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Cover image for How To Be A Mentor

How To Be A Mentor

jamesmh profile image James Hickey Originally published at yourdevcareer.com Updated on ・5 min read

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 newsletter.


P.S. This article is originally from YourDevCareer.com where you can check out more articles and resources to help accelerate your career growth!


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!

Comments?

Have you ever had a mentor? Have you been a mentor?

How did that relationship start?

Have you had any relationships where both you and the other person were able to help each other in different areas?

Have any other tips?

Let everyone know in the comments!

Keep In Touch

Don't forget to connect with me on:

You can also find me at my web site www.jamesmichaelhickey.com.

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✔ What are the general stages of a software developer?
✔ How do I know which stage I'm at? How do I get to the next stage?
✔ What is a tech leader and how do I become one?
✔ Is there someone willing to walk with me and answer my questions?

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Discussion

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allenheltondev profile image
Allen Helton

One of the most valuable skills a mentor has is the ability to actively listen. Mentoring is not all about dictation, but rather having impactful conversations.

You touched on this a little James, but I think a mentor who asks questions to his/her mentee is going to have a higher impact than one who just answers them. It shows that you care and also challenges the mentee to think a little bit.

Any chance a mentor gets to help anybody grow should be taken. We should all be on a path of daily growth, and it's clear that everyone reading this article wants to do that to some degree.

Great article!

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terabytetiger profile image
Tyler V. (he/him)

a mentor who asks questions to his/her mentee is going to have a higher impact than one who just answers them

I want to jump in and second this. When I was working as a tutor in college, I could usually get a pretty good feel for which students had a chance at earning high marks because they were almost always the ones that were OK with me asking a question back to guide their thought process instead of spoonfeeding them an answer.

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allenheltondev profile image
Allen Helton

One thing that I really like about the back and forth is that it shows that both people fully understand what they are talking about.

It's easy to nod your head while someone is talking even if you don't understand what they are saying. But the dialogue between both parties is what ensures that knowledge transfer.

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terabytetiger profile image
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michaelrice profile image
Michael Rice

This is a pretty great observation. I wonder what it was about the being open to further questions - maybe confidence, being present and interested in learning vs. just getting through the assignment? Now you've got me thinking....

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terabytetiger profile image
Tyler V. (he/him)

I highly suspect so. I mostly tutored Calc I and it all builds off of previous lessons, meaning that those that were just getting through weren't prepared for the next piece while those that actually learned the information were able to recall it later on.

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michaelrice profile image
Michael Rice

Yeah that makes a lot of sense. It's kind of elemental that you can't be ready for the next level if you didn't master the current level. (I was terrible in math - probably would have asked for the easy answer!)

I have gradations in the skills for tech leads that I coach. I should really emphasize this point: master each level before moving on to the next... feel a podcast coming for that one!

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Awesome comment. Asking questions is def. more in line with the idea of a mentor being a guide rather than a jukebox that plays all the answers for you 😋

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emmabostian profile image
Emma Bostian ✨

Great post James! I really liked your encouraging tone :) I, myself, am trying to become more educated in the world of mentorship and would love some feedback on my guidelines! I also discuss the different types of mentorship relationships (career, technical, etc.)

Feel free to check it out! docs.google.com/document/d/1zKCxmI...

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks Emma! I, for one, will def. check out your guidelines and try to give you some helpful feedback 🤔

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emmabostian profile image
Emma Bostian ✨

Feel free to contribute! I'd love to add a contributor note at the bottom as well to give credit where credit is due. Any feedback would be appreciated :)

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hussein_cheayto profile image
hussein cheayto

Great article, I was thinking of developing a mentor-mentee website just to make it easy for people to find mentors. I am trying to find a mentor, but I can't find a proper way to say it to the person, it sounds weird or even scary if I just told someone that "can you be my mentor?"
With the mentor-mentee app/website, it would be just really normal to ask that question.
P.S: I have searched on the internet for a website to find a mentor, but couldn't find a straightforward one, something like facebook or linkedin features and UI

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks for the kind words!

@emmawedekind has started Coding Coach - which might be something similar to what you had in mind?

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hussein_cheayto profile image
hussein cheayto

Yes, it is exactly what I was searching for. Thanks

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silvestricodes profile image
Jonathan Silvestri

Lovely post James! I'm hoping to mentor more folks as I'm progressing through the intermediate stage of my career and I'm getting my first intern this summer, so having documentation like this article as a guide is very valuable. Thank you!

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Awesome! It's great to hear that you'll have the opportunity to help others grow 👍

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dougmckechie profile image
Douglas McKechie

Thanks for your insights on mentoring; I'm sure they will help with an upcoming speech I have to deliver about this topic at my Toastmasters club. The speech needs to tell a personal story so it is going to be from an IT developer point of view without getting too technical.

PS: I agree that that one of the best steps you can take in your career, for your own personal development, is to help and mentor others so I would encourage people to give it a go.

Cheers.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Thanks for reading it Douglas!

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michaelrice profile image
Michael Rice

Awesome detail and guidance James. Nice. 👍

I write and talk a lot about coaching (specifically for tech leads @ the Tech Lead Coaching Network) and I wanted to point out a distinction to see what you think:

You mention that mentor is (roughly) about provided guidance and advice.

In the coaching network, I specifically guide our coaches to NOT provide advice about the problem, but instead focus all their energy on the person who needs to solve it. This difference may prove to be a way that I distinguish mentoring and coaching (to the extent it even needs to be distinguished, of course).

But yeah, I think of mentoring as particularly useful for people who are new in the role (not just junior devs -- even if people are new in senior roles) and sometimes it's useful to just get some clear pointers on what specifically to do.

Maybe, then, coaching is more useful for experienced folks and mentoring is more appropriate for juniors.

IDK, just thinking out loud!

Thanks for taking the time to post this!!

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steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao

Awesome article on being a mentor :) For me mentoring is just a form of giving back to the support I had gotten while I was on way in embarking on my career as a developer.

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tuned profile image