Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Projects I'm proud of: Teaching programming

Blaugust is a month-long event that takes place in August each year that focused on blogging and other serialized content. The goal is to stoke the fires of creativity and allow bloggers and other content creators to mingle in a shared community while pushing each other to post more regularly.

This week's theme is Introduce yourself and I decided to do that through sharing a few projects that I've done since I think these stories will share quite a bit about who I am as a human being as well.

Teaching programming has been one of my biggest passion projects for over a decade. Learning how to program myself was a rough ride that I'm still riding and when I started university for the first time, I didn't have anyone to study with or help out. After I moved to another university, started over again and got a chance to join all the first year student activities to make friends, I already knew a bit more about programming.

I decided that my new friends wouldn't have to struggle the same way I did so we started doing peer-learning sessions to learn together. On my second year, I became a student mentor in a new program where the faculty recruited a couple of us students to host extra learning sessions. That lead to me becoming a teaching assistant, running demo sessions (you might have called them labs or homework) and supervising project work.

In-person teaching

Me at my first Rails Girls event in November 2013 - using white board that became my signature move. 

After I had gotten my feet into the teaching world, I was sold by the idea. However, the real realization happened in November of 2013 when I joined my first Rails Girls workshop in Helsinki as a coach. I was very unsure about applying to be a coach but luckily I did and found a lovely and welcoming community of organizers, coaches and students.

A group of people, mostly women, listening to a speaker in a room
We organized Rails Girls Turku in 2015

I did a lot with Rails Girls in the years to come. Right after my first one, I joined a chapter in San Francisco to coach there in the beginning of 2014. After returning to Finland, I took Rails Girls to a couple of new cities, organizing events and building communities in Turku, Salo and Jyväskylä.

A group photo taken outside on a concrete yard. A group of people standing close to each other, all showing a heart sign with their hands.
We took Rails Girls to Jyväskylä in 2015

I still remember many of the students who attended these events and especially those who are now senior software developers building great careers and I feel so happy I had a role to play getting them excited about software development.

In addition to other individual events where I coached in, like ClojureBridge, Django Girls and reacTour, I truly found a new teaching home in codebar when it arrived to Finland in summer of 2018. I've hosted and sponsored their workshops, coached in a lot of workshops in Helsinki and Berlin and wrote about my experiences in their blog.

A group of people, all hugging the air towards the camera
I was one of the coaches in Django Girls Helsinki, 2017

I mentioned it in the Boost Turku post earlier this week but during the summers I worked there as a community manager, we ran two differently styled Summer of Programming programs that I led.

The first year I gathered together a few of my coach friends from Rails Girls and other workshops to join as mentors, negotiated a partnership with CodeSchool to get free study content to students and hosted a summer-long course where each coach had a small group of students and we hosted in-person sessions every now and then.

A room full of people with their laptops, some coding on their own, others discussing in small groups
Second summer of Boost Turku & Digit Summer of Code, 2017

The second year we partnered up with a university engineering student organization, opened the doors, did introductory presentations about HTML, CSS and Javascript and saw almost 100 people join the first session as we scrambled to get enough chairs to fit everyone in.

Every time, I've made new friends, helped people learn new concepts and kept learning more and more myself as well. I've given some talks in events about my experience in becoming a better developer through teaching.

Lately, I also had an opportunity to participate in redesigning a university course and lecturing there a couple of years bringing more practical approach to learning development than what academic institutions usually offer.

A group of people sitting around tables with their laptops, listening to me speak in front of them in the small auditorium space
ClojureBridge in Helsinki, 2019

Writing technical content

I love in-person teaching but there are limitations to how much of that can be done and how many opportunities there are.

To maximize the impact, I've done more teaching through writing technical blog posts and programming guides. You can find a lot in this blog and some of my current larger projects are Humane Guide to Debugging Web Apps and Humane Guide to Python Errors and I'm currently working on three other bigger technical writing projects.

One of my dreams is to write a paid online course that would let me earn part of my income through subscribership. Right now I'm working really hard towards that: becoming a better writer, learning marketing and audience building and finding ways to provide enough value for developers to pay for my content.


I've been mentoring junior developers also individually over the years, sometimes more structurally and sometimes more free flowing and I'm still looking for a great model to run a mentoring program that would involve other people.

I think there's so much senior developers could offer to juniors: not only in technical prowess but career coaching, connections to industry, taking them to events and helping people find their place in the industry.

Some companies offer mentoring programs and they can be good but I think it's also valuable to have a mentor that's from outside your organization as that allows more honest ponderings about future and dreams and goals. Sometimes the best option is out there.

I started a new mentoring relationship this week after not having taken new mentees in a while and I'm so excited. We had a great kickoff call to get to know each other a bit more and figuring out the first steps.

The upside

One of the best feelings one can have is when someone reaches out to let me know that something I've written or taught has helped them or had a positive impact. I'm very proud that the amount of people who have become professional software developers partially inspired by my work is in high dozens.

That's the true 10x impact to me. That's also why I do what I do.


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