The software development industry is a vast and rapidly growing sector which means there’s an enormous amount of knowledge to acquire for anyone new to the field.
If you’re someone with a decent amount of experience and expertise in your industry, you may be provided with opportunities throughout your career to mentor developers junior to yourself.
Based on a research study by Zippia, the US alone saw the junior software developer workforce reaching over 450,000 in 2020. That’s a lot of developers that may need mentoring!
Mentoring junior developers requires a mindset of patience and a willingness to share knowledge. Junior software developers are often thrown in the deep end when starting their career. It may take time before they find their footing, however, proper mentorship can speed up this process.
Senior developers can also grow while acting as a mentor for other developers. Having mentees who look up to you for guidance provides a facility to grow in your ability to become an effective leader and to empower others.
To help guide you in your role as a mentor, here are 5 constructive tips worth keeping in mind when mentoring junior developers.
1. Be a teacher not a resource
This tip highlights the importance of being an intentional teacher rather than simply being a provider of information.
Your ultimate goal as a mentor is to equip your mentee with what they need to eventually become self-sufficient at their work.
Let this famous quote drive this point home:
“Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for life” – famous proverb
In the same way as the above words of wisdom, rather than giving out solutions to problems, take the time to explain the process of how you came to that solution.
By doing this you’re teaching them methods they can use to effectively tackle future problems they come across.
Learning how to approach a problem and come to a solution is a huge part of being a developer. Junior developers can grow in this skill by continuously practising and figuring out methods that work for them when problem solving.
Proving guidance in how they can approach the process of coming to a resolution to a problem can be part of your role as a mentor.
Therefore, one of the best things you can do when mentoring junior developers is to purposely teach rather than simply being a source of information.
Not only will they develop their own problem solving and analytical skills, over time they’ll likely approach you less as they realise they’ve gotten the hang of how to solve things themselves!
2. Nurture opportunities for growth
A period of training may be required to equip new developers with the basics they need to get started. When mentoring junior developers, it’s important to realise the moment when they are capable of working on projects that can provide value.
The time it takes to transition from training to practical work can vary by developer. Ideally, you don’t want to keep them in the training seat for too long if they’ve shown promise in their abilities.
Provide opportunities for them to show what they’re learning by gradually increasing their responsibilities over time.
As a mentor, it’s also good to be aware of situations that can give junior developers a time to shine.
For example, if a new project will require use of a technology that the junior developer is more familiar with than the rest of the team, you may give them an opportunity to drive the project.
Just because a developer is labelled as ‘junior’ doesn’t mean they are not capable of providing value and innovation. In some cases this may far exceed what is expected from their level of experience.
Basically, don’t limit the value a junior developer can bring due to their label. A promising developer with a nurturing mentor can rapidly accelerate their growth and it may not be long before they move away from that ‘junior’ label!
3. Remember, you were once a junior developer
Your mindset when mentoring junior developers can be positively influenced simply by putting yourself in their shoes and remembering the time you were once a junior developer!
Think back and ask yourself, what would you have wanted a mentor to do for you to encourage and help you grow? Aim to be that mentor to them right now!
It may also do you good to remember yourself as a junior developer if you find yourself getting impatient with the progress of your mentee.
Maybe you had a mentor that showed signs of impatience while you were under their wing. Or you started out in an environment that did not have any form of mentorship at all for junior developers.
It’s now your chance to prevent this from happening to the junior developers under your leadership.
“Never discourage anyone…who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” – Plato
Be patient as they learn and grow no matter how slow that progress may be. When we have experience under our belt, it may become easy to forget it takes time for each of us to reach a stage where we can handle things on our own.
So regularly put yourself in their shoes and practice patience like you would want from people who are mentors to you!
4. View mentorship as part of your job spec
You may be in a role where it has never been explicitly mentioned that you’ll be mentoring junior developers.
However, maybe now your team is growing and junior developers are part of those new recruits.
It’s likely at a minimum you’ll have to show them the ropes to get them started. However, you can take things a step further and choose to be a mentor for them beyond the minimum input required from you.
Whether taking on a mentee is required from you or not, the time invested in properly mentoring junior developers will provide a good return in investment for your team
Over time, it will work to the advantage of the team as the junior developers become more self-reliant and are able to take on tasks with less direct support. But this needs the time of a mentor to equip them with sufficient knowledge and guidance in how to effectively perform their tasks.
If you’re worried about using up time mentoring junior developers rather than getting your own work done, make sure to discuss this with whoever you report to. It’s likely they’ll take this positively and appreciate you’re acting as a mentor for someone in the team (as you probably should as someone more senior to them!).
5. Encourage open and honest communication
This is all about wanting your mentee to share their opinions and thoughts regarding anything you discuss with them relating to their work.
Help alleviate their imposter syndrome by showing them even as a senior developer, you don’t know everything!
So if they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, you can respond with something like: “Good question. I don’t know, let me get back to you”.
Through something like this, you’re emphasising we all have gaps in our knowledge no matter how experienced we are as a developer.
Also encourage your mentee to provide their own insights into a task or problem. Usually, people with limited experience can provide a refreshing perspective and can have something unique and helpful to share.
For this reason, also be open to learning a thing or two from developers junior to yourself!
Being senior doesn’t always mean you know everything they do. If they tell you something you don’t know about, acknowledge that you’ve learnt something new which will likely provide encouragement and combat their imposter syndrome.
Encouraging open and honest communication will only help in fostering positive relations between you and your mentee.
Mentoring junior developers is an opportunity for senior developers to provide the guidance they wish they had when once junior themselves.
Being involved in the process of watching someone over time grow in their abilities and becoming more self-reliant can be extremely rewarding.
These tips will help equip you with the right mindset and characteristics you need to be a positive influence while mentoring junior developers.
Looking for mentors to assist in your growth?
Our inspirezone developer community provides an environment to seek one-to-one or group mentorship from others in your field of interest.
Our community also hosts group accountability initiatives which will provide an opportunity to get to know other members and mentor each other in growing your skills.
Consider joining us and become part of our influential community!
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