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How To Be A Mentor

16 April, 2019

In one of my previous posts, we looked at the career stage of being an intermediate developer.

One of the pieces of advice I gave was to find a mentor.

Today, I want to look at the flip-side of that topic: how to be a mentor!

Am I Qualified?

You might think, "I'm not experienced or knowledgable enough to mentor someone!"

Being a mentor is probably not as grandiose as most of us think it is.

Being a mentor can actually be really simple.

A mentor is just someone who can help advise and direct someone else.

Sometimes it is more formal than informal, more direct than not, etc.

But at the end-of-the-day, being a mentor is really just about helping others by asking questions, answering questions, providing guidance, encouragement, etc.

Usually, a mentor has some experience or knowledge about the particular areas they are providing guidance about.

It's just helping someone else.

How Do I Become A Mentor?

I see mentorship under two broad categories:

  • Formal
  • Informal

Formal

This can happen in the workplace, for example. You might be formally expected to teach and offer guidance to new employees at your company.

Or, you might want to offer a service to a certain demographic or group of people where you help them achieve their goals.

One great example of this is what Steve Smith is doing with DevBetter.

Steve is known as an expert in areas like code architecture and Domain Driven Design.

His service can help developers figure out what skills to focus on, help improve those skills, offer career guidance, etc.

Another example would be Coading Coach. You can find a mentor and request to begin a mentorship at no cost!

In these cases, the goals and intent of both the mentor and mentee are much more focused. There usually is a formal plan that the mentor will flesh out.

Because it is very time and resource intensive it usually does come as a paid service - whether being paid by your employer or the mentee directly.

Informal

Informal is not paid and usually doesn't involve a solid plan or map.

I think the questions that you are most interested in would be:

  • How does that even happen in the first place?
  • If there's no plan, how can I help?

Why?

One of my regrets is not getting involved in the developer community sooner.

I felt like I didn't have much to offer and was just afraid of the idea of putting myself "out there".

But what really happens is that you get to meet so many awesome people!

You get to interact with new ways of thinking and throw ideas off people who aren't like you.

At the beginning of this year, I felt like I wanted to start doing something to help people. Not just "make stuff" - but really help others.

That's what birthed my career newsletter for software developers and this site.

Someone I've been in contact with for a couple of months had asked me for advice around getting his first dev job.

A few weeks ago, he had 3 job offers at the same time! He was able to land his first dev job!

Being able to help people like this brings so much satisfaction and fulfillment!

If you want to really help people, build relationships, and make connections then you might want to consider mentorship (i.e. helping people 😋).

How Does It Happen?

Usually, informal mentorship involves two people: the mentor and mentee.

It really begins when either:

  • The mentee asks a question or asks for some guidance about something
  • The mentor seeks to provide value or help to the mentee

I want to focus on this second point.

If you are a software developer who's been in the field for a number of years, one of the most amazing steps you can take in your career is to help others.

If you see someone in your field who is writing great content: let them know and encourage them!

If you see on Twitter that someone is asking a question about a technology you are familiar with: answer their question or find the answer if you don't know already!

Of course, handing answers over "on a silver platter", as it were, can encourage people to ask for answers before trying to figure it out on their own.

But generally speaking, try to answer these questions!

Pro Tips

Here are some tips that I think will help you:

Let people know you're available

If people don't know you're willing... then they won't come to you.

Try to build a relationship privately

First thing's first: don't be creepy 👀.

You want to have some public contact with the other person first (i.e. there should be some level of trust and relationship).

Establishing a relationship via DM's, etc. has a few advantages:

  • Sometimes helping people means pointing out what can be improved! Best to do that in private 😉
  • It shows that you are actually taking the time and interest in this specific person. This helps to build an actual relationship! It makes them know that you are genuinely interested in helping them.
  • It's easy to keep a record of what you've said/done. You can go over some advice etc. that you gave in the past. And, for the mentee, they can easily find the help you've provided.

Your main goal should be to encourage, support and guide

You are there you provide encouragement whenever your mentee does a good job!

You're not there to point out every single thing that could be improved. That's not helpful.

Think of being a cheerleader who is available to offer suggestions or answer questions!

Promote their strengths

If you see a skill, experience, etc. that sticks out to you - tell your mentee!

If you think that they have an inspiring and unique story to share - encourage them to share it!

If you think that the topics they write about would appeal to a certain segment of people - tell them!

Encourage them to write a book, build that project, seek that new job, etc.

Having wisdom and insight can go a long way!

Bonus: Dual-Mentorship!

I also wanted to quickly mention that many of these relationships can be a two-way mentorship.

You might have experience with a certain technology. The other person might be skilled at some other thing that you need help with.

These relationships are great!

I've found that this is in actuality what happens to me.

Everyone has something special or unique about their story or skills that you can learn from too.

All it takes is to ask the other person about it!


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