Foxmask – Juliet Marillier

A book reivew! It has been a while…

Foxmask by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of her best, and I have read almost all of them now.

The islands are beautifully described and you have such a clear sense of place; I would now love to visit, as with the Orkneys, Scotland and Ireland. The main characters are real and vibrant, with quirks and flaws. The writing is lyrical, lovely, evocative and of a high standard; you will not be jolted by a clumsy phrase or plot hole (although I think twins became just one child without explanation!). There was plenty of myth, enchantment and wonder, which I love in her stories. It was balanced, and no she doesn’t rush, but there is a dreamlike quality to the work which just draws me in until I have read for much longer than intended. I don’t ever want to hurry, as I don’t want it to be over!

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In addition to the review, I will say that I have a Celtic fantasy on the boil. It is plotted, but not really started. Juliet Marillier and Marion Zimmer Bradley are my inspirations here. There is little or nothing written in this vein about Wales, though – and there should be. We have dragons, Myrddin Emrys (Merlin), Idris and his Cadair, ladies in lakes, giants and maidens. We have the Mabinogion! The Red Book! And much more.

While I am studying coding languages, other language learning such as Welsh and English (you never stop learning even with a PhD in it) will slow somewhat. I find Javascript as exciting as learning any language though, and you can really do some things with it!

Mentorship in tech as a woman and a career-changer

“If you can inspire one or two people in a good way, then you can inspire the world.” Nims Purja, 14 Peaks (Netflix).

I am a career changer heading into tech, and on the lookout for support outside of my course.

Welsh castle

(I should note that I’m with Code Institute, and the support options could not be better – but I won’t be studying forever.)

Also, as a woman career-changing, I want women’s perspectives on it. So I joined Gotara, which offers free upskilling, mentoring and advice to women in STEM, and recently participated in a webcast hosted by founder Sangeeta with Natalie Steck as the guest. The topic was mentorship, and here I discuss some of the insights it gave me. You can watch the highlights here.

I hear a lot of students saying “I don’t know a single web developer.” I am lucky in that I do know people, but I don’t have a mentor as such. Many people will find theirs online by using LinkedIn, Codu on Discord and similar; I have an assigned one for my course.

Natalie began by saying that you have to be really clear on your expectations and let your potential mentor know exactly what you want from a mentorship. This is actually a tough one because I’m so new to it all, I really don’t know! So for now I’m going to wait.

She also said be clear that you want mentoring – people are usually very flattered and say yes! This is heartening for me, as I do have someone in mind, but I very much hate to feel like I’m being a bother… She did say that she has learned from mentees, and that most find it mutually beneficial. I cannot imagine what a seasoned software engineer could learn from me, but I will take her word for it.

Then you must set boundaries on both sides, particularly around time, so you know what to expect from meetings.

How long would a mentorship last for? It might only last until your particular issue is resolved, but it might last a long time and end up with you mentoring some aspect of their career. (I suppose my writing and editing skills could be useful to a mentor.)

As a mentee, I would expect to lead and nurture the relationship. Don’t make them work hard to give! Another participant said they felt it was important to respect your mentor’s time and implement their advice where you can, even when it feels hard. They are helpimg you to push yourself and grow.

Sangeeta asked, “What gives you the courage to pivot in your career?” (From lawyer to sales to tech in Natalie’s case.) She replied that courage was certainly the important factor there. Or madness! I can relate to wondering (as the course demands grow) if I am a bit mad, but I’ve always liked a challenge.

A really interesting point there was that other mentors (bosses, colleagues, leaders) can often see potential that you have not yet realised. They will suggest “You would be good at this,” and you might think they are crazy, but – give it a try.

She stressed that you must believe in yourself. If you’re going for a job, often it will be 50% I have done this before, and 50%, I believe I can do this. And you can say, here’s why I’m the best candidate even though I have not ticked all the boxes. “Jump and the parachute will be there.”

