Treehouse Learning Student Shares Advice on Why You Need a Mentor


One of Bloc’s Full Stack Web Development Grads, Jay Ottenstein reflects back on transitioning careers. He not only offers his insight, but tips and advice for anyone thinking of transitioning careers into the technical field.


Before coming to Bloc, Jay worked as a regional sales manager for a natural food product company. Jay decided to take the plunge and left his job to back to school and pursue a Linguistics degree while working as a Lyft driver. During his time in school, he decided to also start his Bloc apprenticeship. After he completing a handful of Codecademy and Treehouse courses, Jay finally decided to enroll in Bloc after reading an SF Chronicle article 8 months before enrolling.


What Jay Is Doing Now:

Jay is now working as a Ruby developer for a social media start up. He builds complex social media platforms from the ground up with other developers!

Jay’s Bloc Experience And Advice:

How should someone prepare themselves for Bloc? Can you name a few resources?

I think this depends on how much prior programming experience you have before starting Bloc. I had no programming experience when I decided to enroll in Bloc. Thankfully I did a couple online tutorials to help me not only get the most from my Bloc experience, but to also make sure coding was something I enjoyed. I first did Codeacademy’s HTML, CSS, Python, and Ruby tutorials. They’re a great basic introduction to coding, and they’re completely free. Next, I moved on the Treehouse. In total, I’d say I did about 2 months of Code Academy and Treehouse, at a leisurely pace, before starting Bloc. This gave me enough of a coding foundation to really understand what I was getting into with Bloc and to prevent any major surprises in the foundation stage of my Bloc apprenticeship.  

How did your experience with a mentor influence your experience?

My success in Bloc would not have been possible without my mentor. The learning resources I was using prior to Bloc were great, but they lacked personal guidance. When I got stuck or had a conceptual question, I had to look for answers or clarification in discussion posts, which weren’t always there. The mentor aspect was one of the main reasons I chose Bloc.  

Also, My mentor helped to connect the conceptual dots, allowing me to see the big picture. Before Bloc I was learning from mostly isolated examples of code and had a difficult time understanding how a few lines of code fit into a greater context to create a real-world, usable program. Bloc’s full-stack program emphasizes writing code to create actual working apps, and having a mentor to help guide you through this new, complex process is invaluable.

What do you think your experience would be like had you not had a mentor?

I would not have progressed as far through the program without a mentor. I could not have completed Bloc’s program without the guidance and explanations.  Now, keep in mind that my mentor did not do my work for me, nor did he explicitly answer all my questions as soon as I asked them. My mentor guided my learning by setting goals and deadlines. When I had questions about programming concepts we discussed them. And when I was stuck on a specific issue, my mentor taught me how to find the answer myself, which is a very important quality for a programmer to possess.

What do you think was the key to your success?

My own motivation was a big key to my success. When I signed up for Bloc, I made a commitment to myself to finish the program no matter how much effort and energy it demanded. I made sure that for the duration of my 12-week apprenticeship I could dedicate enough time for Bloc (I put in 40 hours a week, sometimes more). Also, there’s no way I would have succeeded without my mentor.

Did you ever feel like quitting? If so, how did you keep yourself motivated?

Yes, I felt like quitting. Probably more times than I’d like to admit. While there was never a moment when I thought I would actually quit, there were some times when I wanted to. Programming, especially if you’re as new as I was, can be incredibly challenging. There were points when I got stuck, when I couldn’t figure out what was missing or broken, and it turned into frustration. I don’t think frustration is necessarily bad. It indicates that you’re pushing yourself to your limits, challenging yourself with something new. What’s important is not allowing the frustration to win.

How did I deal with this? I took lots of breaks. Lots. If I got really stuck, I learned there was no chance of getting unstuck once the cycle of frustration set in. A break, sometimes just five minutes, sometimes five hours, would clear my head and sort of reset my logic. I was almost always able to work past a challenging issue if I took a break and came back to it fresh. For those times when I felt hopelessly stuck and any number of breaks didn’t seem to help, well, then I’d work at the problem with my mentor, who would coach me through the programming experience when I decided to enroll in Bloc.


Check out the rest of Jay’s story and Capstone Project on our Alumni page!


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