One way to start off on the right foot when onboarding a new programmer is to make sure that their development environment is setting them up for success. That extends even to the hardware being used. As a mentor, it may be your responsibility to suggest hardware and software to your mentee’s management that will help them to be successful. If your organization has a process for setting up a development environment, make sure the steps are up to date and encompass all aspects a new dev may need or want to do their job.
A new developer can often be too intimidated to ask questions. Be sure to let your mentee know that you are open to questions. Guide them into approaching you with the problem, what steps have already been taken, and if possible, their intended solution.
While it is important for a new dev to take time to struggle with a problem individually first, it is equally important to make sure that they are not drowning in a problem. This can be a difficult balancing act, but with practice, you will start to understand the signs that your mentee is becoming overwhelmed at which point it becomes your duty as a mentor to…
If your mentee is not coming to you with questions, check in to see how they are doing and if there is anything you can help with. Ask targeted questions to help your mentee process through a problem. This will help them to understand the way to start thinking about problems and ways to tackle them. Lead them down the road to solving the problem, but…
This point is HUGE! Remember that no one can learn from someone doing their work for them. While it can be tempting to just take over and solve the issue yourself, restrain yourself and take the time to teach and mentor. After all, that’s your job!
It can be easy as a new developer to feel like you’re not learning anything and to suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Take some time with your mentee to write out some goals for their progress. Make sure to make them SMART Goals that they believe are attainable.
An important part of making goals is to assess the progress that has been made toward these goals. Set up regular meetings to discuss their progress and make any follow up goals that may be necessary.
Let me say that one again… Be Accepting of Mistakes. The key to this one is to remember you’ve been in their shoes before. No one started out at the top knowing everything. Everyone needs to learn, so when your mentee makes a mistake, explain why it’s a mistake and how to correct it. If it is something over your mentee’s head, you may need to fix it yourself; however, take the time later to see if they are able to explain to you how your solution resolved the issue. If they can’t explain it, be sure to explain it yourself.
The image below from chambers.com illustrates how I view a mentorship relationship. The mentor is grown and armored with all of the knowledge they have. The new dev is small, vulnerable, and innocent. It is your responsibility as a mentor to protect the new dev and to help them fashion their own armor as they grow. Embrace the challenge you have ahead of you, I promise it can be a rewarding one!