Andrew
Burak
CEO at Relevant

How to Become a Good Software Engineer Mentor: 10 Tips

Management

Launching a mentorship program in your software engineering company allows you to leverage your most important resource — employees. Intentionally building their talents by introducing a software engineer mentor, sends a message that the management cares for their growth, and they will reciprocate by being more productive and loyal.

While finding training and retaining grounded software engineers is challenging — with the right mentorship program — you will not only positively influence your retention rate but also train the junior software engineers at remarkable rates to contribute higher quality code.

In this article, we will share the importance of mentoring in the software engineering field, tell you how mentorship works at our company, and give you tips on becoming a good software engineer mentor.

Software developers’ mentorship: What’s in it for you?

Successful software engineering companies realize the importance of mentorship and are adopting it – whether formal or not. With the continuous talent shortage in the software development landscape, companies are leveraging mentorship programs to attract, train, and retain their top talents. 

With the help of a mentor, newcomers much faster familiarize themselves with the company culture and processes. So they quickly start to meet the requirements for writing code, the basic principles of teamwork, rules, etc. That, in turn, allows delivering high-quality products to the client.

The benefits of developers’ mentorship for your organization

The following paragraphs describe in more detail how your company can benefit from establishing a mentorship program.

  • Employee career development
    This is one way to ensure employee retention. With career mentoring, you understand the employee’s career goal and align it with that of the company. Mentoring developers in organizations allows them to learn new skills and understand that there is a common purpose for every party.
    The learning culture through mentorship encourages the software developers to take active responsibility for their growth. This will produce happier, more fulfilled employees, a more productive environment, and a higher retention rate.
  • Creation of inclusive workplace 
    Creating an all-inclusive work environment where the company considers different ideas encourages innovation and ground-breaking creativity. A gender and ethnically diverse group of software developers in an organization are more likely to grow faster, according to recent researches.
    Doing this fosters diversity mentoring, which encourages diverse retention of valuable talent, setting them apart from their competitors. Over time, there will be a connection of different populations sharing experiences and knowledge.
  • Setting up collaborative learning
    Mentoring circles are becoming even more popular. A mentoring circle is a peer-to-peer idea that allows employees to find peers who share common interests or learning goals to help them grow as a team. Employers generally adopt this model of mentorship to foster the sharing of knowledge among departments. The model comes into play mostly when there is a common challenge, to connect people with different skill sets, yet have the same goal.
    So, while the employees’ knowledge bases are updated with new skills and expertise, at the end of the day, the common challenge is defeated.
  • Retention of high potential workers for leadership development
    Mentorship connects talented young developers with smart programming mentors, young talents that are often not easy to retain. 
    With intentional mentoring, you can develop their expertise as well as leadership skills for the future, ensuring the growth and continuity of a company. This will result in employee loyalty, increased productivity, and improved retention rates.
4 Ways Software Engineer Mentoring Can Benefit Your Company

What’s in it for employees?

Mentorship is a relationship, based on learning and growth, between an experienced professional and a person interested in growing in the ranks of knowledge and expertise. The “experienced professional” is the Mentor, while the “person interested in learning” is the mentee.

Now we have all agreed that mentorship for software developers’ is ideal, let’s see how it would benefit your employees.

  • Exchange of intelligent feedback
    When we try to evaluate jobs we have done, we often find ourselves justifying our little shortcomings – at least the ones we can identify. Having someone to show you not just areas where you should improve upon, but also how to go about it, is priceless.
    And, this goes both ways in the case of developers mentoring other developers. Both the software engineer mentor and the mentee may at different times need this invaluable exchange of opinions and ideas. When this is available, there is seamless learning and growth, and jobs are completed in record time.
  • Improving skills with the right resources
    When mentoring junior software engineers, reviewing and revising codes is vital. The coding mentor goes through the codes and finds errors or weaknesses to ensure that the mentee produces flawless codes. Since there is a big chance that the mentor might have, at some point, been faced with a similar challenge, they will be in the best position to offer sound advice. 
    A programming mentor should also refer to courses, or programs that sharpen a mentee’s skills if need be. This also helps increase the knowledge base of the mentor as they come across different types of codes as they strive to crack them. After all, knowledge is the one thing that increases when shared.
    With the help of the right resources, productivity will increase as the software development coach subtly inculcates intentional learning to solve immediate and common challenges.
  • Encouraging professional and personal growth
    Most job seekers are actively looking for companies that offer an opportunity for professional and personal growth. By embracing software engineering mentorship, you strategically position yourself for exponential growth in the tech industry.
    For starters, mentorship improves personal growth. A mentor can help structure goals and guide a mentee towards achieving them. They can also teach them how to work and communicate with people in and outside the workspace. There is no overemphasizing the importance of an all-around software engineer – one who can get the job done, help others hone their skills, and communicate effectively
  • Learning the best coding practices
    The most fundamental goal of having a mentor is to get that knowledge passed down to a mentee. It involves mentoring a junior software engineer with basic coding knowledge, growing them to be masters in their craft. 

