Fast Track to Success with MentorNet

MentorNet, You Say?

“An experienced and trusted advisor.” Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who’s found one, a mentor will help open the door to opportunities you never thought possible. The problems involved with finding a mentor though are for the most part beyond the scope of the ordinary high school or college student. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we simply don’t have the resources. Before I discovered MentorNet I had oddly enough never thought to look into the possibility of an online mentorship. I maintained the belief that a mentor was someone who you not only needed to find, but had to develop a relationship with to the point that he/she knew and trusted you well enough to offer their time, guidance, and expertise. If it sounds difficult that’s because it is.

S.T.E.M. Only

MentorNet seeks to eliminate the hardest part of the process by directly matching you, a protégé, with qualified mentors. I should mention that the program is strictly limited to students pursuing a STEM degree. For those unfamiliar with STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. So unfortunately this program won’t benefit everyone, but an incredible number of students still fall into one of these four categories. MentorNet claims to have restricted acceptance to this particular demographic because STEM students on average graduate at a lower rate than those in other degree fields. But it does make sense to target just those students, especially with careers in STEM growing at the current rate.

Now I haven’t looked into other similar services that extend their acceptance to all students regardless of major because quite frankly I didn’t know such a thing existed. If you’re still reading this I assume you’ve identified yourself as a STEM student and are eager to learn more.


 So, What is It?

MentorNet is essentially a social network of protégés and mentors. Individuals in both roles fill out a brief questionnaire intended to expedite the matching process. It doesn’t take more than ten minutes to complete and consists almost entirely of questions aimed at what kind of mentor you want. You designate a desired level of education, industry experience, and even discussion topics for those students seeking help with personal issues. After completing your profile, protégé and mentor alike must complete a mandatory training session that ensures universal knowledge of the mentorship process across all members. At this point MentorNet presents you three mentor candidates for closer inspection and requires that you choose one and initiate a mentorship request. The recipient is then granted access to your profile from which he/she can determine if they are in fact a good fit for your personal situation and mentor needs. Should they decline you are again presented with three candidates and the process repeats until a match is successfully made.

You’re In

You and your mentor are required to communicate for just 15-20 minutes a week through the course of a four-month mentorship, but you’re certainly free to go above and beyond that quota if you’d like. During the next four months you and your mentor will develop short and long term goals to help you accomplish whatever it is you’re working toward. Part of the protégé/mentor relationship requires making a substantial effort and ultimately achieving to some degree the goals you’ve set. If after four months you decide as a pair to continue the relationship you are encouraged to do so for a maximum of 12 months. The one year limit serves to encourage growth and variety in the MentorNet community.

 Power of 2. The protégés in our program have 2 times the chance of graduating from college and entering a STEM career.

 Why Not?

I signed up last week because I couldn’t really find a reason not to. Although I feel it’s necessary to mention that after completing the final training I encountered a message which informed me that I’d need to wait for an email before I’m able to advance to the selection phase. I found it slightly disheartening that I wasn’t made aware of the apparent time-lapse between the application and selection processes before this point, so for anyone that also finds this a turnoff hear me out.

It’s The Product Life Cycle, Folks

MentorNet is currently undergoing “soft launch.” If you aren’t familiar with the term it’s not hard to infer the meaning. Any successful service that relies on a user base to function goes through a period of adoption and growth before it can even begin to live up to its full potential. All companies, services, start-ups, etc. need awareness to feed growth. Having been founded all the way back in 1997, they have results and statistics to verify that this isn’t week one, but it would appear upon first impression that they lack the numbers to support an immediate matching process. That’s one point.

Second, MentorNet advertises itself as a social network open to any STEM student in the United States. This fact is the first sentence read after performing a Google search. But upon further inspection of the flyer that caught my eye a few days ago, I saw the phrase ‘It’s FREE’ with a small asterisk whose annotation wasn’t far behind and read: “Your campus or professional society partners with MentorNet to provide this service at no fee to you.” This in conjunction with requiring a .edu email address leads me to believe that there is some sort of verification process performed on a per-user basis.

Please Wait…

In all honesty I’m not sure that I’ll be granted full entry or access to the selection process. Hopefully the delay is just a side effect of a fledgling community. Either way I don’t regret registering with MentorNet, as anyone who fits the criteria would only do themselves a great disservice by ignoring such an opportunity. I think it’s important to spread the word and help spur the growth of a service with such awesome potential. Sign up whether you’re a student or a professional and devote an hour each month to bettering your future or someone else’s. When I get that email I’ll follow up.

