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How to help someone get into programming

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

You gave a talk called Programming with Purpose, to help and inspire folks to help others. What suggestions do you have to help them get started in helping other people?

Ish Shabazz: I gave that talk at SwiftFest Boston in 2019. As it turns out, it was recorded then but it's been trapped behind a paywall. I was thinking, I really wish folks could hear this talk because I think it's really useful in a lot of areas in life, not just in coding. In fact, it's more like a TED Talk than anything.

The talk gives a little bit of my history and my background, but is also there to kind of inspire and help folks find their purpose and help them through life a bit. So a couple of weeks ago I re-recorded the talk so I could share it on YouTube. I basically just went through the keynote, did adding a voiceover. So you don't get to see my lovely face, but you hear my voice as I kind of go through this talk.

Paul Hudson: I met you, I think twice now – once in San Jose and then again in New York. And I learned things about you in this talk, the bow tie thing particularly stands out.

Ish Shabazz: I no longer wear bow ties, but yeah.

Paul Hudson: Never again will you wear bow ties.

Ish Shabazz: I'm done!

Paul Hudson: Didn't Jobs used to wear bow ties back in the sort of middle to early Jobs days? I think Jobs, late 20s I want to say, early 30s. But you were there first!

Ish Shabazz: Tell you what, if I'm ever the CEO of Apple, I will consider rebranding myself with a bow tie.

Paul Hudson: Hear that, Tim? That's your chance. We can help to get Ish back in bow ties! But in this talk, you mentioned a whole range of things. I felt one of the central parts of the talk was when you mentioned a teacher at your school, who asked you about what interested you? What do you want to do? You mentioned development, programming and computers. She went and bought an Apple IIE out of her own money and took a course in how to use the thing, just to help you get started with your interests.

You mentioned in that talk, "I want to help someone as much as she helped me." And that was a massive help. As a kid, you don't realize, kids have no idea what's going on around them. But that must have had a huge impact on your career, potentially the kickstart for your career.

So if someone's listening to this thinking, “I want to help too – I want to help someone in the same way I got helped.” What suggestions do you have to help them get started?

Ish Shabazz: It's something that I mentioned in the talk. So the way that Mrs Mead helped me was so dramatic, I would love to help someone as much as she helped me, but it was such a transformative thing. I don't know that I can help a single person in that regard. So what I try to do is help as many people as I can in small ways. Those ways could really be anything. It can be just offering support sometimes, offering to listen.

"It's really important to kind of be empathetic and listen and think about, okay, what can I do to just help this person just a little bit along the path?"

I think a great thing you can do is share what you know. As people are learning to develop, one of the best things you can do to learn is to teach. As an example of that, I actually tutor quite a few folks using the 100 days of SwiftUI. I think it's excellent course work and I go through. Often it's just the first 12 days, where we're kind of stepping through the beginning parts of it, just to kind of help them out and get them going. Then once they get going, they can kind of go on their own and I answer any questions.

Towards the latter part of that presentation, I also talk about the significance of being present in life and kind of really thinking about the moment that you're in. Life is surprisingly short, so when you have the opportunity to connect with someone, it's really important to kind of be empathetic and listen and think about, okay, what can I do to just help this person just a little bit along the path Sometimes you don't always know, sometimes it won't be apparent, but what you do is prepare yourself and be open to it. So when the opportunity arises, and it will, I'm going to offer my services to help. And sometimes I just need a little bit of time.

Paul Hudson: And you're right, if you are prepared and you are present, the opportunity will arise. Opportunities will come and go every day, a lot every day, and as long as you are ready for that to happen and you are there for it to happen, you can grab one.

My eldest daughter now is 10, and she's about to go into high school, senior school. Sometimes she doesn't always do her best at school work and she struggles a little bit to find motivation. And she's a kid, she doesn't kind of realize that the older you get, the more you kind of have this sort of library of regrets on things you missed out on. I didn't prepare for this. I wasn't there for that. I didn't take this opportunity when I saw it and I didn't grab it with both hands and run with it.

