Today, I answer a question from listener Emalee about how to become a beginner mentor. From the outside looking in, this is very difficult! Going from "student" to "teacher" is a hard transition. I outline a few thoughts, and give you two tips from my experience.
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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I am taking a listener question about becoming a beginner mentor. A listener of the show named Emily wrote in and asked this question. She says, I am a junior mid-level front-end developer at a small web studio. I've been programming HTML and CSS for a long time but I've only been working professionally for a little over two years. I'm starting to mentor much newer developers and other than my boss, I'm the most senior developer at the company which has been simultaneously great and terrible for my confidence. I know things but sometimes have no idea how to effectively explain programming concepts like concatenation even though I know what they are. Basically I'm wondering if you know of any resources that could help me become an effective mentor or if you have any tips to share from your own experiences. I thought this was such a good question because a lot of people are probably in the same position as Emily. You have enough experience to be able to start bringing up other people underneath you but when you think of the word mentor you might imagine somebody who is much older and has you know 10 or 20 years of experience rather than 5 or 6. So it's very easy to naturally feel completely unqualified to call yourself a mentor because when you think of a mentor you think of somebody with deep knowledge and wisdom about a subject. Somebody who can say one sentence and it takes the mentee a year to figure out what that sentence means somebody like a Mr. Miyagi character but in reality a mentor is just somebody who has had experiences that you have not had or that the mentee has not had. So Emily you can mentor people you are not unqualified even though sometimes it's difficult for you to explain concatenation now don't get me wrong I'm not saying that you're qualified to mentor everyone about everything for example you probably shouldn't be mentoring people about their finances unless you have some sort of experience with finances that they don't have. Now I do want to mention that there is a difference between mentoring and coaching that is important to understand when you're having this conversation with potential students or mentees a coach is somebody who is trying to achieve objective goals that are primarily work oriented or skill oriented so you're coaching somebody to learn how to program or you're coaching somebody to be able to solve a particular problem if you think of a athletic coach. They are coaching somebody to be able to run a 40 yard dash faster or be able to catch a ball better a coach is specifically for skill acquisition now a mentor is somebody who is focused on relationship they don't have a particular agenda when they come to the table they want to affirm you and help you learn and to grow in your career rather than to help you learn a specific thing they are trying to help you. They are trying to help you learn more about how to be a good human and that seems kind of broad but in fact that is the difference between a mentor and a coach and so often we end up focusing on coaching rather than mentorship now is there a distinct line that you're not supposed to cross as a mentor or as a coach into the other can you be a mentor and a coach at the same time of course can you teach skill acquisition as a mentor and that's absolutely there's nothing wrong with mixing these two but keep them conceptually separated in your mind so that you can understand the goals of each and when you go into a conversation with your potential student or your potential mentee then understand the difference between these two and discuss it with them ask them are they looking for a mentor or are they looking for a coach quite often in a company setting your default position is a coach your default position is a coach your default position is to help other people in that company especially the juniors acquire skills but of course as a senior developer if you want to develop relationships with the junior Developer That work with you the mentorship is a better descriptor of that kind of teacher to student relationship that you are forming now Emily you asked for resources related to mentorship I don't really have any that I specifically know that come to mind there's only one that I would be able to provide that I personally have read and I would stand behind and that's the age old how to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie this is a book that's been out for nearly a hundred years now it's gone through a few iterations but it's basically in the same form that it started out in and I mentioned the book on the show before and it's a very common go to kind of it's a very common common go to a kind of interpersonal relationship book it's a guide that teaches you how to deal with people in a better way some of what you find in that book you might find to be relatively obvious and there are some things in the book that I don't necessarily agree with so like with anything else make sure you read it and take it with a grain of salt don't just take everything in there as kind of the gospel truth but the premise of the book is solid in my opinion it is to be a person of high integrity and if you want other people to care about you you must first start by caring about them and so likewise if you want your mentees to listen to you and to value what you have to say you must first value what they have to say now I have to be honest with you I