Struggling to Find Great Senior JavaScript Developers? Mentorship is the Answer

Eric Elliott
Aug 24, 2017 · 10 min read
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Dry Wraps — Vern (CC-BY-NC-2.0)
  • According to the 2017 Stack Overflow survey, company-sponsored learning opportunities consistently rank among the top benefits employees look for in job opportunities.
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Mentorship benefits for mentees

  • Accelerates learning & growth
  • Increases confidence
  • Better access to positive examples (how to do things the way experts do them)
  • Decreases fear of contribution/collaboration/idea sharing
  • Increases communication skills
  • Mentees feel more invested-in and valued
  • Improves upward mobility — a Sun Microsystems study found that mentees are 5 times more likely to be promoted
  • Mentees become mentors and pass all these benefits on

Mentorship benefits for employers

  • Great perk for recruiting
  • Increases developer productivity & retention¹ ²
  • Reduces knowledge silos
  • Improves the bus factor — reduces succession risks
  • Creates a more positive, helpful, collaborative team culture
  • Increases loyalty
  • Increases employee engagement and motivation, dramatically improving financial outcomes³
  • Improves leader identification and promotion pipeline — mentors are 6 times more likely to be promoted (Sun Microsystems)
  • Employees fear that their career development is not important enough to the company to disrupt their daily workflow

Lifting Teams to 10x Productivity

A preponderance of research suggests that there is an order of magnitude difference in performance between developers. To quote Steve McConnell (author, “Code Complete”):

If you want to save money, don’t hire cheaper developers. Train better developers.

Senior developers are hard to find and recruit. Because tech job growth has consistently outpaced the influx of new developers in the market for years, competition to hire senior developers is fierce, and salaries can easily exceed the budgets of all but the most well-funded companies. As of this writing, top companies routinely spend $140k — $250k+ (up to $400k at companies employing the golden hand-cuff retention strategy) for top-tier senior developers.

Ideal Expert Mentor Attributes (should have most of these)

  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Excellent communicator & technical writer
  • 6+ years’ experience building apps full-time (Yep, experience matters in this case — we’re looking for mastery. See the 10k hour rule.)
  • A deep understanding of software development principles in multiple paradigms (OOP, FP, etc…)
  • Experience with multiple programming languages, preferably from different language families (C family, Lisp family, ML family, etc…)
  • Experience scaling an app with more than 20 developers and more than 10 million users
  • 1–2 years’ experience with your particular tech stack

How do we hire 10x developers?

The more I work with tech leaders trying to build great teams, the more I think about what qualities make some developers 10x better than others, and the qualities that make some teams 10x better than others.

Mentorship Culture

The first step is to foster a culture of mentorship on your teams. One of the best ways to do that is to protect your code repo branches so that you can’t merge into the main trunk without a code review.

There’s close to 100% chance that nobody on your team is qualified.

How do I know? Because I have been interviewing candidates for JavaScript jobs on a regular basis since 2010, and I’ve encountered close to zero candidates who qualify at interview time without some supplemental training.

  • “What is object composition?”
  • Functional Programming (specifically in JavaScript, first class functions with closures enable this)

“Favor object composition over class inheritance.” ~ Gang of Four, “Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software”

Those simple pillars provide a solid foundation to build apps on top of, with all of these features:

  • Fewer bugs
  • Improved code clarity
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Continuous delivery (automated with CI/CD tools and workflows), which reduces the risk of vaporware and budget-blowing estimation hazards
  • Better code organization, which reduces software maintenance costs

How Much Should You Invest in Mentorship?

The benefits are so clear and so impactful, the question about implementing mentorship in your developer organization should not be if you’ll do it, but how much you should invest.

“Who will mentor the mentors?”

In my experience on teams with mentorship cultures, even the most junior developers on the team quickly reach the skill level of the most skilled people on the team, but when they reach it, improvement hits a brick wall, and additional progress is very slow going.

Level Up Your Skills with Live 1:1 Mentorship

DevAnywhere is the fastest way to level up to advanced JavaScript skills:

  • Flexible hours
  • 1:1 mentorship
  • Build real production apps
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  1. According to the Spherion Emerging Workforce Study, 35% of employees who do not receive regular mentoring look for another job within 12 months
  2. Companies with high engagement increased operating income 19.2% over a period of 12 months, while those without saw operating income decline 32.7% over the same period. “Engaging for Success”

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