DevEd 031: How to Mentor A Greenhorn Developer
In this episode of the Dev Ed podcast, the panelists talk to Joe Skeen. Joe is a Developer and a Mentor, who started tinkering with computers since childhood and later taught himself web languages. After getting into University, he started working with strongly typed languages as well. He gives a brief background of himself and his work and shares his Angular journey.
The panel discusses the most effective steps involved in mentoring a brand new developer who is just starting out. The first thing that can be done is to hone any skills the developers already possess through their previous line of work or education so as to ensure a smooth transition into a new environment. Another idea is giving them relevant and meaningful things to practice which are needed for the job or the project rather than something vague or generic. They need to feel motivated and connected to the things they are learning. Another piece of advice is, as a mentor, make sure to be there for them, keep the commitment strong, don’t leave things unfinished and do not quit in the middle. As they are putting in a lot of effort into being a good developer, it is very important that the mentor puts in consistent effort as well. Give them constructive feedback.
Practicing is the best way to learn something extremely well. Building apps and personal projects is a great way to put things into practice, leading to more and more learning in the process, so recommending beginner developers to create something based on the theoretical knowledge gained can be an effective suggestion. From the beginning, bringing them to meetings even though things are going above their head, keeping them actively involved thereby creating a feeling of belonging and being included, and making sure that they are aware that the team works interdependently, are crucial to boosting their motivation and self-confidence as well.
They then discuss the differences between mentoring someone in a work environment versus mentoring a friend. In the professional sense, there tends to be more motivation since they are getting paid for learning or doing the job. But on a personal level, this gets harder as it is easy to give up and thus the responsibility of continuing falls on the mentors. Pair programming is a great technique to understand things through the process of working with someone.
In the context of dealing with people who carry the attitude that they know more than the mentors, the panelists state that there is no need for mentoring as it simply cannot be done. It is important to have a conversation to make things clear and understand what is required from everyone involved. It helps to get to know the person better in this case, and respect and humility should be both ways. Making them comfortable, having open discussions on any mistakes and failures faced along the way, removing embarrassment around these topics and stressing on the fact that it is ok to not know something, giving them opportunities to share what they have learned before, are some of the remedial actions that can be taken while dealing with seemingly difficult individuals.
Shedding light on the other side of things, they talk about dealing with developers who feel discouraged and helpless given that they are new to the workplace and everyone else seems to know more than them. They discuss giving them confidence so that they are capable of handling stuff on their own, accepting them as major contributors from the get-go, believing in them, repeating things if they don’t understand something, making sure to not overwhelm them, and giving positive feedback and achievable goals, making yourself vulnerable to them so that they can relate to it. The bottom line is no one is an expert and everyone is learning just like them.
While talking about dealing with developers who write bad code, panelists mention pair programming, learning how to do things the right way from industry experts, teaching by example, having formal code reviews, and maintaining a balance between criticism and appreciation. They end the show on the note that the relationship between the mentor and mentee is the most important part of mentoring.
Joined by special guest: Joe Skeen