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See Apple, the Stand-In

Apple is engrained in the lives of millions in younger generations. We grew up with what I’d call “the mature Apple.” We had no knowledge of its rough past or the incredible human being who devoted his life to it. To some Apple may even feel like family. But several years and the death of an icon have left a sizable hole where the company we grew to know and love once lived. Our awe and wonderment at the incredible feat of engineering that was the iPod faded with age and the release of a new device that would eventually lead the “iPod Classic” to its demise. The iPhone has had a permanent impact on technology and in the world, but how long before the iPhone is just a sad, distant memory?

Gone are the days of salivating over the thought of what Apple was cooking up behind closed doors in Cupertino. Their products are still largely unrivaled today and continue to set new standards for innovation in technology, but the age-old question of whether “iPhone or Android” has yet to disappear. It’s as though we’re all standing around hoping and praying that an Apple reincarnate appears in the news tomorrow and proceeds to knocks our socks off.

Apple will go down as one of the most influential companies in history, ruling from the late 90’s through the foreseeable future. But just how long will Apple fend off it’s enemies and defend the throne? How long before our prayers our answered? Or will a reinvigorated and re-energized Apple emerge under a new post-Steve Jobs image? The iconic fruit has likely lost a bite or two since Jobs passed, but should we as consumers continue to relive the iPhone glory days or look to the future and the apparent start-up boom already in motion?

I should clarify that I’m what you’d call an Apple “fauxboy.” (I made that up on the fly. If I just coined a new term…) In this respect I mean I’m a very loyal Apple fan (still rock my 5th gen. iPod Video) in just about every category but the most important. I love my iPhone because it’s simple, to-the-point, and pretty darn good-looking to top it all off. I’m still carrying around the best iPhone we ever got. It’s standard 8gb’s and stunning 326ppi Retina display pumping out skeuomorphic eye-candy everyday for four long years. It really was the best iPhone update we’ll ever experience.

In 2010 the iPhone 4 was the undisputed, all-around, title-holding, Android-killing, champion. I remember praying for weeks before it’s announcement that Big Red had finally pulled the right strings and I’d be the proud new owner of “the best phone on the best network.” Evidence would show that Verizon did just that and although I never owned an iPhone 4 or 4S during their time as flagships, I was ever thankful that I had the choice.

But all good things must come to an end. Apple will one day fill the shoes of countless companies and competitors that came before it. While I can assure you Apple in its entirety doesn’t plan to hand over the reigns anytime soon, I do believe the end of the iPhone dynasty is (hopefully) approaching.

I could easily turn this into a list of current and upcoming competitors that give Apple’s flagship device a run for its money. Although I’d like to assume that most of us already have a pretty good idea or are capable of constructing one easily. Not to mention I don’t like to regurgitate already regurgitated information. But, if I was to list the two or three devices that challenge the iPhone’s popularity they would certainly be Android powered. Personally I’ve had more Android devices than iPhones (once upon a time I knew an iPhone 5), but that was back when Motorola’s Droid was the only viable option. As much as they’d like to think so, Microsoft, Amazon, Ubuntu, and Mozilla haven’t produced anything worth a glancing at.

It’s been a long time since the iPhone hit the scene and quite frankly competition in the smartphone department has been somewhat stagnant ever since. Even if I wanted to provide you the ultimate iPhone alternative it would still be just that, an alternative. I’m due for an upgrade mid-December and I would deeply enjoy something other than a physical and performance update to hold me over for the next 730 days. Should I remain team iPhone the next two years will undoubtedly be stress-free and to the point, but I draw the line when I feel no enthusiasm to upgrade from an iPhone 4. There are likely numerous reasons behind my general lack of excitement to upgrade, but was it all that long ago that the iPhone was the pinnacle of innovation AND excitement? It’s just not the same.

Yes, all of this is coming from the owner of a nearly four-year old model. If you thought “no wonder he’s given up” you have a valid point. I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of a ‘real’ iPhone experience for a long, long time. Regardless, I wouldn’t have trouble finding someone to agree with my perception of the greatest company our generation has ever known. With each successive release a wave of longtime iPhone fans jump ship or give up hope. Sales don’t appear to be affected in the slightest, but that’s because the population “giving up” and switching to iPhone outnumber the opposite 10:1. No matter our feelings about Apple’s latest release there’s no doubt that it is still the clear winner. Maybe smartphone innovation has hit its peak?