On the question of belief in yourself and being a woman, she said emphatically, “It’s not my gender that does the work. I am unapologetic about being a woman at the table, even the only woman in the room. I don’t even address it.”

But she does try to bring other women in: “Only 2% of venture captial funding [I’m not sure if this is Oz, world or US?] goes to women founding and building companies. We need more women at board level, more women entrepreneurs.” We do. So “have pride in your work. Push forward and pull through. Bring others once you have made it.”

“In life, you have to keep doing what you believe.” Nims Purja, 14 Peaks (Netflix).

This was all so inspiring, and it was amazing how much was imparted in just half an hour. I will be listening to more of these talks, and at some point will definitely take on their offer of mentoring.

I can’t help but look back on my career and life in general and wonder where my mentors were. My father has been one – fiercely intelligent and possessed of the complete conviction that all three of us kids could do absolutely anything we set our minds to. But at work, there is only one I can think of, and that was in my first job. This woman supported me when my immediate boss left suddenly – my team of two was now one, and I had to take on much of her role. This was my first real job! I continued the roll-out of the software, and to this day I am damn proud of what I achieved there, but I know there’s no way I could have done it without Gill. She was patient, always had time for me, steered me gently, spoke to me as an equal despite being far senior to me.

I wish other roles had been similar, but I can think of one where someone I would have loved to have mentor and support me in fact did the opposite. I was too young and green to sort it out, and a service like Gotara or just some support from someone in the industry might have seen it all turn out very differently. Instead I burned out trying to please.

I would also say that one particular teacher was a mentor; he taught me a lot and not just a new language. But our relationship would have benefitted from boundaries of time and expectations of content – we went off on a lot of tangents, but hey they were usually fun! (“Iawnte, ni’n bennu gweithio a mynd i weld castell! – Right, let’s stop working and go visit a castle!”)

In the theory of the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell), the main character(s) always has a mentor in some guise or other. This is the fourth phase, which is literally called ‘Meeting the Mentor’. They usually appear early on, and give just the right amount of support. Then the student often surpasses the master, and the story sees the mentor fade, but the character remembers. It’s a cycle in stories because it’s true in life. I might not quite know what I need, but I trust that it will appear (and become clear) at the right time.

You Know Nothing

“You know nothing. You know less than nothing. If you even knew that you knew nothing, that would be something. But you don’t.” – Harp, Point Break.

Thus begins Johnny Utah’s first day at the FBI. Nice way to welcome someone to the office…

In fact, Johnny is a “real blue-flame special” as Harp also notes – top of his class, football star, the works. But he’s still made to feel like he’s less than, before he’s even got started.

So, why would I write about coding? I’m no blue-flame special. I know nothing (and I know it).

But of course, I still know more than some. For example, if you want to learn to code, where do you start? I know about that bit!

It took me ages to find Code Institute and the Welsh government’s career-changers scheme (the Personal Learning Account) which would allow me to do the Web Application Development diploma. I kept looking at bootcamps, online courses, even full Comp Sci degrees, but I could never afford them.

(I know people self-teach from free courses, but I want to go deeper faster than I think that would allow me. I also know my propensity for procrastination – Lord knows what I’d end up actually learning.)

The first thing I can write about is that journey. Knowing I wanted to learn to code and develop, but not knowing how to go about it. The barriers to even knowing that it would be a possibility.

The main barrier was still in my own mind – is this really something I can do? Don’t I have to be good at (shudder) maths? And I’m a girl – is it even allowed?! And I’m too old! And so on and so on.

The thing is that even when I am an expert in something, I still feel like this. Imposter syndrome gets everyone.

So, I will just do it anyway! I want to write about my journey because I’ve always loved writing. I 100% want to use those hard-won skills and expertise to back up my journey, and maybe along the way (when I know a little more than nothing) I can be useful to others as well.

Theory is when you know everything, but nothing works.
Practice is when you don’t know anything, yet everything works.
In programming we combine theory and practice; nothing works, and we don’t know why.