Helping Folks

This post is just going to be a cool story. I was on my laptop in a local coffee shop, and I had a lot of terminal windows open, so I guess whatever I was doing looked high tech. And this young man who was working there said “Hey, is that code? Are you programming?” We talked for a while, and traded email addresses. I’ll call him Steve. 

We decided to meet for dinner and talk about different career choices. It turns out he’s taking a gap year between high school and college to work, think about what he wants to do, and get ready. During this year he’s deliberately meeting people who seem to have interesting careers and then talking to them to learn about what they do all day.

I was super excited to help him. He was great to talk to – enthusiastic, polite, asked lots of good questions.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about this is that what Steve is doing is such a good idea. When I went to college I knew, I think, that I thought weird languages were cool, and that I wished I had a girlfriend. This kid is going to go to college with a good plan, and some actual, talked-to-people-who-do-the-work career advice, and some real career goals.

There are two pieces of advice here:

  1. Be like Steve.
  2. Help Steve.

What do I mean by “Be like Steve?” I mean: Ask good questions, meet people. Have he sort of sincerity and purposefulness that will just make people want to help you. Work hard and pick goals.

Also, to be like Steve, believe that most other people mean well. Steve, when he saw me in the coffee shop, trusted me enough to know, at least, that I wasn’t going to yell at him for asking questions, and that I might help. I was happy to help, and I think many people in my situation would have been happy to help. Steve intuitively knew that, and I’d like to encourage you all to believe in the helpfulness of strangers too. (I mean, be smart and stuff, but people who are writing blogs in coffee shops are probably willing to talk about whatever they’re writing about.)

What do I mean by “Help Steve?”

Answer questions for strangers. Be helpful.

I am passionate about this. When I was a high school teacher, I met dozens if not hundreds of students who claimed they were “not math people” or “not computer people.” What this statement boils down to, I’ve found, is they had a bad semester once, or they accidentally deleted an important file once. And they decided, because of one difficult patch, or no one helping them, or even active external discouragement, that the whole area of life was not for them.

I’ve always been a “computer person” I guess. But what that really means is that when I was a kid I had a computer that I knew I could mess up without getting in too much trouble, so I messed with it all the time, and when I was in middle school some friend of my dad’s gave me an old copy of Borland C++. It does not mean that I belong to a different category of person that was born thinking about function pointers.

So please help Steve. Help anyone. Humans are prone to giving up and trying their luck elsewhere, when if they had but a little encouragement they would have excelled. And when people ask you for computer help at inconvenient times, be nice to them.

Till next time, happy learning!


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