In my career I have spent plenty of time developing my technical skills, rather than being actively involved in the life of community. There are many reasons for that, but what is more important, after a while I realised, that developers are not just people who write code. It is a small slice of a much larger pie.
Don’t get me wrong, you do need this skill and you can’t fake it. However, you can also do other interesting things such as writing technical articles and tutorials, attending different meetups and conferences both as a visitor and a speaker. Instead of keeping your knowledge in the box of the working space, you can go and share it with the industry. This is why I decided to become a mentor and write an article about it.
First, I found the perfect balance between a job and a mentoring program. I started with two mentees and a flexible mentoring plan. It means that each time we discuss what should be done next and when we can review it. The catchup time is just one hour per week. So, I can definitely manage it and not to be overwhelmed by new responsibilities.
A mentor is usually an experienced person who shares knowledge and advice with a less experienced someone. For mentors without a background in formal teaching it can be difficult to understand what to expect from a mentoring program and how to collaborate with mentees.
I have an experience of training the new members of a team, but it is a bit different. When you work with some particular project, you know this project very well, and it is much easier to transfer this particular knowledge to your colleagues. But with a mentorship it doesn’t work this way. A mentor and a mentee should learn new things about themselves and each other that will help them to move toward career goals. And to make it work, they need to understand the role they play and steps they take to achieve it.
To make this process easier, I joined the mentoring program from Facebook. This program offers some predefined steps, one step for each mentoring week. For me it was very helpful to have steps that I can follow. It made me feel, that I am a part of a real team, which can guide me and manage the whole process. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you can stick to the subject and plan how you and your mentee can collaborate during the week. You can find any other tool which suits you better, or do it in person, what is even better. The idea is to make a mentoring process comfortable for you and your mentee.
In my case I had only one concern: will mentees take this program seriously? Since Facebook is a social network which is often used for entertainment, will they consider it as a studying process and take all responsibilities such as accomplishing chosen tasks, attending scheduled meeting on time? But I forgot about human factors. There is no such tool that can guarantee involvement and success of some individuals. Only hard work and enthusiasm lead to impressive results.
One other thing, people not always need a teacher. They can be very good in studying by themselves. They don’t need you reading them theory, or checking their homework. Often people just don’t know how to start this learning process. Is it what they really want to do? How much time do they need to succeed? What is more important theory or practice? Which book from the thousands of books in the internet should they read? Or even more! They were asking me if I really believe that they can become developers! And I remember myself 10 years ago asking the same questions. I didn’t know how to properly evaluate my knowledge and progress. People always compare themselves with elder colleges. And they can be shy or afraid to get a bad feedback from them. But a mentor is a perfect person for this type of questions! You can be honest, you can say as it is! I don’t like this, I don’t know that. And there is a big chance that a mentor has an instant solution for the problem.
At the same time this mentoring program is useful for me! I learn how to reveal problematic areas, how to explain complex things using simple words. While searching for studying materials I also refresh my knowledge, check what is new in technologies which I haven’t used for a long time. When you teach someone, you truly become a master on that subject. It inspires me to improve my skills, learn new things as my mentees do, start new projects and be closer to the community.
I really enjoy being a mentor. When you are helping other people advance in their career or do something that they wanna do, and you see that it actually works, this is the biggest reward for you. I still need to learn new strategies and tools to become a more effective mentor, but since it is interesting for me, I expect to have much fun doing it.
You can also try it sometime!