6 benefits of developer mentorship

Peter Simic

Starting out as a junior developer in a company can feel like a steep uphill climb.

There’s so much to learn; new work practices, new environments, new colleagues, projects and tasks, valuable resources, communication in the team.

And that is often just the tip of the iceberg of new experiences for an inexperienced developer.

Pairing them with an experienced, knowledgeable, and helpful mentor can help them overcome those challenges and guide them to becoming a vital part of the organization.

Through this article, we’ll introduce you to the benefits of developer mentorship and show you how it can help everyone involved.

Passing on knowledge

A mentorship is pairing an established professional in a particular field with someone less experienced for the purpose of learning and development.

The mentor passes on the knowledge, skills, best practices, and everything else that can benefit a mentee’s development and career.

As you may have guessed, the knowledge we are referring to here entails more than just pure coding skills and proficiency in a programming language.

Some knowledge comes from years of building code in a specific company environment, not from books and courses.

Therefore, one of the important benefits of developer mentorship is that it allows you to mold a junior developer so their programming style fits the practices and the workflows specific to your organization. 

A mentor, in that sense, guides a mentee so that both the young developer and the team can get the most out of their collaboration.

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That’s because every developer team has certain preferences, coding styles, quirks, methods of resolving issues—in short, a particular way of doing things.

For example, your business may use Airbnb’s popular JavaScript Style Guide, which you can see below. Even if the mentee is familiar with it, your team might follow some specific procedures that he or she is not accustomed to.

Source: Github

That’s why passing on knowledge from a mentor to a mentee is of significant importance – the mentee will fit in quicker and easier, and the team would benefit from their maximum potential sooner.

For example, software development company RubyGarage pays particular attention to teaching their junior developers informal coding principles like DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself), KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid), and SOLID (Single responsibility, Open-closed, Liskov substitution, Interface segregation, Dependency inversion).

informal-coding-principles
Source: Shake

They report it’s easier for their junior developers to create a maintainable and scalable code that way, which is undoubtedly a benefit for both the company and the mentees.

Becoming a good developer is more than knowing everything about the syntax and semantics of a coding language. 

The job of a mentor is to provide context and frame for that knowledge that mentees already have, pass on the knowledge gained through experience, as well as provide useful tips, workarounds, and best practices of efficient coding.

Improving coding skills

It’s safe to assume that your new developer has good coding skills, even if they might lack experience under their belt.

Still, there’s always room for improvement in that department, and the potential for improving coding skills is one of the main benefits of mentorship.

Of course, every developer can go on a path of self-improvement through reading and adopting a trial-and-error approach.

However, having a knowledgeable and experienced mentor on hand is often much more efficient and beneficial for a junior developer.

A mentor can spot mistakes and weaker areas in the coding practice of a mentee a lot easier and quicker than the mentee themself.

That makes sense in the light of the experience and knowledge the mentor should have.

And improving coding skills leads to saving time and money.

For example, the mentor and other team members can spend a considerable amount of time fixing junior developers’ mistakes in the code, thus causing them to put aside their own work, leading to a loss of productivity.

Having a mentor that can nip those mistakes in the bud and boost their mentees’ performance can prevent that.

A good example of an efficient practice for improving coding skills is a code review.

In simple terms, a code review is when someone goes over a code and offers suggestions, revisions, and critiques.

In the case of mentorship, the mentor is the one who reviews their mentees’ code in order to improve it. The benefits of a code review are plenty, as you can see below.

Source: Shake 

Code review can boost the knowledge and skills of a mentee, helping them produce quality code with practical and straightforward solutions.

Furthermore, if the mentee encounters a problem they can’t solve on their own, code reviews are a great opportunity to learn from the mentor who has, very likely, encountered and solved the same problem many times before.

Source: dev.to

As you can see in the example above, a good code review gets to the point and improves the skill set of a mentee.

Like we said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with self-improvement and improving coding skills from a book or a course. However, these methods can hardly beat the immediacy and convenience of having a knowledgeable mentor.

Fostering constructive feedback

Giving constructive feedback means threading a fine line between the positives and the negatives; going too far on either side won’t do much good for the mentee, the mentor, or the team as a whole.

Ideally, feedback should go two ways.

The mentee gets the opinion, advice, and solutions from the more experienced and knowledgeable colleague, while the mentor can benefit from the mentee’s innovative approach to a problem they may have been trying to solve for years.

Given that the junior developer is, in some sense, a work in progress, constructive feedback can point them to effective practices and efficient coding solutions, forming good coding habits in the process.

On the other hand, their fresh perspective can help challenge old routines in a way that boosts the entire team’s productivity.

Furthermore, giving feedback strengthens the knowledge and skills of a mentor. A mentee most likely wants to know why something works the way it does or why one solution is better than the other.

A mentor should be prepared and fill those gaps in their own knowledge.

The code review is a good opportunity to offer constructive feedback, as we’ve mentioned earlier. Below you can see a good example of just that.

code feedbacks
Source: Medium

As you can see, this piece of feedback offers an opinion and a reason why the proposed solution might be better.

That makes it constructive; it serves as a teachable moment for the mentee without positioning the mentor as the all-knowing entity who can do no wrong.

If the feedback is negative, but doesn’t feature elements that make it constructive, the mentee might get discouraged.

When all a developer who’s still learning gets is: “This is wrong, fix it,” it can be very frustrating for them, because there’s no explanation why it isn’t working, and therefore no push in the right direction.

However, some developers, like Mike Oram, say constructive feedback is the only kind worth providing.

oram quote
Source: Shake

It’s important to highlight that a mentee should know what to expect from feedback. That way, they won’t get frustrated by the lack of praise and focus on the opportunity to grow.

