Kartoza Internship: Programming Sessions

The Kartoza Internship aims to prepare candidates for the workplace and build their skills, knowledge, experience, and portfolio.

 · 4 min read

The Kartoza Internship program is designed to provide aspiring candidates with a learning experience that prepares them for the workforce. Through this program, interns gain exposure to both GIS and programming areas, which helps them build their skills, knowledge, experience, and portfolio. This enables them to develop a strong foundation for their professional growth. I'll be sharing my experience of mentoring programming interns in this blog. Till now, I have mentored three batches of interns in programming. I will be discussing some of the things that I did during the internships which might be helpful for you to learn from.

Setting Goals

I began by observing the daily work of Kartoza developers and their preferred technology stack. This helped me establish a benchmark for the interns to aspire to, though I understand that they won't reach that level in a short time. This allowed me to set minimum standards for the interns to achieve. For instance, I noted that Kartoza developers frequently use Django in their projects. Therefore, the goal of the programming session is for the interns to be able to create a basic web GIS using Django.

Creating a Learning Curriculum

This step in my mentoring process is crucial but can also be challenging. However, don't worry, we only need to do it once unless you need to make changes in the future. During this process, I translated the interns' goals into sessions that will help them achieve their objectives. To do this effectively, it's essential to put ourselves in their shoes and approach the learning process as someone who is completely new to programming and Django. To create an effective plan, I draw from my own experience and think back to how I learned to make web GIS using Django. Starting with the basics, we would begin by learning Python syntax, then move on to Python classes and inheritance, and work on some geometry/GIS data with Python. Finally, we would move on to Django sessions.

That was my initial, but Tim suggested that we start with the basics of computational and logical thinking, and maybe even include basic computer science. Our interns come from various backgrounds, with most of them having a geography or geomatics background rather than an IT background. Therefore, it's important to ensure they understand the underlying processes of computers, such as binary numbers. This will help them think programmatically when faced with problems and understand abstract problems better, allowing them to create a step-by-step approach to solving them.

Be patient and supportive

It's important to understand that learning is a process that takes time, and everyone has their own pace. It is essential to be patient with our mentee, even when they struggle to grasp a concept. This is something I need to work on myself. Sometimes I worry when it seems like they don't understand something, but they haven't asked any questions. I worry that my tone might discourage them from asking for help. I know that some people are hesitant to ask questions, so I always remind them that they can ask during our sessions, in Slack channels, or via direct message. We also have a weekly intern hangout where they can show us their assignment progress and ask for feedback. This way, they can get the help they need and keep moving forward without any obstacles.

Provide guidance, not just answers

I believe in mentoring by asking questions rather than providing direct answers. When interns ask me about errors they encounter in programming, I guide them in understanding the error message, identifying the line where the error occurred, and other relevant questions that could help them solve the problem themselves. Although they may find this frustrating initially, I know that learning to deal with errors is an essential skill in programming. It can be overwhelming for those without an IT background or who are new to coding. However, by providing guidance on how to solve issues, they can develop their problem-solving skills and become more proficient programmers in the long run.

Teach problem-solving skills

This is still related to “Provide guidance, not just answers”. Whenever someone seeks my help, I always ask if they have tried to search for a solution on Google. Being able to find answers on Google is an important skill for problem-solving. It is highly likely that someone else has encountered the same issue, and a solution already exists. If they respond that they have tried but do not understand the solution, I start explaining the problem to them. On the other hand, if they say that they cannot find an answer, I perform a search myself and send them the solution. I do not abandon them at this point. Instead, I want them to be independent and learn how to tackle problems on their own. I believe that after an internship a new set of skills, including problem-solving (which includes searching for solutions online), is important. These skills can be applied not just in programming but in many other areas as well. Therefore, teaching problem-solving skills is a must.

Give praises

I make sure to say, “Nice stuff”, “Nicely done”, “Great”, and other praises to the interns after they show me something, or after they managed to overcome their issues. It encourages them boosts morale and motivates them.

Seek feedback

We provided feedback forms to the interns to know what aspects needed improvement. I knew I needed to work on my English and communication skills as I often felt like I was rambling during programming sessions. However, the feedback forms did not reflect that. I am uncertain if the interns were being polite, but I always urge them to be truthful and honest when filling out the forms.

In the end, being a learning buddy for the interns is fun. It’s good to see their progress from not even understanding how to write “print(‘hello world!’))” to being able to create simple web GIS with Django. I’m happy to be part of their journey to mastering programming.

Zulfikar Akbar Muzakki

Zakki is a software developers from Indonesia and is based in Purworejo, a small town in Central Java. He studied Information System in Universitas Indonesia. His journey with Python and Django started when he first worked as a web developer. After discovering the simplicity and power of Python he has stuck to it. You know what people say, “Once you go Python, you’ll never move on!”. His interest in GIS stemmed from his activities exploring random things in the digital map. He looks for cities, interesting places, even following street view from one place to another, imagining he was there physically. Zakki is a volunteer in kids learning centre, where he and his team run fun activities every Sunday. When he is not dating his computer, he spends his time sleeping or watching documentary and fantasy movies. Give him more free time, and he will ride his motorbike to someplace far away. He enjoys watching cultural shows and learning about people, places, and cultures. He also loves singing and dancing, but that doesn’t mean he is good at it.

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