Finding your Brain Trust as a Tech Newbie
Why do you need a brain trust?
If you are new to tech, whether a student or a career-switcher, you have questions. How do you know what is legit information? Who can you turn to for advice? You need a brain trust to help you out! What is a brain trust? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a brain trust is a group of official or unofficial advisers concerned especially with planning and strategy. Originally brain trusts were associated with politicians, but everyone can use a group to consult for expert advice!
The issue that tech newbies run into is that we are new to the industry, and we are surrounded by people who are also new to the industry. Of course, we have experts such as teachers and bootcamp instructors, but they are only one person. You can check out social media like Reddit or Twitter, but that has the opposite problem--too many experts! It's good to find a group of trusted experts that you can freely and easily consult without being overwhelmed.
I officially changed my career to tech just over a year ago. But I didn't really start forming my brain trust until I started searching for a full-time job. It has been invaluable to have seasoned professionals to consult about what is normal, what is expected, and what to do. Let's be honest, opinions are like...um belly-buttons, everyone has them! So you want a group you know you can trust and has your best interest in mind! You want cheerleaders but also people who will tell you if you are doing something wrong. It's good to have people who have a lot in common with you such as age, gender identity, race, etc. It's also good to have people who don't really have anything in common with you so that you can learn about different perspectives.
When I picture a brain trust, it's a group of people sitting in a room around a big table. As much fun as that would be, I only actually meet one of my experts in person! And most of them are on different platforms such as Slack, Discord, Twitch, or Twitter. Some of them know each other, and some do not. How did I find all these people? I met them through networking. If you are new to networking or just not comfortable about it, I wrote a Beginner's Guide to Networking.
Here are some of the places I have found experts:
- Virtual Coffee: weekly meetings and Slack channel
- This Dot Media: monthly mentoring webinars for women in tech as well as other webinars about React, Angular, etc. where you can ask questions
- Learn With Leon: Discord server
- Meetup: check your area for local or virtual groups
- Women Who Code: conferences and Slack channel
- Hashnode (of course!)
If you have networking connections you have made in the past that you like and respect, add them, too! You don't need a ton of advisors, but you want at least a few that you can run things by.
Questions for the brain trust
As newcomers, it's easy to be overwhelmed and filled with doubt about what we are doing. We don't want to make rookie mistakes. We don't want to bite off more than we can chew. And we want to know if what we are experiencing is normal. Here are just a few examples of questions that I have asked my brain trust:
- Do you think $xx,xxx is too low of a salary?
- How would you answer on a scale of 1-10 how knowledgeable you are about the tech you use?
- Is pink hair OK, or will it be seen negatively in an interview?
- How long is too long to wait to hear back after an interview?
- Do I really need to learn C#?
- Does this give off bro-culture vibes?
Some questions can seem shallow or even feel stupid. But if you don't ask, you won't know! Your brain trust has your best interest in mind. They know you are new, and they probably won't think your questions are stupid at all.
Finally, remember that your experience is still a unique one. You might not always agree with some of the answers you get. But that's why it's good to have a group of people to consult. It's like the 9 out of 10 dentists that agree! So find your brain trust, get some advice, and watch your new tech career grow!