Whatever the case, I won’t at all be surprised if I lack the guts to give Android another shot. The Nexus 6 is the only flagship device I would ever consider and to say it’s enormous is an understatement. To this day my only hesitation to switch back is long-term reliability. I love the direction Android is going and 5.0 Lollipop certainly has my attention. I can’t ignore the fact that while I’ve had plenty, rooted plenty, experimented with countless custom ROMs, and a slew of other things, on day 730 an Android phone will never run exactly like it did unboxed on day 1. I’m willing to bet you know what will.

Featured Image: Bite That Apple Steve Jobs Desktop by [Anthony Sigalas Link to Flickr]

Step 2: (Really) Learn Java

I had to double check that a Step 1 was not already present before attempting to assign the title to this post, lo and behold it was! Step 1 was simply to think. I encouraged you to spend an increasing amount of time each day contemplating alternatives to your current path. Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re a college student, tenured employee, or something in-between. Everyone will benefit from developing a loose ‘Plan B,’ just in case things go awry.

No less than a month later I’m ready to dive into Step 2, really learning Java. Anyone with a computer these days knows the name, but Java the software platform (the occasional prompt to update before being able to watch that weird cat video) is a world apart from Java the programming language. Check out Oracle’s About Java page for a brief explanation. Now back to Step 2.

After a great little incident yesterday, which involved me finding a lone Cocoa Programming textbook on the ‘free books’ table of the Informatics and Computer Science building at my university, Step 2 presented itself early this morning. I likely have no more knowledge of Cocoa (the Application Programming Interface (API) used for the Mac OS X operating system) than you do, so I won’t attempt to educate. What’s important is that developing great applications for iOS and OS X, something I’m very interested in, requires a deep knowledge of Cocoa. So, without going too in-depth, developing applications for Mac and iPhone require at least and in no particular order:

  1. Knowledge of Cocoa, Apple’s API for iOS and OS X applications.
  2. Proficiency in Objective-C, the programming language in which Cocoa is written and built upon.
  3. Knowledge of C++, an incredible, low level object-oriented programming language, upon which Java, and other versions of C, are based.
  4. (Optional) Knowledge of Java, a safe, portable, and universal programming language used in millions of web-based applications.

*Bear in mind that I left out a number of specifics. Such as extensive knowledge of Apple’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE) Xcode, which is required to make use of any of the above abilities.

So of the four general requirements I listed above I’ve decided to further my skills in Java. Why?

Learning a programming language is comparable to learning a spoken language. On top of mastering the structures that a language is built upon (human or machine), one must master the language itself. You probably learned this first-hand in high school foreign language class. Object-oriented programming languages are similar in this sense, but between them share almost the exact same underlying structures. Unlike Spanish and French, the difference between Java and C++ comes from the specific way each utilizes the same set of universal structures. Essentially, once you’ve learned object-oriented programming in one language, you need not re-learn it in another, only the “words” and their meaning within the new language.

The process of learning object-oriented programming is arguably the most difficult hurdle the beginner must clear. Especially since it almost always requires using and learning a new language at the same time. My universities’ CS department chose to introduce object-oriented programming with a language called Scheme. That’s all you’ll hear about Scheme, because I absolutely hated it. Looking back it was probably a better way to introduce the concept than a more massive and complex language like Java, but that’s beside the point. The following semester I was exposed to true object-oriented programming through Java.

For this reason alone I’ve decided the next step is to further my understanding of the Java programming language. While I already have a good grasp on it, I want to take my understanding to the next level. Ultimately, I wanted Step 2 to involve learning C++. But as Java is so closely related to C++, and knowledge of both is encouraged before learning Objective-C, I see no reason to not first expand and refresh my Java skill set.

Big JavaBig Java, 3rd Edition will serve as my guide through the endeavor. I was familiarized with the text through my course in Java and found it an excellent resource for the beginning object-oriented programmer. Ideally this step will be short and sweet. I don’t plan to write any code unless it proves essential to my understanding of a topic. My hope is that by solidifying my knowledge of object-oriented programming through a familiar language, the process of learning C++ and Objective-C will go much more smoothly.

If you’re at all interested in beginning to program this book is a pretty decent starting point. Albeit, learning any programming language on your own, especially your first, is quite a challenge. The author of Big Java published two similar introductory textbooks titled Big Java: Late Objects and Big Java: Early Objects. As I previously mentioned, grasping the basics of object-oriented programming is more difficult than learning the language itself. Horstmann offers three versions of the text to satisfy different learning goals.