And regret's such a painful emotion. It's really, really bad. If you try and fail, it sucks, and you might even have flashbacks for the rest of your life about that time you failed in public – maybe you fell over on ice skates or whatever it is, right? But regret, wow, that is a painful, painful thing to have.

Ish Shabazz: Particularly the things you didn't do, the things you didn't try, the times you could have helped, but did not. And the fantastic thing is, if you just approach things with that way, you actually will never have any idea how many people you end up helping. Incidentally, there are small things you can say to a person that can completely cascade. You can change their moment; you can change their day. In the case of Mrs Mead, she changed my life. But the more you set the intention that what I'm going to do is contribute, the more you do.

"The things that you do to have authentic connection and benefit other people, those things are long lasting. They last beyond even the relationship between you and that person. Because they will pass that on to other strangers, other friends, other family."

I got this from a movie, but it's absolutely true. The world's always changing in the largest of ways, by the smallest of things. So if you do small things, they just kind of grow over time. Make a habit of helping out in small ways. Eventually those small things will grow into bigger things and people will pay that forward to other folks.

So the thing is, I mentioned earlier on, I think that I love coding, but coding is ephemeral. You do it today, a few years down the line, Apple makes something else, and this thing you have is no longer relevant. But the things that you do to have authentic connection and benefit other people, those things are long lasting. They last beyond even the relationship between you and that person. Because they will pass that on to other strangers, other friends, other family. And as this kind of energy kind of gets going, it kind of grows exponentially.

Paul Hudson: Maya Angelou said folks will forget what you said, but they won't forget how you made them feel. And this is powerful stuff. Of course you can teach someone iOS 14 and Swift 5.3 or who knows what. And that's important, that'll help their career and get them somewhere. But if you show them and model to them empathy – I'm going to care about you and walk alongside you, and help you reach your goal, and work through your problems with you, and work through your challenges with you, and whatever your goal is I'm going to help you take a step towards that – then you're passing on a lot of love to them, but also, hopefully, they'll pay it forward, and pay it forward, and pay it forward. And it does spread remarkably well.

So I want to zero in on one thing you mentioned there, because I think it's particularly interesting and often confused by people, which is the best way to learn is to teach. I said at the beginning that Ish has a long career at this point of being a developer. Of course you're thinking, "of course Ish can teach, he can mentor," whatever, but I want to make it clear to folks listening along, this advice applies to many more people than you might realize. If you are even six months into your iOS development career, you already know enough to help out someone on zero months. Or even just one month. In fact, you’re in a better position in many respects than I am, or even Ish is, because you understand the new pains they're going through.

You see these things. And so if you are six months, one month, whatever it is, into this thing, you can still help out others. You can still teach others. You can still write a blog post about what you've learned and pass on that information.

And in doing so, you will also learn. You will also think, “why is that the case?” And do a bit of research and find out more about it. And you benefit, the reader benefits, everyone benefits. It's really powerful advice there from Ish.

"You can help a person just one day behind you, or sometimes even the same day, if you understand the concept differently than they do."

Ish Shabazz: And I would say even shorter than that. So you have a couple of fantastic courses. The 100 Days series, right? If you're on day two, you have more knowledge than the person who is on day one. So there's something that you know that they don't, it can be really, really small. You can help a person just one day behind you, or sometimes even the same day, if you understand the concept differently than they do.

You can have a discussion about it and just kind of go from there. It can be really tiny, but have a dramatic impact. And just that bit of reaching back to help someone gives them encouragement of like, "Hey, someone else even cares that I'm doing this." so now I'm actually more invested in what I'm doing. Just the accountability of someone else just even cares. So there’s a lot you can do.

Paul Hudson: One of the advice I give on those courses is not to “lone wolf” it – don’t try and say, "I'll power through, just me – I know what I'm doing." That's the worst thing you can do. Go to Twitter, use the hashtag #100DaysSwiftUI or whatever it is, you'll find other folks doing the same course or have done the same course, or are behind you or whatever.

You will build a network of people who are interested and engaged in you, and care about you, and will share their results and share their code. You will learn way more if you share what you're doing, it's such a powerful way to work.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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