The story was originally posted on Vectorly blog.
One of the key trends in engineering management is the transition from traditional practices to the development and training of employees within the company. Leading enterprises are already investing huge amounts of resources in talent development, as they understand that this is one of the crucial growth factors.
Moreover, skills become obsolete and companies must constantly review their employees and motivate them to develop professionally. Companies also need to make sure their employees’ skills match the needs of the business.
The question is: how can an engineering manager develop their team effectively? Answer: one of the tools for professional development in tech companies is mentorship programs. The value of this tool is that mentorship is useful both for developers looking for mentors and for the mentors themselves.
In this article, software developers who are willing to grow their skills will find information on why they need a mentor and how to find one. While more experienced engineers will understand how to become a great mentor and how mentorship can help them too.
Mentorship is a relationship between two people, in which a person with more experience, knowledge, and connections (a mentor) can transfer what they have learned to a less experienced specialist (a mentee) in a particular field.
The activities of a mentor are aimed at maximizing the personal and professional potential of the mentee. However, it is important to note that mentoring is not focused on a person's problems, but is aimed at developing and teaching, so that a junior specialist can solve their problems and face challenges on their own.
Ideal mentoring is a two-way road, where both the mentor and the mentee benefit. Although at first glance, it seems that the mentee gets the main benefit — this is only one side of the coin. By helping a junior employee become better, the mentor not only gains the satisfaction of helping and developing someone, but also achieves success in management and takes their career to the next level.
It's worth taking the time for software developers to find a good mentor, because it's one of the best ways to accelerate your professional growth. We will tell you more about what goals you should strive for with a mentor and how to find a suitable mentor for yourself in this section.
The skills of knowledge workers, especially software engineers, become obsolete very quickly, which is why developers need to constantly level-up and learn. An experienced mentor can help you with this.
A good mentor will not only help you see growth points in your development, but also how to stay on top of the latest industry trends, join a community of like-minded people and build a development plan with appropriate learning activities.
How does a software developer benefit from mentorship? Let's find out:
Learn about best practices and tools. Your mentor can teach you advanced programming techniques. Of course, it is useful to gain general knowledge about universal tools for a developer: programming languages, frameworks, etc. But it is especially helpful to learn how to tailor your programming skills to the needs of a particular team.
Find a better solution to a challenging problem. If you can't cope with a difficult task, the mentor can give a broader view of the problem and suggest a different angle or faster solutions. It is important to understand that, if the mentor solves the problem for you, this is the wrong way to go about it. It is better if the mentor can competently suggest which books, courses, and other resources can be studied on this topic. This will help you deal with difficult tasks on your own in the future.
Identify areas of growth. The mentor can honestly point out areas where you need to work on improving. It is absolutely normal that we do not notice our weaknesses, because it is human nature to avoid difficult tasks. And working on your weaknesses is one of the most difficult tasks that can stand in the way of achieving high results in your career.
Career development advice. A mentor can help you find the area of development that suits you best and that you like. Help from a senior colleague will make your career path easier and help you avoid mistakes. Perhaps thanks to the timely advice of a mentor, you can create a career path and achieve your goals more quickly.
Support during remote work. How can you gain a rewarding experience when you work alone? A mentor will come to the rescue, immerse you in the culture of the company and help you build friendships with colleagues, from whom you can gain experience and with whom you will create successful projects. Remote work will not take you away from reality, if there is a specialist next to you, who is interested in integrating you into the development team.
Finding the right mentor is not an easy task. Firstly, he or she must be qualified in the area in which you want to develop; and secondly, you must have a match and the desire to trust your mentor.
Here are the ways you can find a mentor:
- Mentorship programs at the workplace Often, employers organize mentoring programs, where more experienced developers train and mentor junior employees. It is a very good indicator if the company has such programs. This means that the company cares about the development of its employees. Developers should use this opportunity, if the company involves them in such an onboarding process.
If the company does not offer such programs, developers can ask an experienced colleague to mentor them on a regular basis. However, there are situations when colleagues are not ready to train a young specialist: perhaps there are no resources, they are busy with projects and there are many more reasons. Then you will need to find a mentor outside your company.
Professional communities in Facebook, Slack, etc
There are many professional communities, in which developers share knowledge, experience, and information. You can become a member of such a community, take an active part there, follow the specialists you are interested in and ask them for help. Many experienced developers, CTOs, or engineering managers are happy to share their experience and provide advice.
There are also specialized resources, where mentors and mentees can meet. You can find a list of such databases in our Knowledge Base.
How do you know if your mentor is right for you? We advise you to pay attention to the following signs, which show that you and the mentor will work together well and your cooperation will, indeed, be beneficial for both parties.
Relevant experience. If your mentor has gone through the same career points as you and has already achieved the goals you have in your mind - this person can help you avoid mistakes that he or she faced in the past.
Successful cases and completed challenges in relevant fields. Find out what achievements the mentor had when they started their career in development. If among them there are those that are relevant to your aspirations, the mentor will share their experience and help you achieve what you want faster.
Goal-oriented. A good mentor creates a growth plan, monitors your progress, and clearly tells you what you need to do to get to the next level. The stated goals at the start increase the chances of success at the end.