The regular version, pictured here, introduces both Java and objects (the basis of object-oriented programming) at relatively the same speed. For a person with some knowledge of objects, Big Java might be the appropriate route. The alternate versions introduce the concept of objects before (early) or after (late) the introduction to Java itself. Generally, one of these two versions are the best route for absolute beginners. In my academic experience the choice is entirely the professor’s, usually based on his personal opinion of when objects are easiest to understand. I happen to have taken the same Java course twice, with each professor preferring a different version. In any case, objects must be fully understood before proceeding to learn any language. Which method is best for you only experience will determine.

It’s impossible to fully grasp the concept of object-oriented programming until you do it yourself. Languages of any kind are incredibly complex mechanisms for communication. Transforming human thought and action into ‘1’s and ‘0’s that a computer can understand is difficult, but very rewarding. Furthermore, after mastering the basics programming is entirely self-taught. Courses and workshops certainly make the process less time consuming, but the most enthralling aspect of programming (especially to the aspiring entrepreneur) is the means available to learn anything and everything you wish right from your desk.

What began as a simple update has once again evolved into an effort to inspire. I leave you with this: For anyone with which the word ‘entrepreneur’ sparks feelings of excitement, determination, or inspiration, learning a programming language is the first item on your list.  


Featured Image: Java Photo By [Shereen M Link to Flickr]

Better Yourself and Others, Become an ‘Expert’ Today

Authors, journalists, biographers, reporters, bloggers, and columnists. They all have one thing in common (other than being synonyms). Each posses the burning desire to inform and influence the world around them; a unique motive behind the chosen target audience as well as every article published.

Here at WordPress bloggers dominate the scene. Most accredit their writing to one of two motives: a hobby or providing help/services. Unfortunately, countless bloggers lack the time, motivation, or whatever it may be, to impact a large and diversified audience. Helpful souls look no further!

The next best thing to managing your own successful blog is to contribute to one that’s already established a growing audience. Enter Lifehack, a “source for tips to help improve all aspects of your life.” Comparable in looks and content to the well-known Lifehacker, Lifehack provides the hungry mind with an endless supply of informative, concise articles guaranteed to help improve your lifestyle. With over 5 million unique monthly visitors, Lifehack has rightfully earned the endorsement of many major newspapers, magazines, and online publications. It’s incredibly large and diverse team of contributors provide tips on seemingly every subject imaginable with the goal of “just want[ing] to make your life as friction-free as possible.”

Lifehack doesn’t attract millions of visitors each month without continually adding talented individuals to it’s team of authors. If you’d like to know just how many talented people they employ, take a look at their Authors page. Now tell me that’s not impressive? Tell me you don’t think you’d at least have a shot at your own dedicated portfolio with Lifehack? The numbers don’t lie, and LifeHack certainly isn’t shy about recruiting new talent either. Check out this quote from their recruitment page:

“If you want to kickstart your career, you will need your own online portfolio. By sharing your skills and expertise at Lifehack, people will have a way to know you.”


By the looks of it they’re open to experts on any subject one can think of, especially those topics that have yet to appear on Lifehack. So, now that you know the gist of it, you should have an idea of whether this opportunity sounds like something you’d excel at. Here are the three things Lifehack looks for in an ‘Expert’:

  • Passion: “Our acceptance rate hovers at 30% or below. You have to demonstrate strong passion in improving other people’s lives to be a Lifehack expert.”
  • Experience: “We look for candidates who love writing. You have to make sure that your thoughts go into the text easily.”
  • Willingness to Learn: “We offer all sorts of support. If you want to hone your online writing skills, Lifehack could help you reach your wildest goal.”

Sound like you? I for one know I’d jump at the chance to reach such a massive and varied audience. Not to mention, owning the title of Lifehack ‘Expert’ can’t exactly hurt your current blogging endeavors. I’ve posted the link to the main contribution page, just scroll down to find the ‘Apply Now’ button.

Contribute to Lifehack


If anything, send an email to one of the three contributors listed on the linked page. I’d like to reach out to at least one just to get an idea of what it takes to be an expert. If/when I receive a reply I’ll certainly put it up for all you inquiring minds.


Sparks of Genius

“Creativity isn’t born, it’s cultivated—this innovative guide distills the work of extraordinary artists and thinkers to show you how.”

Here’s another one I haven’t had the chance to read. Based on the hype it too looks pretty promising. Figured I’d make a note of it, if anything to remind myself of it’s existence. Description below.

