want, and to figure out that direction to begin with.

After you choose a target for the type of job you would like to shoot for, it's generally: 1) learn the tech, 2) learn the context/industry, 3) come up with a project you can develop on your own, and 4) develop it to a reasonable level, to prove you know 1 and 2, and 5) start knocking on doors.


Try to list the distinct reasons why you need want a mentor. E.g.

1. Camaraderie with other developers IRL

2. Technical assistance when you're stuck with a technical problem

3. What else?

Then try to address these needs individually.

Sure, you can find someone to geek out over general technical stuff (1), but maybe you don't geek out over the same technical stuff (iOS vs. back-end web), so he/she doesn't know as much about back-end stuff to help you debug (2). Or vice versa.

For #2, there's so much help online though. For #1, look for a developer group (maybe a HN monthly meetup). If there isn't one, start one, and you'll start meeting like minded people near you. A few years back I started a HN monthly meetup in San Diego, and it was a fun crowd.


Selamlar,

A friend of mine followed the path of doing mobile development, and finding a job in Amsterdam with a known travel/booking site. I was wondering if you could do similar path - he recently started working at Google Zurich. I believe coming to US on a visa without a CS background might be hard, but you might use your IOS skills in a EU based company.

Don't be too fixated on backend, I like it more than i do mobile, but eventually, most skills are transferable to different platforms. I'd first try to utilize what I have, and find stepping stones that are more-easily achieved.


I think it would even be fine to ask for help here.

You wouldn’t have to just ask for a mentor which is a pretty broad request, but could start by asking a couple of focused questions.

This would require a little careful thought about what are the biggest or next obstacles you’re up against.

Is it about the fastest way to get up to speed on a tech? Are you already good at backend work but trying to figure out the resume chicken and egg problem?

The point is just that, who here could give you some good advice might depend on the question, and it might be a useful excercise anyway to refine your focus on how you want to proceed.


I'm ignoring the age question since it's irrelevant. "How to get a mentor" is to get a job working at a company alongside more-senior developers. Freelancing is better for people who are already senior, in charge... people who are the mentor. If you want a mentor then your best bet would be a structured work environment where you're in a position to benefit from someone else's knowledge on a day-to-day basis (as most of those learning opportunities will end up being random and occasional).


I never had mentor and never seen real mentor like relationship. So, I am fully convinced that you will be fine even if you don't find mentor. You are probably too old to be mentored anyway, at least I associate that with kids.

Constructively: have a look at coursera courses. Pick up one free that will interest you and be active on forums. There is lecture every week, some homework and forums to discuss at. A bunch of people starts at the same time and it has social aspect, so it might simulate mentor you are looking for. It is also structured and overall more effective way of learning then bouncing around forums.

Since you are interested in backend, find databases oriented courses(a bit of theory and how to write queries), something about microservices and how application servers work. Have a look at jobs in your country and pick up languages/frameworks to learn based on that. I would advise to care more about practicality then about what is cool/hip, at least in the beginning. Never stop learning, that is most important, even after you find that backend job you wish for. Keep track of finished courses and certificates, so that you may show them when looking for courses.


It sounds like your problem is not age, but that your mentors are leaving Turkey. Where are they going? Go there if you can.

Also, how did they get good enough to leave? Do that.


The question: How much risk can you take? how much money do you NEED to live on? Can you move or are you stuck?

I got my 2 year degree in programming at 30 and started at a $21k/year job (bottom of the barrel). I'm now making, 7 years later, many times that as a back-end developer.

I'm "stunted" in my career because I'm unable to move (fiance takes care of mom) and in the sticks - my job is a 90 mile commute from "civilization" and that's how far I have to go to get "good" money.

If you can "work for peanuts" at a job that does what you want... you can leverage your previous experience. It's not like I had more with a 2 year degree and no "experience". You can also prioritize "experience" over "pay".

If you can take a lower paycheck, move to the job you want and are willing to do it... I did it at 30. There are more jobs available now and companies that need experienced developer - and even if you are moving specialties you are still experienced.


No, just find a company that is into Software Craftsmanship and sign up for an apprenticeship. There are a lot out there although you might need to move to a major city if you're not in one yet (ie Chicago, New York, LA, London, etc). Just look for the meetups and the sponsoring companies and you can take it from there.

Difference from a bootcamp: you don't pay them, typically they pay you and provide benefits but it varies. Typically leads to a job offer if everything works out well. Discuss expectations going in and timeline.

I missed you were in Turkey -- a quick Google search with "turkey software craftsmanship" reveals some options there that may or may not be active.


