On Mentorship

Arthur Kay
May 18, 2018 · 5 min read

Over the past 18 months or so I have had the pleasure of working with roughly a dozen developers as a mentor — and it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done so far in my 15-year career. During that time I’ve come to realize that “mentoring” can mean different things to different people, and that the expectations for everyone involved can vary widely.

Some people are looking for a new career. Others are already developers looking for career advice. Others are colleagues within your organization who simply need validation. Mentoring will allow you to help others with all of these things (and more!), and taking the first step is easier than you might think.

Best of all, mentorship is as valuable for me as it has been for the people with whom I’m working. Becoming a mentor has made me a better developer, a better leader, and dare I say a better person — it’s easy, it’s rewarding, and it’s absolutely something you should consider.

Have I piqued your interest yet? I’d like to share three stories with you to demonstrate how easy it is to get started as a mentor.

Mentoring as a Developer

Admittedly, my journey towards mentorship started out with less-than-altruistic intentions.

About 18 months ago, I was searching for a way to make some extra income when I stumbled across a job posting for Thinkful, an online bootcamp that offers curriculum in a wide variety of development areas. I was particularly drawn to the fact that I could work part-time (outside my 9–5), from home, with really easy work (teaching beginner HTML, CSS, and JavaScript).

But I quickly came to appreciate how much I genuinely enjoyed being a mentor. I became very close with my students, and it was amazing to watch the lightbulbs illuminate as they began to grasp the curriculum.

Furthermore, mentoring these students actually made me a better developer. The process of having to clearly articulate the answers to questions like “How does CSS positioning work?” and “Why should I use ‘let’ or ’const’ instead of ‘var’ in JavaScript?” forced me to better understand these concepts.

Recently one of my students received her first job offer for a Full-Stack Developer role. I can’t even describe how excited I was for her — it’s a feeling that I hope to continue experiencing as my other students progress through their programs!

Mentoring as an Expert

Over the past several months I’ve had a few people reach out to me via LinkedIn thanks to their new “Career Advice” feature.

The thing I found most fascinating about these interactions is that I have primarily been contacted by university Computer Science students still pursuing their undergraduate degrees. They ask some very interesting and pointed questions like: I’m really interested in X; what do you know about X, and how would you recommend I prepare to find a job in that field?

Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I am one of the older developers in my engineering circles (particularly in the web/JavaScript sphere). Mentoring the young people looking to enter my field fresh from college reacquaints me with the concepts that these students are studying — and it centers me by reminding me of how I struggled to land my first roles in software development.

Mentoring as a Leader

After I had been actively mentoring outside of work for a few months, I had the “Duh!” realization that I should be doing more of that at my day job. I immediately ramped up the weekly one-on-one meetings I held with my team and the results for us were both immediate and impressive:

  • I learned that one of my direct reports was in desperate need of a new computer, but she hadn’t thought to ask for a new one. We ordered her a new computer within a week.
  • Another member of my team was raising money for a charity event, but he hadn’t thought to ask our HR department if the company would sponsor him. The next day our company donated $500 to his cause.

Over time, we brainstormed and solved countless technical issues — but most importantly, mentoring strengthened our team. Mentoring from a leadership role is more than just providing technical expertise; it’s all about developing relationships with people, and removing as many roadblocks as possible so that everyone on the team feels appreciated and that their voices are heard.

The biggest impact for me was that I developed greater confidence as a leader and I more deeply earned my team’s respect, all by simply taking the time to make myself more available. Mentoring isn’t about telling people how to solve problems; more often than not mentoring simply involves listening and asking questions. Questions like:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • Why are we doing this particular task?
  • What are you most proud of in this new feature?
  • What are you struggling with?
  • What are you most looking forward to?

Notice that none of these questions are specifically technical in nature — being a mentor involves understanding and caring about people on a very personal level. Although you might be “leading” your teammates, these one-on-one interactions are key to breaking down the intrinsic barriers created by offices and corporate ladders.

Takeaways

Are you seriously interested in becoming a mentor? Mentorship has been an absolutely wonderful experience for me, and it’s one in which I believe everyone should participate.

In the beginning, I felt a bit stretched trying to find time between work, my family and my new commitment to mentoring — but very quickly I grew to appreciate how much I gained by giving just a small part of time and energy away: I became a better developer. I become a better leader. And I continued growing as a person.

THAT Conference is rooted in our community: yes, it’s a tech conference, but it’s also all about engaging with our family, our kids, and meeting new people. Mentoring will challenge you to get involved and improve yourself — and everyone in our community benefits when we commit to helping each other. The first step is easy: simply make yourself available.

Resources

THAT Conference

THAT Conference is your Summer Camp For Geeks. The only family friendly polyglot community of geeks who've set out to change the world together.

Thanks to kpd

Arthur Kay

Written by

Engineering Lead. Mentor. The Cyber.

THAT Conference

THAT Conference is your Summer Camp For Geeks. The only family friendly polyglot community of geeks who've set out to change the world together.

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