Help build a thriving environment for novice software developers to learn about skills in the workplace — An Interview with Stephen Powell of Thoth

Stephen Powell, a Software Developer at Foundry4, recently gave an insightful and inspiring lightning talk to the London Java Community (LJC). Here, he talked about his bold new project to build an environment to help developers learn the skills needed when coding in the workplace.

He is designing this project to help engineers with their first technical jobs, built as an extension to the Meet a Mentor program. He needs help to get the initiative up and running, so if you’re good in Agile, Git, Coding, or Ops, we’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to get involved in this brilliant initiative, read on for my interview with Stephen and details of how to get in touch.

Stephen, for the benefit of everyone that didn’t attend your lightning talk, can you give us your idea in one line?

My idea is to create a resource, which I’ve named Thoth, to help burgeoning software developers learn the skills around coding in the workplace.

Ok, can you expand on that, what is it you have started here?

Thoth provides an environment, based in Github, for novices to experience what it is like in the workplace. To simulate the process of choosing or being given a piece of work, working out what to do, fulfilling it, and slotting it into place. These tasks fit into roughly four categories: Agile, coding, Git, and ops. Each task should include a piece of each skill, increasing in difficulty as you progress.

Who will benefit from it?

The primary beneficiaries are developers who are finding their first job. I also think it will benefit mentors having a resource that will help their mentees. Junior and mid developers would benefit too by creating these resources; one of the best ways to learn yourself is to teach others.

People talk about having a ‘why’ behind things. Why have you created this? What drives you personally?

The first few months can be a huge shock with all the satellite tasks needed to do the job. Agile, Kanban, Git, Docker, environments, deployment, CI, CD, huge repos, TDD, BDD. These are just a few of the things that are flung at a junior, often without proper support.

They feel unprepared, and this can cause stress, anxiety, lack of productivity, or even worse be put off their new career. I’ve found very few resources that combat this in a practical and skill-based way. I want to help prepare developers for their first year of work and reduce their stress and potential for burnout.

What is your vision for it?

To have a self-sustaining ecosystem of learning where people are constantly completing tasks, creating them, contributing, reviewing, just like any other open-source project. It would be great to see each project ported to a variety of languages / technologies, and for contributors to invent brilliant ideas and nuances to simulate scenarios that may come up in the workplace.

What stage is it at right now? Can mentees sign up to use it immediately?

Thoth is very much in its brainstorming stage. We’re working on solutions to make tasks repeatable. We’re also deciding how the MVP should look, and how best to allow people to work together. We are likely to start with the MERN (Mongo Express React Node) stack, or similar, as it’s ubiquitous and beginner friendly. In a way, getting involved in the project is using it immediately; one of our primary concepts is that building the ecosystem is part of using it.

What help do you need and who do you need it from? Who would you like to hear from at this point?

We need help to create tasks, sandbox projects, lists of skills to learn, good practices, ways of working, and many other as-yet-unthought-of resources. The aim is to create an ecosystem that is largely created by novices themselves, as that is the best way of broadening knowledge. This will be reviewed and supported by mentors. The start will require a big push to get the project going by both mentors and mentees, so all help is welcome. We also need people to take the lead in certain areas:

  • Agile aficionados
  • HTML & CSS connoisseurs
  • JS & React experts,
  • Git gurus
  • DevOps devotees
  • Anyone with a repo that can be copied, anonymised, readied and used for setting tasks.

We at Recworks, set up the Meet a Mentor Community to help connect people with questions about their careers to tech professionals with answers. Anyone can join as a mentor or mentee. We’ll match your skills and experiences with our community, and you can ask questions or be guided by your fellow tech professionals.

Thoth is an exciting initiative and something we at RecWorks feel would be an excellent addition to the Meet a Mentor Community. If you’d like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with Stephen through our sign-up form or via his LinkedIn page. We hope to hear from you soon!

Founder of RecWorks (Tech Recruitment), Tech Career Hacker, Java User Group Founder (LJC), London CTOs Organiser, Mentor Match-Maker

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