Sparks of Genius

 All the imagination needs to be fruitful is exercise. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein identify the thinking tools employed by history’s greatest creative minds—from Albert Einstein and Jane Goodall to Amadeus Mozart and Virginia Woolf—so that anyone with the right mix of inspiration and drive can set their own genius in motion. With engaging narratives and ample illustrations, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein investigate cognitive tools as diverse as observing, imaging, recognizing patterns, modeling, playing, and more to provide “a clever, detailed and demanding fitness program for the creative mind” (Kirkus Reviews).

The Curious Case of the Used iPhone

True or False: There’s an iPhone somewhere in the vicinity?

Without getting too particular, the probability that the above statement is ever false is increasing low. Clearly those not in ownership of an iPhone, or living in isolation, will recall a scenario in which one of Apple’s earth-shattering devices wasn’t within a 100 ft. radius, but other than that? Really think about it. It’s a rare sight to find an iPhone alternative in the hands of anyone under… thirty well, any age really. I’m trying to stress the prevalence of the iPhone in numbers here, not popularity.

The production numbers of the iPhone 4 and 4S are arguably the highest of any iPhone model to date. Hundreds of millions were produced in the four years between the iPhone 4’s introduction in June 2010, to the 4S’s discontinuation on September 9, 2014. I still use an iPhone 4, albeit not by choice. In any case, despite the several variations of iPhone 5’s and iPhone 6’s roaming the streets, the iPhone 4 and 4S stand resolute. What other phone has stood the test of time besides the Motorola Razr V3? It doesn’t happen often.

My Question

With millions of iPhone 4 and 4S’s still in existence, and quite frankly dominating your area’s Craigslist “Cell Phone” classifieds, why hasn’t someone capitalized on the availability and ever falling market value of both models?

Yes, I don’t care to look at the ridiculous number of options I have to “turn that used iPhone into cold, hard cash.” That’s not what I’m referring to. Firms like Gazelle have established services to make it easy and hassle-free to receive money in exchange for your old phone. That’s all well and good, but if in 2014 you find yourself looking to get some cold, hard cash for your old iPhone 4, Gazelle’s willing to hand over a hefty $15 for an 8GB model in ‘flawless’ condition. FYI, that’s five more one-dollar bills than you’d get if it was ‘good.’ I won’t delve into the fact that they turn around and sell 50% as refurbished for only 10 times more than they pay you for a flawless trade-in.

Services like Gazelle are great, don’t get me wrong. They’ve found a way to capitalize on the availability and shrinking market value of all phones. I’m speaking strictly of the good ole iPhone 4 here. The thing is ancient, but it’s still an incredible phone for a huge demographic. Smartphones have largely taken over the world, yes? Well, name a few family members or friends that really don’t utilize a smartphone to it’s fullest extent or maybe even nowhere near it. If we all knew just two people who fit that bill, the total would be astonishing. I’m thinking we do.

The Problem

So let’s assume there is a substantial demographic of people who just don’t use a smartphone remotely close to what it’s intended for. Combine them with countless other people, all having their own reason for not truly needing a smartphone, be it age, money, or ease of learning, that demographic is HUGE. But what do cellular providers do to address the needs of this market segment? Why, they offer the most glamorous of Samsung flip-phone’s or your choice of twenty feature-filled, entertainment-oriented, productivity-boosting, pixel-packed smartphones. Leaving the majority of people using a smartphone out of the desire not to carry around a ten year-old piece of technology.

Call it inevitable, but when these same people upgrade beyond an iPhone 4 what are they getting in return? The carrier gets $200 and another two years, the customer a minor physical update to a phone they were once hesitant to buy and use out of conformity.

Looking Forward

What we need to do is breathe new life into what was once the epitome of cellular innovation. The iPhone 4 and 4S are two amazing devices more than viable to several demographics. Provide these segments with an inexpensive solution with a stand-out advantage or two and I believe there’s a potential for profit. What more interesting is the thought of these customer’s being able to strategically utilize their now pointless upgrades to coincide with the release of a major phone. Now you’ve provided that customer with a phone that suits his needs and an extra $600. Assuming all goes perfectly.

I’ve even pondered the possibility of users being able to essentially give their upgrade to this fictional service and have them handle the selling process. There are sure to be a slew of problems, legalities, downsides, and what-not that accompany such an idea. I can think of quite a few. But with the help of the right minds anything is possible. Critique away!

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The Start-Up of You

The Start-Up of You

I can’t resist recommending The Start-Up of You, by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, despite the fact that I’m a mere twenty pages in. The hype over the book should be enough to interest anyone with a pulse. Rather than attempt to inform you about a book which I have yet to finish myself, I’ll let Reid, Ben, and a slew of recognizable figures convince you that it’s worth your time, effort, and (minor) expense.