haven't read a lot of material related to mentorship because as I mentioned previously this is still kind of new for me as well so I can't put my personal mark of approval on something that I haven't read of course but there are a ton of books in the leadership section on Amazon I'll include a link to that section on Amazon just so you can start browsing through it but there are so many resources on the subject because it spans every single category of business not just development so it's definitely rich with resources there are probably some really good ones but again I haven't read enough to be able to tell you which ones to go out and buy today and we're going to take a quick sponsor break and then we'll come back and I'm going to give you two tips to keep in mind when you are building a brand new mentor mentee relationship these two tips will help make sure that that relationship is effective for both you as the mentor and for the mentee thanks so much to today's sponsor co chip co chip is a hosted continuous delivery service focusing on speed security and accessibility you can set up continuous integration in a matter of seconds and automatically deploy when your tests have passed co chip supports your GitHub and Bitbucket projects and you can get started with their free plan today at code ship dot com should you decide to go with a premium plan you can go to code ship dot com and use the code Developer Tea for 20% off today for fast secure and customizable continuous integration go to code ship dot com. I think about how to become a beginner mentor on this episode and from the outside looking in it is a very difficult process to go from being the student to being the teacher from being the person that wants to gain wisdom to being the person with the wisdom now one kind of bonus tip that I want to provide for you today outside of the two that I'm getting ready to share with you is that you should never stop being the mentee in other words you should never stop seeking the mentorship of the wiser people that you have access to and that it that will help you understand that this isn't just a I have arrived kind of statement that when you become a mentor that doesn't mean you stop learning or that somehow you have all the knowledge that you need in the world but instead that this is a continuous process that learning and becoming a better person and increasing the quality of your life and increasing your effectiveness at work all these things. Are a continuous process you never will quite arrive that it's a constant a constant effort it is a part of your life and it always will be so the first official tip that I have for you today is to set your sites and help them set their sites so as a mentor you need to set your sites and help your mentee set their sites this simply means determine the purpose of the mentorship and what you both expect to gain from it this means differentiating their personal and their career goals from your personal and your career goals and also make sure you differentiate their personal and career goals from what you have accomplished they may not want to travel the same road that you have traveled they may not want to gain all of the same skills that you have acquired over the years so make sure that you talk about these things at the beginning of the day. So that you head down the right road and that you keep these things kind of in your sites when you move forward and make sure that as you are doing this you have some kind of objective goals or some kind of marker for any subject of goals to measure the progress of the mentorship so that you can say OK yes this is actually having a tangible effect I'm actually progressing towards the goals that I'm attempting to progress towards. The second tip is perhaps the most important thing that you can do as a mentor and that is to simply authentically build the relationship between you and whoever you are mentoring build a true and honest real authentic relationship between yourself and your mentee show that you care about the person holistically show that you have true empathy for them and what they are going through that you care about what you are doing. So that you care about what they care about that you care about their health that you care about their long term career goals that you care about their family and their relationships and that you care about their work life balance all of these things build a positive and real relationship with the person you are mentoring. Of course you can also build the relationship by acting generously for that person and very simple shows of true appreciation for that person if you for example meet them over coffee by their coffee every once in a while it seems simple it seems small but that little simple act of generosity that you don't have to do shows them that you care about them and it will help them understand that what you are offering to them is on the way. So that you are not simply trying to manipulate them or trying to you know get past the relationship that you care about the relationship enough to invest in it. Emily I hope that this episode has been enlightening for you as well as other people who are listening to this episode whether you are a mentor or a mentee starting out or if you are wanting to become one maybe you haven't wanted to become one until you heard this episode. I'd love to hear about it you can reach out to me on Twitter at at Developer Teaor you can email me at email@example.com in fact that's exactly what Emily did and that's how this question got answered on the show if you have a question that you want answered on the show make sure you email it in to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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