The Mentor Manifesto

The unofficial guide to being a mentor


Let me paint a picture for you that most developers have gone through but has really irked me for the past few years.

I have nothing more to say to you, Potter, You have irked me too often, for too long. AVADA KEDAVRA! — Voldemort

I began my career move about five years ago from being a manager of a large multi-million dollar retail store into the geek-filled realm of programming. I thought the process of losing my very good salary at a hunch was going to be the scary part. Not at all. The true fear came from not knowing. Simply didn’t know what to do, where to go, or where to start.

Chess Enlightenment from XKCD cartoons

One thing that I truly believe in is the idea of mentoring and apprenticeship. It’s a proven methodology that we have evolved away from in the recent years. Some communities do a better job than others; however, no one has started to push us into the direction that we need for a stronger knit society in the future.


The Cons

Before I get into some guidelines, lets get into what seems to be the big question for people. What do I get from being a mentor?

Well, this question can be answered in a couple of ways. First, we will get those Khans out of the way…

Being a mentor does NOT:

  • lower your market value because someone else will now have that same knowledge about your area of expertise. If anything, it increases your value. Yep, being a mentor actually puts you in a position of being more valued as an expert. Think about it. People are coming to YOU for advice about your field.
  • take too much time. Actually, mentoring doesn’t take much time at all out of your day. A coffee meeting once a week or a sit down for 30 minutes to an hour every month. Whew. I know it’s hard to give up half of a day every year. #sarcasm
  • hold you responsible for that individuals future. Well, this could be true; however, it’s primarily for the good (unless you are evil). Someone without guidance and coaching will not reach the same potential (at least as quickly) if they are doing it only by themselves. In my opinion, you can lead them nowhere but up quicker than they would do on their own.
  • cost you money. The people that are looking for mentors aren’t looking for investments. Yes, of course, we all wish that we had a billionaire mentor that would want to invest in our cause if we come up with a startup idea that we think will change the world. However, mentees are just looking for someone to provide them with advice and direction when they are lost or confused.

Just to sum it up. There aren’t really any negatives to being a mentor. None that I can think of anyways.


The Pros

Now, time to go over what you want to really hear, the pros.

Mentoring is:

  • philanthropic. Donating time and knowledge has just as much value to humanity as providing a charity with millions of dollars. Think about it this way. You spend time mentoring 5 people over the course of four years. Two of those listen, create, and succeed. They make their millions from building the next WhatsApp. They then donate millions over their lifetime to charitable causes. Then the other two take your mentoring advice and pass it down to four other people. The cycle continues and creates a sense of achievement for all over time and benefits society as a whole.
Philanthropy etymologically means “love of humanity” in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing “what it is to be human” on both the benefactors’ (by identifying and exercising their values in giving and volunteering) and beneficiaries’ (by benefiting) parts. — Wikipedia
  • an achievement. Everyone wants to be the goto individual in their field. The guru amongst teachers. This is a big self-esteem boost that would make anyone feel good about themselves. Think if you were the mentor to Sergey Brin, John Resig, or Ryan Lienhart Dahl. Just a few of the most brilliant people out there (completely my opinion… these are some people that I strive to be like in my lifetime).
  • investing. You are investing into another person’s future. Taking a chance on them and helping them grow to be outstanding individuals that succed. This may not have a monetary amount to it but it still feels good. Not to mention, if you are into investing then think about who you would want to invest in. Would you rather put your money into a founder that you have mentored and molded over the years or a complete stranger. For myself, I prefer to know that the founder will run the company in a manner that is appealing to me.

Rules of Engagement

There are four key elements to being a successful mentor to someone. These are relevant to any field. Of course, this is not the exhaustive list; however, it should be looked at as a set of guidelines to point you into the right direction.

Listen

Mentees are looking for someone that wants a mentor that will listen to their stresses and give relevant advice based on these problems. If a mentor does not listen, then they do not really know the true issues that the mentee is struggling with at the moment. Take the first 10 minutes of each meeting to just ask questions and listen to their current situation. This helps break the ice and gives you time to mold answers to best fit their needs.

Guide

After listening to the mentee’s situation, the mentor should then spend the remainder of the time giving relevant advice. This guidance is crucial to the overall mentor program. Mentoring is all about the guidance. Guidance should be genuine and for that individual specifically. They aren’t looking for the kind of guidance that you obtain from a generalized book. If you think they should work on a project then give them one to start on. Think they should learn a new language? Tell them your favorite options. Do they just not know where to start with anything? Give them a place to start.

Support

Mentoring is about helping over time. Supporting them is a necessary component to ensure success in the relationship. The mentor should meet with the mentee at least 3 times after the initial meeting to show ongoing support and nurturing. No more than a month apart from each other. If you can do more, then even better. Be their cheerleader. Push them to continue with the good work. Show your support and do it over time. Not just once.

Care

Simple. Don’t help with ulterior motives or waste their time with false pretenses. Truly care and show it. Showing that you care can really make a huge difference. It pushes the mentee to do their best to follow direction and guidance.

Be Free

Mentorship is a relationship. As a culture, we are greedy but we must remember that a pricetag can’t be placed on a good relationship. Mentoring is NOT consulting nor should there be a financial contract in this relationship. Seriously. Does your wife or husband have to pay you for listening to how their day went? Treat each other with respect and focus on the individual. Just ask to pay it forward instead.


I don’t agree with all of the points that Karen Russell makes; however, the overall discussion is the same.

TEDx Talk on mentoring by Karen Russel

—Stay Awesome.


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