Fostering constructive feedback in the relationship between a mentor and a mentee can be very beneficial for both of them.

It requires communication skills from the mentor to provide it and the openness to improvement from the mentee; however, as we mentioned earlier, the benefits are worth the effort.

Building a collaborative culture

One of the benefits of mentorship is creating a more welcoming working environment for new developers.

Not only do they have an experienced colleague who can show them the ropes, but they also have an easier time being accepted into the team.

A mentor can be considered a link between a junior developer and the rest of the team.

It’s not uncommon for a new developer to have some difficulties getting into the rhythm with the rest of the team, both on the professional and the personal level.

Having a senior developer introduce them to the company culture can benefit both the new developer’s self-esteem and work-related productivity.

They’ll likely feel more comfortable collaborating with other developers, as well as pitching their ideas and solutions if they know that they’re welcome.

Building a collaborative culture is especially important when you consider that many developers work remotely.

According to the survey done by Terminal, 60% of developers work fully remote, while 75% of them telecommute three days a week or more. 

And remote work can be challenging for interpersonal relationships; you can’t throw a welcoming party in the break room for a new developer. However, you can welcome them in other ways, like in the example below from Doist.

team welcome
Source: doist

As you can see, the example shows that a Slack channel dedicated to welcoming a new developer can play a major part in fostering positive relationships within the company.

As we mentioned earlier, a mentor can help establish that initial connection between the new arrival and the rest of the team.

Some companies use the full potential of mentorship to create a collaborative culture.

For example, Buffer uses what they call a “buddy system”, which is another type of mentorship.

They pair their new employees with two buddies; a Culture Buddy, who guides them on all things related to company values and culture, and a Role Buddy, who works on an onboarding plan and mentors them on issues specific to the job.

Source: buffer

An organization can do a lot to build a collaborative culture, and practicing mentorships is certainly one of the most efficient and natural ways to do that.

The fact that a company encourages mentoring is by itself a sign that they value the benefits of working together and learning from each other.

Creating a more cohesive team

Having a cohesive team is a key pathway to increased productivity, trust, success—in other words, to a great business.

Developer mentorship can be a driving force of cohesiveness in the team, which can have a ripple effect throughout the organization.

We mentioned earlier that mentors are the link between the new developer and the rest of the team.

As you probably know, a cohesive team is one whose members feel connected, driven by the same goals and values.

Cohesiveness is stronger when all of the members are on the same page, and all of them have a sense of purpose, value, and contribution to the team.

Better cohesion also leads to improved efficiency; according to McKinsey, almost 97% of employees feel that a lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of the task.

Source: Shake

It isn’t surprising if the new team member struggles with feeling like a part of it, but that’s where a mentor should step in.

Part of the mentorship is instilling the team’s values and goals in a mentee, strengthening the team’s cohesiveness in the process; the team is more unified when no member feels out of place.

Also, mentorship can help in all the stages of forming a team. For example, according to Bruce Tuckman, there are four stages of group development—forming, storming, norming, and performing.

stages-of-team-development
Source: Shake

During the forming stage, where relationships are formed, a mentor can introduce a mentee to other developers and the team’s rules and values.

In the storming stage, when there are discussions and arguments about strategy, leadership, and goals, the mentor can assist the mentee with standing their ground and voicing their opinions.

Trust is finally gained, and communication becomes efficient in the norming stage. The mentee is by now an equal part of the team.

The performing stage is when the team starts to perform thanks to highly formed cohesiveness. If the mentor did everything correctly with the mentee, they should be a high-performing part of a well-coordinated team at this stage.

Most new developers already have a very good set of coding skills when they start working, but the trick is to get them to use it in a way that allows the entire team to tackle each task with maximum efficiency.

Encouraging growth

Most employees value opportunities for education, learning, and professional growth. A mentorship can facilitate that and encourage developers to improve, as well as make improving easier for them.

According to ClearCompany, 58% of employees say that chances for professional development contribute to the level of satisfaction in their job, and it’s a big factor in their decision to stay at the company.

professional-development
Source: Shake

Even though a mentor can’t always influence the company’s policy on its employees’ education and professional development, they can help a mentee sift through resources available to them.

Since a mentor has the experience and most likely went through a similar path as a mentee is undertaking, they should be able to direct them towards helpful courses, books, programs, or any other useful opportunities for growth and development.

Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, a mentor can notice areas for improvement, weaker points, and unproductive patterns a mentee has in their work.

Combined with the mentor’s experience and knowledge of valuable resources, that can result in fast growth.

Source: Shake

A mentor can also help a mentee with their long-term plans and professional direction. 

Let’s say that your company is centered around building Android apps, and your new developer is already fluent in Java, so they want to go in a similar direction but not stray too far from what they know.

In that case, the mentor can point them in the direction of, for example, learning Kotlin. That way, a mentee’s skills and knowledge can be further improved, and the company can also benefit from their new professional interest.

To sum up, everyone can benefit from encouraging the growth of a mentee. A mentor can use their experience and knowledge to mold a junior developer.

On the other hand, a junior developer gets access to the connections, resources, and advice they would have difficulty finding themselves.

Finally, the company benefits from an employee who becomes better with every passing day. It’s a win for everyone involved.

Conclusion 

The guidance that a junior developer receives from a mentor is invaluable.

A mentor who’s been through the trials and tribulations of a long career is a treasure trove of knowledge and information that the mentee can benefit from.

On the other hand, a mentee can provide a mentor with a new outlook and fresh solutions to existing problems.

Lastly, the whole organization benefits from a good mentor-mentee relationship. When the two make each other stronger, the team can only prosper. And that makes developer mentorship worth the time and effort.