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How to Mentor a Junior Developer New to Your Team

Front-End Developer 👩🏻‍💻 | plant enthusiast 🌱 | dog mom 🐶
・3 min read

I've been at my job for less than a year, and frequently have days where I'm consumed with imposter syndrome. So when my manager asked me to help support a Junior Developer new to our team, I was both flattered and overwhelmed. Thoughts crept up like: "I barely know enough about my own job, let alone enough to mentor someone else." "I struggle with my own tasks, how will I be able to help this person with theirs?" After the thoughts rooted in fear had their chance to speak, the thoughts of excitement and joy chimed in: "This is an amazing opportunity to cement your own knowledge of our processes and share what you've learned so far." "Remember all the great mentors you've had? Now is your chance to be that person for someone else!".

My fear and self-doubt were still there, but the joy and excitement I had about being this new employee's mentor far outweighed any of those negative thoughts.

Below, I will share some strategies I used in helping this new employee get familiar with our systems and processes to conquer their first PR!

1. Familiarize yourself with their first task, and expect to pair with them the entire time.

In order for me to help this new employee succeed, I needed to be up to speed with the task at hand, the technical requirements, the designer responsible, and any other stakeholders or decision-makers involved. This helped with providing overall context of the task so that my lack of understanding was not a bottleneck in our pairing time together.

2. Let them drive.

This employee is very junior. I really didn't know what their level of comfort would be navigating through our codebase, and pushing commits to Github. In order for them to gain more confidence, I had them share their screen the whole time so they could drive. That way, they will become more comfortable with these new-to-them processes.

3. Explain the why.

If a newer employee is driving, they can get so focused on where to click, what to click, where to paste that text, etc., that they can forget the why behind what we're doing. I made sure to explain what we were doing in great detail, and provide as much context as possible to help paint a bigger picture for them about why we were doing something.

4. Tell them when you don't know something.

There were a few times during our pairing sessions that I didn't know the answer, or wasn't sure where to find a certain file. I made sure to say to this new employee "Hmm... I don't know where that is, but here is what I'm thinking we might try." It is always reassuring to me to hear another developer say "I don't know, but let's try this." That tells me that it's okay not to know something, and also helps give me clues into how others tackle problems.

5. Make To-Do lists together.

Having a design mock handy certainly helped guide our pairing sessions; but each morning we met, we outlined what was still outstanding or what needed to be fixed or polished. This gave them a jumping-off point and clear direction when I had to step away for other work commitments.

6. Celebrate every milestone.

It can be very overwhelming and scary to start your first developer job. It was important to me that I made sure this employee felt like they were succeeding at every juncture. I made sure they knew how impressed I was with their progress. And when we met hurdles, I reassured them that I too had encountered these same challenges. Every new day, new challenge, and new milestone was a chance to celebrate their great work both on the task, and within our team.

In conclusion

These first few weeks helping this new employee feel comfortable in their new role has been so rewarding. I have seen the joy in their face when their code works as expected, and frustration as more changes are added to their PR. But I have tried my best to reassure them along the way that they are doing great work, and that changes are expected, and that we will merge this PR eventually. 😅

I hope you have found these tips helpful. Let me know in the comments below: What is something that a coworker has done to help you feel comfortable in a new role?

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