Available for regular meetings. Observe how responsive your mentor is and whether he or she responds in a timely manner to your problems. Also, in order to achieve the best results, it is important to meet regularly and summarize the outcomes of the iteration or task. Meetings, strategy sessions, and calls show the mentor's interest and involvement in your affairs.
A good listener. Assess the mentor as a person: is he/she listening to your ideas and professional difficulties? Does he/she give feedback? If yes, it will be easy for you to work together for a long time.
Shows interest in empowering others. The mentor should be interested in your growth and support your intention to take on more tasks or empower you to do so. For example, if at some point you want to not only write code, but also do testing or take on managerial tasks, a good mentor will do their best so that you feel supported in your development.
Open to flexible mentoring styles. There are a lot of approaches and different styles of mentoring, so the mentor should be ready to find what suits best for your work together and make sure everyone feels comfortable with it.
Ready to learn from a mentee. This is one of the most important points, because a person who is ready to admit that he/she does not know something and is ready to learn, can teach this skill to others. You will both feel satisfied if a mentorship session gives you both useful experience and new knowledge.
In this section, we will talk about why it is useful to become a mentor and give advice to those who want to mentor.
Ideal mentoring is a win-win story, where each side benefits from the interaction. Mentors also get benefits from conducting sessions with young professionals. This is new knowledge, and a new impetus in a career, and an opportunity to influence the future.
Let's take a closer look. These are the benefits that mentors can get when they start working with mentees:
Next step in their career
Often, developers who have taken a senior position or become team leads do not see a further career path for themselves. Becoming a mentor is one of the roads a developer can grow into. Mentoring can be perceived as the highest career point, because a person grows from a specialist into an expert and influencer in their field.
Opportunity to make a contribution to the community
With their expertise, a mentor can influence the future of a field of activity that they are passionate about. It is an honor for every developer who truly loves what they do to oversee the transfer of best practices to future generations and to make sure the industry develops.
New knowledge from young professionals
Although beginners do not have much experience in development, they have a lot of ideas and think broadly, while their everyday life is not busy with routine tasks. Plus, the mentor develops as a manager, planning and controlling tasks for a young specialist.
To become a good mentor, you need to adhere to a certain ideology and order of actions in your work. Let's share a few behaviors, which mostly speak for themselves.
Tip #1: The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way. Be ready to learn from your mentee.
Tip #2: Listen. Put the focus on the other person, his/her needs and difficulties.
Tip #3: Guide, don’t control. Mentees must make their own decisions, so direct and support, rather than dictating to them.
Tip #4: Give specific, actionable advice. Don’t be vague.
Tip #5: Be authentic; practice what you preach. Ask questions that encourage, inspire, and stimulate.
Tip #6: Be direct and tell the truth, however hard. Your mentee expects you to be objective and constructive.
In order for the mentoring session to become not just a discussion of problems, but an opportunity to solve specific problems, you need to have at your disposal a set of tools that will help increase efficiency:
- Skill matrices
These will help a mentor determine what skills are needed for a particular role and what needs to be improved for a person to fit that role.
To save time, use the ready-made Vectorly skill matrices templates for 50+ tech roles and adapt them to the roles of your company.
This is what a skill matrix of a Python developer looks like in Vectorly. There is a skillset, which you can change and assess during a review.
Python Developer skill matrix in Vectorly
- A well-organized review process
The mentee skills review will help determine skill gaps and identify what skills a person lacks and what needs to be developed, and determine the area of growth.
To hold a good skills review, you should understand the main steps of this process. Find more info on how to organize a skill review in our guide - Software Engineer Performance Review Example.
As a result of a review, a mentor will get a clear picture of the mentee’s current status and create a professional development plan to build the lacking skills.
Skills review analysis in Vectorly
You can also make the assessment process automated with Vectorly’s Reviews, so you don’t have to worry about how to organize it.
- 1-on-1 meetings and ready-made templates with the agenda
To keep the mentorship session structured and effective, the mentor should have a prepared template with a set of questions. Schedule regular meetings on monitoring in the calendar (every 2 weeks) and use a ready-made template. It will save time and keep the right focus during a 1-on-1 meeting.
- Knowledge base
It might be hard to quickly find a relevant online course, article or a book for developing specific skills. So, to save time, a mentor might need a ready-made base with resources for skills improvement.
Vectorly has created the Biggest Knowledge Base to grow tech skills, which a mentor can access and use for free.
The other way to find relevant sources to add to a mentee’s PDP is to use Vectorly’s Growth Plan, which automates this process. Vectorly analyzes the working activity of your team members for you and offers specific activities from the knowledge base, integrated with the service. All you need to do is choose between the offered recommendations and add the task to a mentee’s to-do list.
- The cooperation between the mentor and the mentee is important for both parties. A young specialist develops skills, and a mentor builds up expertise in management.
- When choosing a mentor, it is important to find a person with whom the match will be successful. This can be determined by the relevance of experience, goals, and similarities of interests.
- The mentor should only direct and support mentees, rather than giving ready-made decisions. Learning to make decisions and move tasks forward is the main goal of mentoring.
- To make mentorship sessions more effective, a mentor should use special tools like skill matrices, meetings templates, and knowledge bases.
The story was originally posted on Vectorly blog.