The secret of being a good developer mentor

Teaching has never been a walk in the park, and neither is mentoring developers. Considering the technicalities of software development, as a developer mentor, you can always expect challenges.

So, what’s the secret of being a good developer mentor? 

Before we delve into the specifics, let us first understand why developers need mentors.

Why do developers need mentors?

Whether they like to admit it or not, developers need mentors (even a seasoned node js developer). As a mentor, it’s not your job to solve everyone’s problem. You can, however, guide them towards finding the answers themselves.

When you are approached by a mentee, listen to them. Be welcoming and give them a chance to communicate. You can try to begin the conversation by asking “What’s bothering you?” or, “What is the challenge?” Then listen.

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If the challenge is still vague, try to discuss particular situations. This will help you get a clearer picture as to exactly what the problem is.

When you get the whole picture, try to give a perspective. You are a mentor and high chances are you went through similar ordeals. As such, you have an idea of how to tackle such challenges. If it’s a company thing – and you both work in the same company – you can tell how best to handle the situation to douse your mentee’s anxiety.

You could also leverage your network to come to your mentee’s aid. You can connect and introduce them to people that could make their journey a little easier.

Let your mentees know that you support them. Encourage them as often as possible and communicate your belief in their ability. It will go a long way to build their confidence.

Most importantly, don’t readily give solutions. It is very important in software developer coaching. As a mentoring developer, ask questions, give suggestions, but never just be the ultimate problem solver. 

Allow the mentee to think through the problem and come up with solutions too. It helps to boost their learning rate. Only young developers unwilling to grow look to find a software developer mentor who wouldn’t challenge them once in a while.

So, back to the secrets of being a good developer mentor.

What makes an excellent software engineer mentor?

Here are a few things to remember if you want to be a good mentor for programmers:

  1. An excellent software engineer mentor should show mentees how to learn
    It’s not always easy to teach programming. It would require patience. To achieve that, you may need to put yourself in your mentees’ shoes. Remember yourself in their shoes.
    Remember when you were just starting out as a developer?how challenging it was for you initially? While you cannot spoonfeed them, you can try to find out how they learn, what makes it click for them, and help them find it.
  2. An excellent software engineer mentor should encourage good habits
    Encouraging good habits is quite an important lesson. The lessons a new developer learns from the beginning eventually form the habit, and mentorship is a great chance to expose the new mentees to the right habits to help them learn and grow.
    Habits like meaningful code documenting, planning, consistency, and asking the right questions are all good habits that new developers need to learn.
  3. An excellent software engineer mentor should be supportive
    Notwithstanding the mentor-mentee title, there is still room for growth for both parties. Though you may be more experienced than your mentee, realizing that you are still a student will go a long way in helping you realize that people still make mistakes.
    As such, learn to support your mentees by helping them out of hitches and encouraging them.
A Great Software Engineer Mentor:

should show mentees how to learn
should encourage good habits
should be supportive

What are the types of mentorship in the engineering field?

There are numerous types of mentorship programs in the engineering field. They include: 

Onboarding mentorship

One common type of technical mentoring for engineers is onboarding mentorship. This is a little similar to the tour guide that takes you around the school on your first day. In this case, though, the onboarding colleague takes the newbie around the company, explaining the processes, systems, and the unsaid do’s and don’ts.

Though it’s not official, it happens almost always, and most software engineers have passed through this software engineering mentorship program. Companies that hire remote developers, however, may not offer this type of mentorship.

Informal mentorship

Mentorship doesn’t always need to be official. More often than not, informal mentorship happens when more experienced persons work with less experienced colleagues. A practical example is during code reviews.

Code reviews processes entail lots of feedback, discussions, and learning from each other. Working as a dedicated development team, for instance, fosters mentorship either during discussions, brainstorming, or anything similar. There is always that exchange of ideas and opinions, and it is where informal mentorship comes in.

Formal mentorship

Formal mentorship is the rarest type of mentorship. It happens when a senior software engineer formally gives in to mentoring junior software engineers. Considering the dedication a mentor needs to put into formal mentorship, many people are left to wonder: if informal mentoring is easier and always in motion, why bother with formal mentoring?

Firstly, with informal mentorship, there are no guarantees that you will be paired with talented developers you can learn from.

Also, with a formal mentor, your growth is faster and, most importantly, intentional.

Types of Mentorship in Software Engineering

How does it work at Relevant?

At Relevant, we believe that the strong mentorship of software engineers is an impactful way to a safe, productive, and trustworthy working environment. 

On the one hand, developers’ mentorship is about sharing technical knowledge and skills. Still, on the other hand, it is also about being a coworker-friend and offer some help which is essential in these uncertain times.

At our company, trainees and junior developers usually have a mentor, a more experienced specialist either from the project team where the mentee works or from another team in the company. Depending on the technical level of the mentees, individual programs are created, which allows them to master the skills they need for real-life projects in a short period of time.

Also, at the onboarding stage, all the developers, no matter what seniority they have, receive a “buddy” — a professional who has been working on a project and in the company for a while and can answer all the newcomers’ questions. Usually, “buddies” are specialists who have recently gone through onboarding themselves and remember all the specificities of the process well, therefore they can easily give good advice.

