re: YES! You Should Be A Mentor! VIEW POST


I've always liked being a teacher and a mentor when either under my own volition or as a necessity. I share anything I learn that's useful, important or interesting by nature.

There's a maligned culture forming around it though where the expectation to teach others is used to create roles for programmers that are devoid of any other responsibility for reasons that aren't often appropriate.

It can be used to remove competition from the playing field. Advanced a long way and much further than anyone else? People tell me I have to stop programming now and get back in the class room.

I see increasingly more situations where seniors are expected to take the passenger seat and mentor people chosen for success. You become a mentor while someone else is appointed to take the driver's seat, even though you're the best driver.

When you see this happen it won't be a temporary arrangement but perpetual. It won't be a mutual arrangement but parasitic.

There's no single motivation behind this. Any circumstance other than where people work together both cooperatively and competitively in a fair but merit driven environment you can see this kind of thing going on.

It can arise from common forms of workplace corruption such as cronyism, discrimination or nepotism.

I have seen quite a few cases where the established best developer or even the first one to get hired can't be unseated from their throne so the only option to produce better results be bringing in a better person is to make them a mental rather than an active player to ensure the holdout still retains the credit for all accomplishments and their title.

In such situations if you dare fix anything yourself or in anyway steer credit away from selected people then you can get into a lot of trouble. In extreme cases I've seen critical fixes rolled back because the wrong person did it. You become an unwitting surrogate. Someone can do all of the real work and solve all of the problems but end up with nothing to show for it as the proxy gets recursively promoted over them.

This is a larger part of what can go wrong. Mentoring and teaching is important but don't let the expectation of that when you reach a higher skill level be used against you. It has to be on your own terms.

There is a paradox. Mentoring is to some level essential to achieve the best results. The opposite extreme is also not good. "A magician never reveals his tricks." does not work well at all in programming. Some people horde their knowledge though in most cases they simply neglect it through lack of opportunity and other responsibilities. Either never on the front lines or always on the front lines tends to be far from ideal.

Good mentoring will often yield positive results when you find yourself having to put into words that which you usually take for granted and can also expand your own understanding of a concept as well as reveal questions you don't know the answer to.

When you're helping people randomly or as a service there's no opportunity for this to happen but watch out when it becomes defined as part of a role in the workplace. You may up with less opportunities for success than you bargained for.

There's another cautionary tale that comes with mentoring. Quite often not everything people have learnt is right. It's very important to not present anything as 100% certain unless so. A really useful part of mentoring is whenever in doubt do the research or do the science. There's a significant class of people who either believe themselves to be mentoring, instructing, informing, etc but are really spreading misinformation, dictating, pushing their preferences or opinions, etc. It can be very hard to tell two apart. This does damage that in many cases has to be undone when you step into the mentoring shoes.

Part of mentoring can also involve unteaching things that people have been taught that wasn't entirely right. You can sometimes have to start out with "forget everything you've learnt". I would assume people who seek out mentoring are inherently receptive. Those who seek out to mentor might not consider that they also need to be so as well. To truly master mentoring requires having confidence (to learn) without having confidence (of having learnt everything).

If you have to figure something out the mentoring process becomes a lot more useful where someone sees the processes you take to learn something and find something out as well as to self correct and improve. This is usually better than giving out free fish. If you build up good a good skillset to gain knowledge rather than putting all faith in knowledge gained then this will create both a true confidence and a far more useful transferable skill when mentoring.

My general experience is that juniors who would like mentoring have good attitudes. They tend not to have problems with domineering or conceit. Nothing is guaranteed though. The moment you expose a tell people can always pretend.

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