Today was my first day trying to be a mentor, and it has already proved to be an incredibly interesting experience. I feel like I have bene phenomenally lucky to get to the point I have done in my career, and in many ways I don’t feel like I deserve to be here, so the rationale behind trying to take up mentoring is that at least I can give something back. Whether or not I am actually a good enough engineer to have a right to mentor anyone was an internal battle that was fought, but when I suggested it to my prospective mentee at the time she was incredibly keen, which made the choice far easier.
There aren’t many things that I hold in high esteem about myself, but I’m hoping this can be one of them, and I’m similarly hoping to be able to write as much as possible about what I learn along the way. As I’m a complete novice at it, I’m going to have to put in a lot of effort to make a meaningful difference to anyone I mentee, but I think it’ll absolutely be worth it, and I can’t think of many other things in my career that could be as rewarding as I believe this could be.
So, today was session one, and I have some key takeaways from it. Firstly, there is a lot of pressure to know everything, but nobody knows everything. It’s much more important to learn the process involved in finding out the information, and indeed many people would say that’s the key skill in software engineering. Mentoring is, in a way, reminiscent of a programming interview; it’s crucial not to silently think about things, but instead to verbalise your thought process as you are working through a problem. Give a man a fish, etc. With that being said, obviously you still need pretty strong domain knowledge to be an effective teacher, and one of the nice things about having that knowledge probed by a mentee is that it’ll expose any weaknesses you might have. I learned today that I still have a huge amount to learn about testing, and so I’m going to go away and work on that for the sake of my own work.
Secondly, ask your mentee what they would like to learn or talk about. Despite me having prepared some things to work through and doing a code review exercise, the portion of our session today that I felt was most productive and valuable for both of us was definitely the general Q&A. For me again it not only highlights topics I might need to either broaden or deepen my understanding off, and it also gave me some insight into what my mentee specifically needs help with and where she is less confident. I was also surprised that she already had quite a few questions written down to ask, even though I hadn’t asked her to prepare anything, so naturally I think we were both the most engaged with that format.
My first impressions are definitely that mentoring is fun and rewarding, but also that I’m really going to have to up my game, both in terms of technical expertise and communication skills. I’m confident these posts will become a series, and hopefully I can try to distill how to improve as a mentor nicely into blog post form.