Most professional environments are familiar with the concept of mentoring. We could define mentoring as pairing up someone who’s in the process of learning a trade with a more experienced colleague who can provide help, inspiration, and constructive criticism.
How does mentoring work in the coding world? Is it beneficial? How can you find great mentors?
Is Finding a Mentor Important for Developers?
Coding can be challenging, especially to beginners, and having a more experienced person who’s successfully overcome the same problems and difficulties as you is an inspiring example to follow, as well as a treasure trove of useful tips — not only on coding, but also on how to navigate a career path in the tech industry.
Here are a few points as to why a great mentor can be a fantastic asset for you in your professional programming journey:
- Mentors can advise you on how to get to your goals faster. Their experience enables them to know what’s worth spending time learning deeply and what isn’t, what you need to focus on, and what you can skip.
- Great mentors know how to challenge their mentees. The learning approach needs to fit the student’s needs and level of education in the subject matter. If what a mentor teaches you is too easy for you, you’ll perceive the process of learning as being irrelevant and boring. On the other hand, if the content is way over your head, you’re likely to get frustrated and discouraged to the point of giving it all up. A good mentor can hit just the sweet spot for the learning experience to be both challenging and satisfying for the learner.
- Mentors who are where you want to go can inspire you to get there. Whether it’s their level of expertise or the role they have in your dream company that draws you to the mentors you decide to approach, the fact that they achieved what you’re after is inspiring because they’re living proof that your goals can become a reality and they’re in the best position to show you how to get there.
- Mentors for each step in your career fast-track your professional growth. It’s likely you won’t need just one mentor in your professional life. You might need a programmer who’s just a little more experienced than you when you’re at the very start of your learning path, and an experienced programmer when you’ve just found your first programming job. You might also need a mentor to help you not just with your coding skills but also with your career journey. Having the right person who gives you the kind of help you most need in various stages and areas of your professional growth is likely to improve your chances of success significantly. It will also enable you to get where you want to go in a less amount of time than it otherwise would take you if you were on your own.
However, mentors aren’t a requirement. In fact, a learning approach that works for some or even for most people is not necessarily the best for everyone. People learn in different ways, and it could be that following an online workshop or course works best for you. You can become a good developer without a mentor in your life. And, if you happen to come across the wrong mentor, you could even be put off coding for good, which would be the worst possible outcome.
One of the challenges for new programmers is finding out that there are a lot more opinions than rules. The mentors provide an outside perspective which might reinforce or might differ from the instructor’s opinions. That’s really valuable. It’s also just not possible for a few instructors to possibly spend much one-on-one time with each student, where outside mentors are typically more available to spend an hour or two per week pairing. And lastly, it’s great for the hiring process; we’ve had students from every class go to work with mentors.
Things a Good Mentor Can Do with You
Here are some activities your mentor could be doing for you, which will help you out with your coding career and professional development:
- Setting aside some time to respond when you need help
- Sending you resources based on your skills, levels and needs
- Doing code reviews
- Recommending Books, courses and articles
- Sending you brain exercises like puzzles, games, and so on
- Carrying out live coding sessions
- Discussing your work-related problems
- Going deeper in the discussion of technologies, languages and frameworks, basic concepts, and so on
- Helping you in laying out a career path
- Helping you to stay focused. It’s easy to get lost in the web ecosystem. Every week a new tool, framework, or something else crops up and mentors are great at advising mentees on what they should and shouldn’t pay too much attention to.
Tips on How to Find Your Mentor
For introverts like myself, taking the first step in contacting people for help doesn’t come easy. However, this is one of the obvious routes you can take when looking for a mentor.
Before doing so, it’s important you have a clear idea of the kind of help you’re looking for from your prospective mentor. For example, the best person who could help you lay out a career path might not be the same who could best review your code or guide you on which technologies you should focus in the current front-end ecosystem. Your reason for finding a mentor will determine where you should be looking in your search of a mentor, or who you should be looking for in the first place.
Also, always being mindful of mentors’ valuable time is the best way to approach the situation. Jotting down some discussion points before a meeting or volunteering to help mentors out with any project they might be working on are great ways of showing mentors you’re aware and appreciative of the help they’re offering to improve your future as a developer.
Now, here are a few things you could start doing right away to find a great mentor:
- Go to meetups, conferences, workshops, etc. These events are all great places where you could network with lots of experienced devs and ask them for guidance on any of the issues you’re currently having.
- If you’re already working as a developer, you could ask other more experienced developers in your workplace if they’re willing to pair up with you and act as mentors.
- Follow professionals whose work you admire on social media and connect with them, say hello, include interesting comments, etc. Once you’ve established contact, try asking if they’re willing to mentor you. (Show them your work, be respectful of their time, offer to help out on their projects, etc.)
- Check on social media if any developer offers their time as mentor. For example, a while back the awesome Sarah Drasner was offering to mentor aspiring devs from under-represented categories in tech. This must have been a fantastic opportunity for those who ended up working with her.
- Finally, if you decide to attend coding schools and bootcamps, you might find that most of them offer mentorship programs for their students. Make sure you explore this avenue and take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the educational institution of your choice.
Getting More Mentoring Options Online
The Web makes available a number of platforms where you can contact developers for help with a coding task, coding advice, etc. Here are a few of them.
Codementor is a very popular online resource where you can hire a developer to help you solve your problems. The platform allows for one-on-one live coding and pair programming.
Google Code-in is a global online contest aiming to involve teenagers in open-source development. On this occasion, mentors from participating organizations help young contestants to work on real-world, open-source projects.
CoderDojo is a global community of coding clubs where young people learn to code under the guidance and supervision of volunteer mentors.
Codebar is a non-profit initiative that runs free programming workshops and events to promote the growth of a diverse community in the tech world. Attending these workshops will get you working with mentors or coaches who are there to watch and guide students.
On RookieUp you can attend design and front-end bootcamps which make available the option of working online with mentors on coding projects and job-related matters.
Mentorcruise is an online platform that offers one-on-one mentorships on lots of programming languages for students, college grads and professionals.
Exercism offers the opportunity to work on solving large and small code challenges, submit your results for review and get feedback from other programmers. There you’ll find tons of programming languages and it’s also open-sourced and very well maintained.
Where Else Can You Do to Get Help?
Below I suggest two more options for you to consider in your search for a mentor.
- Contribute to open-source projects. The code you contribute will be checked out by other dedicated developers who might turn out to be great mentors.
- Solve problems and ask questions on Stack Overflow. Put your well-pondered questions or even answers on this super helpful forum and start learning from the ongoing discussions in the community.
Having a mentor could help you accomplish your professional goals faster and boost your confidence a hundred times.
Here’s a little nugget to take away from this article from Susannah Compton of Jumpstart Lab:
The cool thing about web development mentorship is that, much like the actual work, it can be done successfully from anywhere. Finding a structured mentor program isn’t easy unless you’re with a company/school [that] has one. Expanding your professional network by joining meetup groups and going to conferences, significantly increases the chance you’ll strike up a relationship with a potential mentor … Make it known that you’re a part of the community by contributing to open-source projects, and look for opportunities to pair program. Great mentorship opportunities will present themselves in these types of environments, but you also have to be willing to ask for it. — Mentoring in Programming Series: Part 4 – How to Get Started