Do you have the coaching mindset? Do you feel the urge to help rookies? Do you think of yourself as a (wannabe) mentor? Well, here's a unique story for you, which might help broaden your perspective. After reading this post, you might be able to see things from a different angle. You will understand what it feels like to be a noob. You will be able to provide the help that your mentees need.
Let me share my story. I'm a project manager. I'm working together with developers, QA engineers and designers. I felt that I wanted to understand them more.
"I want to learn coding!" - Wow, that's a great idea! I'll learn coding, and I'll understand what they're talking about! Simple as that. ...Well, it's not that simple. It became more complex, when I realised that online coding seminars do not work for me.
But I wanted to create something exact. My learning path finally had a goal! This is the first point.
People are different. I, for one, need to have an exact thing to achieve, so I can get from A to B. But what if your mentees do not know what they want to do?
If you know me (your mentee), you have your first step towards success. You can give some hints, ask the right questions. I'll start thinking of what joy I'll find in that process? What can I benefit from learning? If you understand my deepest professional desires, you'll be able to guide me. With your help, I'll have my definite goal which will inspire me towards success.
...As I was saying, I had two specific goals. First, as a professional, I wanted to understand what happens during development. Second, I wanted to achieve the first goal through learning something, but having fun. My hobby is sewing, and I always need to know how much material to order. A simple mobile web application would help in calculating it. "Well, that sounds great", I thought, "but where to start?" That's the second point.
"Total beginners. They can't find Terminal. Do not know what 'npm' is. Do they even know what programming languages are there? What type are they - visual or thinking?" - You might wonder. It's good luck, if I know something about coding. Or is it?... What if I have some knowledge, but from the wrong sources?
I tried several online courses, bootcamps, and started cooperating with developers.
- I could not ask during online courses,
- There was no option for differing from the original structure during bootcamps,
- Developers turned out to be juniors or mediors on their fields, so even they couldn't help me as I needed. I was stuck.
A mentor's task is to start from the beginning: to see where I'm now. If my knowledge is stable, or is something to clarify. You need to show me the right tools to use. What command lines to use? Why those?... Can I push enter, or will it be the end of the world?
These are relevant questions. I asked them from my mentors. There is no such static page on the internet that shows first steps for noobs like me. For people, who are dealing with different things in their daily lives. For those, who do not have a mindset that is similar to yours. This is why online coding academies won't work for everyone.
You should be able to fit your approach to my needs. This way you'll be able to advise me the way I'll understand. (Remember: your principal task is not to create goals - but to show direction. This is not about your solution - this is about my learning.)
...OK, setup is ready, the environment is running, now what? Create a plan. How will I achieve their goal? How to even begin? - Show me the first steps, based on my level that you already know.
For me, it started with opening a blank .js document. I didn't have the courage to do so.
Mentoring means that you talk about stuff that is evident to you. It seems clear to you, but it's hell of a frustration for me. Show me that I can try everything, there's "undo". I need to learn how to fail. I also need to learn how to avoid failure. You're there to support me, you can show alternatives. But I need to start thinking ahead. I'll learn what to take into consideration. How to plan a function. How to validate it. How important tests are...!
By creating more and more modules, I will be more confident. You'll talk less - perhaps just hints, or thinking together -, I'll ask more. I'll find mistakes before tests are running. Finally, you'll be there only to smile at me and say: "You did it!"
...Do you remember what it felt like to see your first project in production? Nostalgic, huh? Well, now I have my application in production and even a British seamstress notified me that she uses it. - And this is the most important part.
I felt what success is like. I definitely want more. You'll be there, as you will also feel that this cooperation works for everyone. Either we continue the original project or start a new one.
You, as a mentor, will also enjoy this symbiotic relationship. You'll face professional challenges besides building new soft skills. You'll be able to broaden your perspective. You'll understand different types of thinking. That there are more approaches, more logical explanations to the very same thing.
I definitely benefited from trying something new. Thanks to this coding experience, I started to understand my teammates more. Besides respecting them more than ever, I'm a bit closer to seeing their work as it is. Mentors might benefit from considering my story.
Mentoring is not about teaching or knowing something better. Mentoring is about building trust. Trust needs to be built in the mentees - towards themselves. They can do it. This happens through guiding them towards the right approach. Searching for new solutions or using the existing ones right. Highlighting alternatives and showing different perspectives.
Mentoring is about understanding the needs of someone who trusts and respects you. This is huge. Take it seriously.