Woah, my story is almost the same as yours except I started out in iOS games and what not at about 27 compare to your 25 then moved to backend stuff around 30 to get away from being stuck in Apple only world and now I'm managing a 10 person team at 34 for a multi million dollar website after being a key player in scaling them up beyond any thing possible before I got there. 27 years old wasn't exactly a clean start at programming for me though I was buying books on it since I was 12 "c,c++,java" not that I always understood pointers much until I really dug into building things with iOS but like I said that was a bit of tunnel vision for my future, go full stack and read about everything all the time.


I am wokring on a P2P coding education website where mentoring is one of the main components. Check it out and let me know if you have any feedback: https://www.coderpact.com


I'm near 40 doing a CS degree and hope for a change of career at some point. Whilst I'm not looking for a mentor I hope I'm not too old.


There's a bunch of good advice here, but I'll add two other things.

One, look for a full-time job where you can learn from people. When freelancing, nobody has an incentive to invest in you. Go in house with the right people and they will.

Two, start mentoring. Learning to mentor well forces you to really master your technology, and it also teaches you a bunch of new things about people.


I don't think you need one if you already do iOS app development. You're already in good shape to just jump in. You know Objective-C. I don't see the concern here unless you're the world's worst iOS developer. What do you want to learn, exactly? Try Pluralsight.com. That's where I got started with C#.



Broadening a subject, I was a mentor to a few junior devs and loved the experience. This was in my last full time employment. Now I became a contractor for all the perks involved but I miss my mentoring role slightly. Do you know of any good places online where I could help someone with building their skills?


I started my programming career at 35. I’ve had many great mentors. Many of them much younger than myself.

I’ve also paid professionals for mentorship for both programming and business.

For the most part people want to help those that do. Be a doer. Ask good questions. Respect people’s time. Get involved.


When is it expected for the mentee to pay and how much?


Not sure where you are in Turkey, but there are technical US military folks there in places like Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, etc.

I suspect one of them would love to be a mentor in exchange for some guidance on local shopping, food, customs, etc.


How do you go about finding a mentor? I would think the biggest challenge is finding a rhythm with a suitable mentor. Is there such a thing as a programming big brother/big sisters thing? hah


You have already done it with and already made a good start. Now you can repeat it for the backend development work.

The online community is also quite good in providing help and assistance, if you find the right community.

Good luck!


Sign up to University of the People and take their BSc in Computer Science. Since you're in Turkey you can probably apply for exam fee scholarship (tuition is free).


this question seems strange to me. are you looking for help understanding what you should learn? how to learn some specific thing? how to get a job doing something other than mobile apps? if you really want to understand how things work not only are there vast resources but innumerable neckbeards who would be happy to spend days talking about something like memory allocation.

if you want to learn something, learn it. the resources at your disposal already are extremely broad and deep.


Why would it matter? Mentors just want someone who learns quickly and works hard. They want someone they can watch avoid much of the pain they went through to acquire their skills.


Most mentors are heavily biased, they might save you time and help you avoid some common gotchas but they won't teach you critical thinking.


100x this. I've unfortunately never been in a position where I had someone to work under to be mentored (being self taught from the age of 12, 32 now), I've found by far my most important skill is critical thinking.

I'm definitely not the fastest learner and am absolutely stunted in some areas (computer science) but through persistence and critical thinking I've been able to excel in any position I've found myself in.

I've also been able to act as a mentor of sorts for several other developers (all but a couple my senior in age) success always comes through their own drive to learn. While my guidance just fills in gaps and helps them through difficult concepts that I personally wasted tons of time struggling through since I didn't have someone point out the clear path for me.


Yes. This is why it’s good to seek out alternative opinions. Having a network of advisers can be very helpful.


This person wasn't asking for opinions on mentors.


You are doing it wrong asking the question instead of starting doing stuff either with your mentor or in your own. It's never too late while you are alive.


I'd be happy to chat! koonce@gmail.com :)


Not at all. Shoot me an email, it’s in my profile.


I dont see an email on yout profile


My mistake, updated


no. i’ve mentored order, and been mentored by younger.


Not too late.


Without a mentor, your work will be largely ignored and treated like worthless garbage for years. On the other hand, being associated with a mentor who is well known in the industry will mean that your work can easily gain traction, even if it is mediocre.

Having worked on open source projects for almost 10 years, I've come to the conclusion that hype is never a good thing. Hype just gives users a false sense of confidence, gives you a false sense of accomplishment/optimism and hinders real progress.

So in reality, I think that you don't really need a mentor. 'Mentors' are only really useful for PR/promotion when you're already skilled and have already done the hard work.

I'm kind of a 'mentor' myself right now so I'm not saying this out of spite. I just don't have any illusions about my true purpose. There are plenty of severely undervalued developers out there who don't really need any mentoring; they just need someone to help their projects get the traction it deserves.




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