More Mentoring

17 May 2019

Mentoring has nothing to do with managing. There is a dire lack of mentoring in the software industry. The pace of change is amazingly fast. So many conferences and talks are available to watch and learn from. Articles on how to do X, Y, and Z are constantly written. Documentation is improving because folks who write developer tools and platforms know that if your docs are bad no one will be able to learn how to use your amazing service. And all of this is free, I haven’t even mention paying for bootcamps or Udemy courses (though really, stop advertising classes at me in YouTube).

But none of that comes close to mentorship. I don’t have a mentor. I wish I did (any volunteers?). I don’t have anyone junior to me that I am truly mentoring (Bueller?). The statistics tell us that older programmers are being passed up for jobs. While all the problems we are solving are the same ones we’ve been working on for decades. They have so much knowledge and we are watching it walk out the door. Will we ever learn everything they learned? How much will be forgotten, and re-solved with a worse method?

Plenty of companies add some element to their job descriptions that sound like “mentoring”. My current gig has it. I bet if you took a poll less than 10% of people would say they are actively being mentored.

I do know that people a few rungs up the ladder have mentors. And they are usually long-lasting relationships.

The job of mentoring someone is, in my opinion, antithetical to being their manager. Once a person has the power to promote or fire you, the relationship to that person fundamentally changes. That changes puts in place a barrier to effective mentorship.

So what is it exactly?

I can only tell you what others have told me. A mentor is a person you can use as a sounding board. You can tell them what you’re thinking and feeling around your work. You can tell them what you’re trying to do about it, and if it’s working. And they will use their experience and keep you on track. To use a musical metaphor they are your sound-check—make sure everything is working and in-tune.

The content is necessarily is specific to the individuals and situations. But it is a professional relationship between two people that is not hierarchical. Often these people don’t work in the same company.

I can definitively say that mentoring is not “I can’t figure this out, can you help me?” Helping someone you work with is something we should all be doing, but it is transactional in nature. Nor is mentoring venting about your work situation with someone else behind closed doors.

I believe if we had more effective mentoring we might realize several things:

  1. We are often working through the same problems, and we can learn from one another’s solutions.
  2. A mentor gives us the chance to recognize the value in ourselves and others we work with by giving us fresh eyes and perspective. We are often too hard on ourselves and co-workers.
  3. Working with a mentor will increase your emotional intelligence.

These are all things our industry desperately needs.

#Mentorship  #Management  #Software Engineering