In your development career, after specific years of experience, you will be expected to mentor junior developers. While programming and other technical skills are a forte for most developers, they often lack the skills to be mentors.
A junior developer will write buggy code, make mistakes more often than you anticipate, and mess up the project timeline a few times. However, they can become a valuable development team member with proper guidance and mentorship.
Mentoring a junior developer correctly spares them from making errors you made once as a beginner. It is how you help them learn faster. But make no mistake, mentoring takes time and effort but, above all, tests your patience.
So how do you mentor junior developers without feeling like it’s a chore?
You can use these tips for mentoring juniors and turning your development team into a high-performance engine.
1. Determine the baseline
A bad mistake you can make is to assume the potential of a junior developer before working with them. Whether you underestimate or overestimate their current skills, it’s going to hinder their growth which is why you must determine the skill level of every new member before you start mentoring them.
Do you think you can mentor all three in the same way and manner?
You need to assess them individually; maybe you can refer to their pre-interview sample coding tests or give them practice assignments. Once you have determined the baseline for each junior developer, you can tailor the mentoring approach that best suits their individual growth.
2. Document critical information on coding practices
Junior developers will ask questions about the company and its coding practice. You should build a base of documentation covering these topics to save assigned mentor time. Even senior developers have some uncertainties about projects when they join a new company, so it can be expected that junior developers will need much attention.
Developers who ask questions indicate they are ready to learn rather than make assumptions. Answering their questions that are not repeated is all right, but if you have to answer the same question regarding the project, again and again, it can get frustrating. It is better to refer them to the company’s knowledge base or internal wikis.
According to the popular knowledge-sharing tool, Slite, junior developers must be referred to the following company resources:
- Company and team structure
- Company Policies
- HR process
- Onboarding material
- Process documents
- Product roadmaps and projects
As for software development companies, some additional documents must be created to help senior developers mentor juniors. These documents include:
- Coding standards and style
- Programming tutorials
- Workflow procedures
With all this info, junior developers will get the answer to a good number of questions on their own. This will help them feel more confident and encourage them to continue self-learning.
3. Do code reviews
The only way to encourage junior developers to write better code is to tell them exactly what needs improvement. Code reviews are excellent for gaining insight into their coding practices and helping them understand the best ways through constructive feedback.
Even Google has a practice of regularly reviewing the codes of their senior and junior developers alike. While the number of comments a developer receives over time decreases, it is never zero. This implies that coding review is one of the best ways to help developers improve their skills.
As a mentor, you have to ensure that you critique the code and not the coder. While reviewing the code, never miss to find and complement good things about the code. In terms of mentoring, it is even more valuable to tell a developer what they did right than to tell them what they did wrong.
Ultimately, the purpose of code reviews must be to help developers upgrade their coding skills and not to punish them for mistakes or criticize their work.
4. Start small
You can help junior developers gain confidence by assigning tasks on actual projects. However, you must supervise their code and give them tasks aligned with their current capabilities.
There is a highly popular Subreddit started by a distraught junior software developer who got fired on his first day at the job. He tells how he was assigned the massive task of running the script to create personal database instances on his first day at work. During the first 30 minutes on the job, he managed to delete the production database. The CTO of the company asked him to leave and never come back.
The important lesson is that the company was at fault for assigning such an essential task to a junior developer. As a mentor, you must gradually introduce them to critical tasks. Getting them started in a controlled environment with smaller tasks is better.
Hundreds of junior developers will come across in your career, but the opportunity to pick a few and guide them to become great programmers is invaluable. If you get the chance to mentor a junior developer, keep these tips in mind to get them started on the right track.
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