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Where are these mentors?

This is a repost from another thread, but I think it deserves it's own topic:
I know that many of you feel mentorship is one of the best ways to learn how to be a great programmer, but how do you suggest a CS grad or student get involved in situations where they can learn from people better then them? Won't most of them not want to waste their time with someone who is still learning? And if there are such people around, how does a willing learner find them?

Phil Larson
Monday, March 3, 2003

I think many potential mentors don't necessarily see themselves that way and won't go looking for people to mentor. If you want a mentor, I'm afraid you have to seek them out.
For someone just starting out (assuming you've found a job), most companies have at least one "alpha geek" or otherwise knowledgeable person that might serve. A good approach is to ask them to review some piece of work you've just completed. I never say no to those sorts of requests, in fact I enjoy them greatly.  If it works out, let the relationship develop naturally.

Steven Garn
Monday, March 3, 2003

I have seen many places, where they ask senior developers if they can mentor new programmers. In my experience if you get "Oh, and here is Bob. He'll be your mentor", from your manager, Bob was probably somewhat forced into his mentorship. Many of the gurus I have met consider themselves less-than-average teachers/mentors and will hardly volunteer for that. So instead of getting the real gurus as mentors, you often see the guy who didnt say no being a "designated mentor".

When you come into a new workplace it will take you a week or two to spot the real gurus, and just by listening into conversations over luch and on coffee breaks will give you a good idea of who to ask for what.

When you get past this point, just approach the appropriate guru with your question regarding his/hers area of expertice. Most real programmer aces will be happily helping you, explaining stuff if they see effort from you to climb the hurdles yourself first. Prove to them you are willing to try things yourself, and that you doesnt need the very basic handholding.

Good luck finding the gurus :)

Monday, March 3, 2003

A lot of the smarter potential mentors will refuse to teach anyone, because there is widespread parania that the person you are montoring is your replacement. I've never acted that way, but I know plenty of people who have

Daniel Shchyokin
Monday, March 3, 2003

Mentoring isn't about being a personal technical support line; its not about patting you on the head and  coming out with a long and perhaps germane ramble about what it was like fitting the rubber band on a Data General Winchester; its not about stopping other people picking on you when you trash the build; its not about unpicking your code, fixing it and letting you take the credit.

Its mostly listening.  That and a few suggestions.  But most importantly its confidence and giving that confidence to those that need it.  Mentoring isn't about seniors and juniors, its a relationship and sometimes its as transient as a conversation and sometimes its so deep that years later you can play it in your head and mentor yourself.

Oh, and I plead guilty to having done all in the first paragraph when I forgot the point of the second.

Simon Lucy
Monday, March 3, 2003

I have found the best approach to a mentor-type person is to say that you are interested in learning a topic - what book, etc. would they recommend?  Then follow up.  Read the damn book, do the exercises, ask if you are understanding something correctly.  Next step, would they suggest A or B as a followup?  This sort of thing is usually successful.  You show that you are a person who will listen to their advice and act on it.

Contrary Mary
Monday, March 3, 2003

In my experience, its pretty easy to pick out the 'mentor guy' in the department.  There are genuine, smart, experienced developers who actually *like* to share their knowledge.

I really don't buy the 'replacement theory', mentioned above.  The people who have the skills to mentor are well entrenched in the company's higher echelon and have little to lose by helping you out.

I do subscribe to the idea that it is more of a professional friendship than a master-student scenario.  The type of people that have shown me the ropes had a genuine interest in my development.  Again, listening is the key in addition to clearly defining your goals, what it is you are actually trying to learn.

Good luck!

Monday, March 3, 2003

I've never used the word myself  but its safe to say I've been a mentor to a few people in the IT section where I work, including one who I've addicted to reading JoS! I wonder if he'll read this?

I love talking stuff over with people, I love discussing why things work, I love talking about how a problem was solved with people - whether its how i solved it, how they solved it, or how we could solve it when the time is ripe for us to start on that program.

