Mentors are a crucial part of the Thinkful team, guiding our students to the best resources and helping correct them whenever they get stuck.

We’ll be featuring our mentors on the blog over the coming weeks to share their perspectives and dig into what led them down the path to code. 

About James

For over 14 years, James Duncan has been a Front-End and Product Developer at digital agencies and early-stage startups. With a degree in music, James got into the “net” by learning design at a time when there was growing demand for those skills. He’s worked with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, and PHP. In addition to contributing technically, James has worked on both visual and user experience design at companies including The New York Times, HUGE, and GolfSlope. Follow him on twitter @JamesDuncan

Why do you think mentorship is important?

Whether it’s documentation or a tutorial, most educational content assumes that you have at least some knowledge about the subject at hand. If you don’t happen to have that knowledge, you can’t take advantage of the other information in the tutorial. It’s a terrible feeling to be stuck but have no one to answer the basic questions you need to dive into new material. Having a mentor can help you figure out the problem or cognitive gap that you need to fill so that you can keep churning along.

Why did you decide to become a mentor with Thinkful?

I’ve done mentoring on the job with peers and people in other disciplines, and I really like it. It’s nice to be able to share knowledge and best practices with others. As I work with people from technical or non-technical backgrounds, it’s a fun challenge to discover where they are in terms of understanding and to help them process new ideas.

How did you learn to code?

It took a lot of work because there weren’t a lot of free resources available at the time, and there certainly wasn’t any place like Thinkful to help you find a skilled mentor easily. I was lucky to have friends who were more experienced than I was and I frequently asked them for tips. With their help, I was able to get to the point where I could teach myself everything else I needed to know. Thinkful helps accelerate the process that I went through on my own.

Which Thinkful project have your students liked best?

Redesigning the Google Homepage. The HTML component at the beginning really helps ramp up their knowledge. It’s simple enough that it doesn’t take a lot of time, but it’s sophisticated enough to demand serious engagement with the languages.

What advice do you have for new developers?

Go to StackOverflow and dig in. The main thing is to not feel stuck and to google everything you come across that confuses you. There will be an answer. I’ve been telling my students to download Twitter Bootstrap and play with it as well.

What’s your favorite resource for enhancing your own learning?

Just a general Google can send me down a learning rabbit hole that usually takes me back to Stack Overflow for some answers. Also, whenever I see something I like on a new site, I’ll dig into the code using “View Source” or the dev tools in Chrome. I often find inspiration by opening up things that I like and see what they’re doing internally.

What one development tool do you find most useful?

I code everything by hand, and love Text Wrangler. Chrome is probably a close second, to be honest, as the development tools are extremely useful.

What’s your advice to someone who is trying to find work as a freelance web developer?

Try to get a few projects for friends or build some personal projects. Be forthright if you don’t have a lot of experience. Honesty is important when you’re talking about your background. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to work with you on some of the harder projects if you show enthusiasm and can show evidence that you’re a fast learner. 


Want to have the chance to work with James as you learn to code? Sign up for our next class here–starting May 13–to learn more about Thinkful and our mentorship model.

We’re thrilled to work with an amazing group of mentors, but are always looking to add more. Know anyone who would be a good fit? Let us know at!

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