Taiwanese startup CodeMentor, an alumnus of the TechStars accelerator, provides a platform for personalised assistance with computer programming. Developers who have got stuck can pay in 15-minute segments for help from instantly available expert mentors.

Online Mentoring Service to Solve Programming Problems in Live Mode

Coding is becoming an essential language of the modern era. People are gradually coming to recognise that learning to programme digital devices should nowadays be as basic as learning grammar or maths. With the appearance of sites such as New York-based Codeacademy, and fast training programmes such as those offered by French platform Le Wagon, the range of options for learning the language of IT is widening. However, those who programme on a regular basis know that it is not unusual to find oneself blocked. Code-sharing sites such as GitHub provide a venue for programmers to help each other out. Now a number of startups have already thought about the next step, i.e. putting relatively inexperienced developers in touch with experts for micro-consulting sessions. This new service is similar in essence to the disruptive innovation pioneered by transportation networking provider Uber, explains CodeMentor founder Weiting Liu, in the sense that customers are looking for an instantaneous service to solve a very precise problem.

Highly personal assistance with programming

Weiting Liu and his team are targeting the many developers who run into technical issues which they cannot solve by themselves and need fast, ad hoc help. The experts lined up by CodeMentor offer assistance starting at a fee of $10 for 15 minutes. The stated aim is to streamline project management by helping to reduce the budget allocated to programming. However, some larger companies are also using the service, preferring CodeMentor as a microconsulting platform to the more established but less flexible Google Helpouts and Amazon’s Mayday. The two main advantages of CodeMentor compared with the services provided by the major firms are price, which is of course an important factor, and – perhaps more vital – flexibility in the way the platform works. Personalisation is a key aspect. A programmer who requests online help gets to choose his/her own mentor according to the particular skills and experience on offer, plus perceived responsiveness.

Decentralised programming in the digital era

CodeMentor allows its panel of experts to set their own rates in 15-minute increments (at a competitive rate of around €1 a minute), monetising the service by taking a 20% cut of the fee. Obviously, in order to become profitable the startup company is going to need a substantial client base. Moreover, as time is a key factor in the customer experience, the service must be above reproach. CodeMentor is therefore offering to reimburse any dissatisfied customer. The service, which was launched in the spring following a seed-funding round which raised $600,000 dollars, is part of the growing market for decentralised programming services, joining San Francisco-based AirPair and New York company HackHands in this niche. This trend is also part of the more general emerging movement of freelancers who are shaking up various areas of the service industry. The distance between provider and customer is becoming smaller and the price of such services is coming down all the time.

By Simon Guigue