We have an onboarding plan for each of the technologies we work with. For trainee and junior developers, these plans consist of lists of tasks that cover the main development aspects and are similar to real commercial projects tasks. 

The tasks come with the business requirements and the description of the desirable result, but don’t explain how to solve the particular problem. So the idea is that a developer should decide which approach to take and how to implement the requirements. 

This way, we try to teach software engineers how to look for a solution independently, be proactive, and be confident in what they do, for example, be assured of the chosen library or approach. 

For middle developers or developers at a higher level of seniority, we create a Personal Development Plan. This plan includes tasks for a specific period of time and is part of the performance review process. The plan is built taking into account the developer’s wishes, industry trends, and requirements of the current project.

How to mentor developers: 10 Practical tips

In a mentorship program, both parties grow intellectually. The mentor gets to understand the goal of the mentee and strives to guide the mentee through the path, however tough.

Here are 10 tips on how to mentor developers:

1. Be interested in your mentee

Take a sincere interest in the life of your mentee – aspirations, goals, or dreams. Find out if there are factors that may impede those goals. These would help you understand the mentee and know exactly how to help, guide, and most importantly, how to communicate with the mentee.

2. Communicate effectively

You need to pay attention to your mentee. Fundamentally, they own the career path, and you are just the guide. Understand where they are headed and help them get there. Don’t try to infuse too many of your beliefs and desires. Get them to open up, talk and ask questions freely. If your mentee can’t communicate with you for fear of judgment, try to remedy the situation by looking for ways to build confidence and trust. Communication is the bedrock of mentorship.

3. Start with the perfect project

If you were working with your mentee, it would be nice to start with that perfect project, one that is easy to ace. This is to boost the enthusiasm and confidence that are crucial when the going gets tough. Starting the mentorship program with demanding tasks may reduce morale and, in difficult situations, push the mentee to drop the career even before take of. Put together some easy wins for starters.

4. Allow your mentee to reach conclusions

Oftentimes there may be a need to take over the journey since you’ve been down the path before. However, this may not be healthy for your relationship with your mentee. You need to trust them to think and arrive at reasonable decisions – alone. Knowing that you believe in them would help build their confidence and trust in both you, themselves, and the mentorship journey together.

5. Be empathic

However impossible it may seem, empathy is a vital tool in any relationship. Knowing your mentees, understanding their feelings and emotions, do by any chance they experience software engineer burnout, and helping them work through it will build an even stronger bond. If you are not a very empathic person, you can get there through conscious and intentional practice. You can start by understanding the difference in people – strengths, background, challenges, and interests – to get yourself to be more empathic.

6. Criticize constructively

Remember, the aim is not to put them down and break their confidence. If you can point out one’s errors and shortcomings without necessarily causing any hurt, do it. You can try giving constructive criticism by sharing a similar experience. That way, they can relate and understand that they can also do better. If, however, they start to be defensive, be supportive and get them to listen to you.

7. Provide resources

The whole idea of mentorship is guidance – guiding mentees to grow into their goals. Refrain from always showing or telling the solutions. Allow them to ponder on the task and come up with answers. However, you can always recommend resources (book in the library, online course, or a language, that will help them find solutions.

8. Share your network

Networking is an integral part of mentoring. To get most jobs done in the tech world currently, you need to collaborate with your networks.

Under normal circumstances, it takes years to build connections. As a software engineer mentor, you can make the development journey easier for promising mentees by introducing them to your circle. Invite them to industry events to allow them to interact with other major players.

9. Check-in on the mentee

Until both the mentee and the mentor come to an understanding, there may be that confusion on how often to meet. While some mentors practice the “call me when you need me” approach, it is also important that they call to check in often. This is to build the confidence in the mentee that you are available. If you seem withdrawn and uninterested, they might avoid you for fear of interfering with your schedule.

10. Always stay professional

You want a mentee to trust you as a mentor, so you should give them a reason to. Your interactions should be based on utmost trust and mutual respect. The mentee has to be certain that whatever they discuss with you is confidential. By doing so, you create a safe space that nurtures trust over time.

How to Mentor Developers: Checklist

And last but not least. Be open, and don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with others. When you teach somebody, you get a much deeper understanding of things you know. And remember, being a mentor means be a friend. Don’t hesitate to give and ask for feedback. And do not forget to celebrate even small wins.

Wrapping up

In any software engineering mentorship program, there is an exchange of ideas between the senior and junior software engineers. While there are no doubts about the invaluableness of a sound mentee to a mentor, the mentee also gets to grow under the direct tutelage of an experienced software engineer. 

This means that they will undertake software development tasks more efficiently, and most importantly, in record time.

That is why, at Relevant, we offer team extension to help you hire dedicated software developers to fit your needs at scale. We, as Ukraine’s outsourcing company, can help you build or grow your team with top tech talent. We also have the right experience and expertise for building products from scratch.

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Written by
Andrew Burak
CEO at Relevant
My company has helped hundreds of companies scale engineering teams and build software products from scratch. Let's connect.

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