Becoming a mentor
Nebulab is all about growth: we want to grow as a company but, more importantly, we want to grow as people and as professionals. This is why we only take on clients that we're excited about, and why we invest so much time in the development of every single person in our company.
As a mentor, enabling and helping the continuous growth of your mentees is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding responsibility you will have. It requires you to be constantly on top of things and have a 360-degree vision of what the person is working on, how they are performing and how they feel about it.
At its core, our framework for growth is quite simple, and it only consists of four steps:
- Identify an area where the mentee wants to grow.
- Assign them to projects that will enable their growth.
- Monitor their progress and unblock them when needed.
However, this definitely sounds simpler than it is, so let's try to analyze these steps one by one.
Finding areas for growth
First of all, you have to find the right areas for your mentee to grow. These can be discovered in different ways:
- Proposed by the mentee. Very often, your mentee will propose something they are excited about and want to learn. This can be a new technology or maybe a different development workflow. Mentees should be granted a lot of freedom in what they can study on Fridays, but beware of exotic choices (we don't have any room for Whitespace developers).
- Proposed by the mentor. The mentor should also ensure that the mentee is comfortable with the fundamentals of our daily work, which is especially important for junior developers: English, version control, test automation, good communication and priority management should be mastered by all team members.
- Required for a project. Sometimes, a project might also require a team member to learn something new. This is great, as it means the team member will be able to fully immerse themselves in the learning process and put their new skills to use immediately!
If both you and your mentee are out of ideas, perhaps you can take some inspiration from the latest demo Friday or take a look at what other people in the team are doing.
Tackling the right project
In the real world, we all have a responsibility towards our clients to do our best work and to always assign the right person to the right job, so you can't have a junior developer work on a strategic, time-sensitive project just because it will help them grow.
This is why we have Fridays, a safe space to learn and experiment with new tools, technologies and workflows. These should be the first option when it comes to growth. Talk to your mentee and find or create a project they are passionate about that will help them grow, then get to work!
Another option is to find low-priority tasks in the client's backlog that will help the mentee achieve their goals, but always monitor their work closely to ensure they're not causing any disruption to the client, and be ready to terminate/pause the project if the client's priorities change.
Monitoring and unblocking
So you have something to learn and a project to help the mentee learn it. What now?
One-on-ones are good as a monthly touchpoint to see how the project is progressing and how your mentee is feeling about it, but you should check on their progress much more often than that, ideally every day that they spend working on their growth project: some people are reluctant to ask for help, so it's extremely important that you are always on top of things and are able to offer help proactively. You don't want your mentee to be stuck for an entire month on a minor issue and only find out about it during the one-on-one!
Also, when you are helping them, make sure to explain and fix any issues together rather than doing their homework. This is their growth project, not yours. It may be tempting to save them time and get straight to the solution, but you would be actually damaging them by not giving them all the context they need to understand what is going on.
Finally, if you as the mentor get stuck on something, don't be afraid to ask for help yourself! You can either ask another mentor or pair the mentee with a more senior team member. The point of being a mentor is not to know it all, but rather to support their mentees in any possible way during their journey and to set an example, and showing them that you're not afraid to admit when you need help is the best example you can set.