I've had mentors when I was starting in the trade too.

I think some people are good communicators and these are the people who make good mentors and good "mentor-ees" because if its easy to talk with someone the ideas will flow in both directions without any thought about who is mentoring whom.

As for why I enjoy doing it? That's easy too. Every time I talk a problem over with someone I learn something new and get as much out of the process as I put in.


Rob Moir
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

In finding a mentor, it's about actively doing so yourself.  Anyone you choose to provide help has something to teach you.  Sometimes it's mainly "how not to act like a total ass when I become a guru myself" but still...if they have that one specific thing you need to know, you figure that out and you run away quickly.

Beyond asking someone about specific domain knowledge, finding a mentor is about determining who you respect and why, and trying to learn from that and apply it to your current/future situation.  Beyond just asking for help, which not everyone responds well to or has time for, it's good to listen when they would be talking anyway in formal/informal design discussions, checking out their bookshelf and reading things that seem most relevant to you.

As you join an organization, you should know at least someone, who can point you at someone with time and domain knowledge to help you get oriented and figure out who you respect and who the organization respects (not always the same people, and too great a difference is probably a bad sign).  If you don't respect anyone you have regular contact with, either you're having a bad week or you need a new job.  We all outgrow our organizations sometimes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

My personal experience as a mentor, a position that I have been thrust into many times, is a somewhat negative one: Almost universally I have found the mentees to be the classic example of a young buck looking to make some waves and mark their territory, and virtually everything that is said or proposed is challenged. This gets extremely tiring after a while. I had one mentee who every day, like clockwork, would run to me to exclaim that there was some critical faults in the software: A fault that would disallow the software from even working, much less working every day for the past several years. Again, explaining that one should have a little more faith in their fellow man and should always question their own interpretation and skills before questioning those of others generally fell on deaf ears.

BTW: Most of these mentees were co-op students from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, a course which seems to imbue a sense of entitlement and overconfidence.

Jimmy Chonga
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Ah yes, Waterloo Co-op students.  I've found that the current economy has made them a little more humble (well, more humble compared to when I was one a few years ago at the height of the dot-com boom! :)

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Mentoring is critical to the success of an organization as well as to the people involved in the relationship. For the company, mentoring allows newer or younger employees to get up to speed faster and make them feel more comfortable. Many people who quit their jobs do so because they didn't feel like part of the team.

For the mentor, the relationship allows them to use their experience in a new and productive way. Sometimes, teaching someone else is a great way to re-learn what you already know. Most people are surprised at how much they know. The mentor can then take much more pride in a job well done.

For the mentee (real word?), they gain access to important knowledge--some of it technical and some of it purely on-the-job wisdom. This knowledge can have a significant impact on how far they rise on the corporate ladder, how quickly they rise, and how comfortable they are about doing so.

However, the key to a successful relationship is that both parties must be a party to its creation. People can't be forced into being a mentor nor should they be responsible for mentoring someone they don't like or get along with. The same is true for the mentee. They must be comfortable with the mentor and should either select their mentor or be presented with a short list of available mentors (along with the areas of specialty of each one).

Companies that encourage positive mentoring practices have huge advantages over those that don't. If you cannot easily find a mentor, I encourage you to (a) find someone you respect (at work or in life) and ask them, (b) ask your manager (but don't complain), or (c) ask an executive at your company. Go to that person and explain how impressed you are with their "X" ("X" could be reputation, their cool-sounding job title, their Porsche, or their framed graduate degree) and tell them about your frustrations in finding a good mentor. If the person has half a brain (many executives don't unfortunately), they will steer you in the right direction. Just remember to ALWAYS be positive around an executive.

Tom Fairlie
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

I beleive that the counterpart to a mentor is a "protege".  I'm basing this knowledge on Seinfeld though.

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

While I was just being humorous, turns out that mentee is an actual word!

n. One who is mentored.

Jimmy Chonga
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

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