No matter how smart, driven, or talented you are, everyone could use a little help. If you've got some experience under your belt and you're considering mentoring other developers, you may be surprised to learn that it can often be a case of “who saved who?” Meaning: You can get as many benefits as your mentee.
Not sure what that looks like? Read on to learn the benefits of mentoring others, some of the best practices for mentors, and how the developer community fosters a supportive, mutually beneficial culture.
The benefits of developers mentoring other developers
There are so many reasons to mentor someone who’s been in your shoes before. But here are some of the most compelling pay-offs of mentoring a more junior developer:
You strengthen your own skillset
Sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it. Perhaps you’ve heard of the rubber duck technique for debugging code. It goes like this:
You get a rubber duck, sit it down on your desk, politely request a few minutes of its time, and then start explaining everything from your debugging solution to the symptoms you see to the potential outcomes of the steps you’re thinking about taking. The verbalization process helps you self-review your approach and discover its strengths and weaknesses.
The mentoring process can have a similar outcome. As you teach your mentee, you reinforce your own knowledge of what you do while also gaining new insights into the all-important “why.”
This applies to both hard and soft skills. As you verbalize what you do and why, you get a chance to review your practices. You also undergo a kind of curation process: You end up only sharing stuff that’s worth sharing, segmenting the mental masterpieces from the muck.
You form professional connections that can pay off later
Each person you mentor may, hopefully, be in a position of power one day, and that can pay big dividends if you need a hand later on. This may be tough to picture if your potential mentee is younger, less experienced, and relatively new to development, but in this digitized business climate, change — and advancement — can happen quickly.
It’s possible that someone who’s now a green, wet-behind-the-ears mentee could eventually help you:
- Secure a position at another company, specifically one they work for.
- Put some political power behind an internal initiative you’re trying to champion at your company.
- Learn a new coding language that you don’t have the time to muddle through on your own.
You get the satisfaction of giving back
Of course, some of the best benefits don’t involve any tangible payback at all — it just feels good to give back. Perhaps you got a hand while you were learning to code in a corporate environment or figuring out your professional path.
On the other hand, like many others, maybe you needed help and never got it. Either way, you can be the one to make someone else’s path a little smoother and more comfortable.
Developers mentoring other developers add a human, personal element to a profession that can often be eclipsed by the shadow cast by endless lines of code, algorithms, and detailed syntax. Sitting down for a brew — caffeinated or otherwise — with a mentee can provide you with a sense of balance.
Best practices for developers mentoring other developers
To maximize the benefits of the mentor/mentee relationship — for both parties — you may find the following best practices helpful:
Establish the type of mentor relationship
One of the most important best practices while entering a mentor/mentee relationship is establishing the kind of mentoring you’ll be doing. Here are some of the most common mentorship arrangements:
- Onboarding. This is when you help a new team member understand how the company works, its internal development process, and the hard and soft skills they need to succeed there.
- Formal mentorship. In a formal mentorship, a senior developer mentors a more junior one. They do this through a series of regular, structured meetings between the two. In some cases, a company may already have a formal mentorship program in place.
- Informal mentorship. Informal mentorship happens more organically as people of different levels of experience work together. The mentorship happens informally — during code reviews, planning meetings, whiteboarding, and the like.
Carefully structure your interactions
If you’re entering into a more formal mentorship, there are ways to structure your interactions both when getting started and as the relationship rolls forward. This is best done using concrete objectives, questions, and long- and short-term goals. For example, when you’re just getting started, you can address questions like:
- What elements of your background would be helpful to share?
- What elements of your mentee’s background would be good to share?
- What does the mentee hope to get from you as a mentor?
- What topics will be covered as you move forward?
- What’s the time commitment you’re both willing to give?
Then, as the arrangement takes shape, you’ll want to monitor its structure. Here are some questions that may be helpful to address:
- Is the frequency of your meetings sufficient? Or is it a little too often or not often enough?
- What are some short-term objectives you can tackle together?
- How can you continually evaluate the success of the relationship?
Of course, how rigid you want to be about the structure of the arrangement is 100% up to you. You may even find that just keeping these questions and ideas in mind, without explicitly discussing them with your mentee, will help you put the right boundaries in place and get the most out of the relationship.
The importance of community when working as a developer
Some may be surprised to know that even though it may often be just you and your computer much of the time, community plays a huge role in a developer’s success. The support you get pays off when it comes to both how you work and feel about what you’re doing. For instance, a sense of community amongst developers can:
- Give you allies for solving problems.
- Provide a listening ear when you feel frustration starting to creep in.
- Gather support for large-scale initiatives, making them happen quicker.
- Result in new technologies — easier ways to accomplish complex tasks.
Also, the developer community has a healthy sense of competition — not in a cutthroat sense, but in a way that ensures the bar is raised high and kept there. As part of the community, you’ll want to continue challenging yourself to keep up with — and impress — your peers.
Finding mentoring opportunities
Ready to share your knowledge with other developers? You can find tons of informal mentoring opportunities right here on Codecademy. Learners of all experience levels flock to our forums to share their projects and professional insights, helping each other solve problems and find new opportunities for growth.
Or, if you're looking for a more formal, structured mentoring opportunity, why not check out your local Chapter? You'll find Codecademy Chapters around the world, and they're a great place to meet and connect with other developers. They're also rife with collaborative opportunities, and you might even get a chance to guide new developers in a group project, like the React app built by members of our Detroit chapter in the video below: