Why do you need a mentor as a software developer, and how to find one?

Who is a mentor, why should you consider having one, and how to find one?
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If you wish to develop your programming skills rapidly and keep an eye on novelties, that’s great! However, staying always updated in a dynamically evolving programming world might be challenging - as well as navigating your career in the face of the variety of available options.
Fortunately, there are many ways in which software developers can develop their skills, one of them being finding a mentor. Whether you’re a newbie in the industry or already experienced, a person who will guide you individually and contribute to your development would be an invaluable help. Who is a mentor, why should you consider having one, and how to find one?

Who is a mentor in software development?

To put it simply, a mentor is someone with vast experience in technical and business fields that can provide their protege with career-related advice. Thanks to the knowledge, support and guidance provided by the more experienced person, a developer can achieve their goals much faster and create a much more satisfying career path.

What does a mentor do exactly?

They can help with:

Technology. They provide their protege with code reviews, answers to questions and tips on the language and technologies worth learning. They also deliver learning materials and sources and share their best industry practices.

Career path development. A mentor shares information on where to search for employment opportunities and how to select job positions in order to fulfil individual short-term and long-term goals. They also provide advice on salary, negotiations, CV preparation and recruitment tips for the chosen career path.

Personality, attitude and soft skills. Achieving your goals is not only a matter of hard skills - but it’s also about developing your personality and motivation. A good mentor will be able to support you with this and equip you with all relevant skills valuable in the IT job market.

Working with a mentor is not ad-hoc support but is based on building a long-term, close relationship. A mentor is not a friend, not a teacher and usually not an employer, but a non-formal advisor that voluntarily works with you in a structured and goal-oriented way. This is why trust and being on the same wavelength are crucial in the mentorship process.

If you’re already wondering where to find such a person, stay with us.

Why find a mentor?

Having a mentor obviously has many benefits. Let’s name a few of them:

Improving technical skills
Although gaining hard skills is not the only aspect of succeeding in the IT field, you cannot be a good developer without them. With the support of the mentor, you can develop much faster and with lower effort, as you will be directly provided with the best practices and tips coming from code reviews. No matter what your seniority is, there’s always a space for growth.

Planning your career
With a variety of options in the IT industry, you might be unsure about the direction you should head in - especially when you’re at the beginning of your path. A mentor can help you to figure out your individual, satisfying career plan and the way to achieve the goal.

Boosting your confidence
With a mentor, you will no longer be confused about your skills. Thanks to their individual support, you will always be aware of the things you know and things you don’t know. This will make you much more confident in the job market and allow you to reach more relevant and attractive positions.

Developing faster
Thanks to honest and careful feedback, you will be able to quickly identify your potential and areas for improvement and start working on them. As your mentor has probably been where you are now, they will know what kind of support you need to get where you’re heading to.

Having access to resources
A mentor can give you tips on where to find valuable materials. Thanks to them, you will save plenty of time on doing research on your own and trying ineffective solutions. An experienced mentor will surely provide you with recommendations for workshops, boot camps and books.

Improving your personality
Last but not least, a mentor can help you to grow not only as a developer but also as a person. Believe us or not, personal growth is an equally important part of developing as a programmer. Shaping your mind and getting an appropriate attitude is an invaluable factor in achieving your set goals. Once you are equipped with a proper mindset, it will be much easier for you to build relationships, work in a team, and -generally speaking - operate in the programming world.

How to find a mentor?

So, you finally made the decision: it’s time to find a mentor. But where to actually start and how to complete this mission?

Before you even start your research, you should find the answer to critical questions:

What exactly do I want to achieve with the help of a mentor?

What motivates me to build such a relationship, and what are my expected results?

In what kind of fields do I need support (technology or career-related)?

This will help you to define the profile and set of skills and capabilities of your potential mentor.

Moreover, deciding on short-term and long-term goals might be useful at this stage. Although you may not yet be sure of where you’re heading (this is exactly why you need a mentor, right?), having at least a foggy idea will be significantly helpful.

What are examples of short-term and long-term goals? To make it easier for you, we collected a few ideas:

short-term: improving coding skills in a chosen language, learning to write clean code, starting to work on a specific type of technology or software, picking up a new language or framework, preparing for a job interview, etc.

long-term: holding a managerial position in 5 years, developing a freelance business model, becoming an expert in a specific field, etc.

In order to define your goals, use your imagination. Where do you see yourself in one year, 5, or 10 years? What does your daily life look like? What are your salary and responsibilities? Then, start searching for a person who actually managed to get there at a particular stage of their career development. There’s no point in learning from a person who has never actually achieved what you’re planning to achieve.

Moreover, remember that your mentor cannot be random but should be a person with a passion for teaching, coaching and guiding others. Even the most sophisticated technology skills will not compensate for the lack of empathy and interpersonal skills.

Where to find a mentor?

Once you know who you are actually looking for, it’s time to proceed to search. There are a few methods of finding a mentor - let’s check them out.

The easiest and most natural step is searching among people you already know. So, you can start by searching at:

Your current company
If you’re already employed, you may be lucky to find a mentor among your more experienced coworkers. They are aware of how you work. They know your strengths and weaknesses. Thanks to this, they will be able to provide you with appropriate support.

Your network
If you’ve already enrolled at university or attended boot camps, you may have a network of software developers. Think of whether you know someone who may step into the role of your mentor. If no one can do it themselves, there is still a chance that they know someone else who matches your criteria. This is how they can support you in your search process and increase your chances of success.

However, if you didn’t succeed in finding a mentor among people you know, don’t worry. There are many other ways that you may try out in this case:

Meetups, conferences and workshops
If you’re planning to attend some boot camps or training, here you go! Once you’re interested in a specific field, there is a chance of finding a mentor among your trainers. Participating in workshops is a great opportunity to start relationships with a few experts in a field and check out how they work, what their attitude is, and verify whether you two click together. Moreover, they are people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience in general, so it’s really a good place to give it a try.

Open-source communities seem to be a perfect place to search for mentors. The space for exchanging ideas, sharing solutions, and asking for advice may lead you to a person that will be able to provide you with long-term guidance. There are plenty of meetups organized in big cities and tech hubs, so if only you have access to those related to your personal goals, it’s a place for you to go.

Mentorship platforms
Online research seems to be an easy and natural way to find people to cooperate with. As having a mentor is becoming a strong trend, there are already some mentorship platforms where you can seek your “perfect match”. To name but a few of them, you can check out CodeMentor.ioMentorCruise, or CodingCoach.io.

How to ask a mentor for mentorship?

Now, let's assume that you already found a person that could become your mentor. How to actually ask them for that? How to establish such a relationship? Do you need to sign any contract?

If you’re wondering whether the person of your choice has the will to become your mentor, there’s a simple way to check it - just ask. However, before you reach out to them, it’s good to be aware of some good practices.

1. Start with building a relationship. Approaching them directly, especially when they have no idea who you are, may not be successful. First, let them know you at least a little bit and let them get interested in your personality and career goals. So, better start with a call or a cup of coffee together in order to get to know each other. It’s always easier and more natural to ask when you already have something in common.

2. Share your appreciation. You can simply explain that you’re at a particular stage of a software development journey, and they seem to be a person who could support you. Let them know that your common discussions are valuable to you and that the knowledge they share with you is insightful and helpful.


3. Ask to become your mentor. Tell them what exactly you would like to learn and in which fields you would count on their support. Once they are well-informed, it will be easier for them to get engaged in the process and provide you with a more accurate advisory.

4. Highlight benefits for them. As mentorship is usually unpaid and based on a relationship, it’s important to make them aware of how they can benefit from mentoring. The benefit can be enhancing coaching skills, gaining a reputation, getting some recommendations and developing new career opportunities.

When starting a mentorship, you don’t need to sign any contract (unless mentorship is provided by a formal institution, such as a university). Although structured, the relationship is usually non-formal and based on mutual agreement and trust. However, if the answer from your future mentor is positive, it’s worth setting a plan to make your work more effective. How to do it?

- Explain to your mentor how you imagine your cooperation and how much time you would need for meetings.

- Schedule one or two meetings right away to make sure you click together and that there is a will to continue (sounds like going on a date, right?).

- Decide on how often you would like to meet and how (offline, online). Regular meetings are recommended, as they will help both of you to be more systematic, which will lead you to more satisfying results.

If the answer from your potential mentor is negative, don’t give up. People are busy, and it’s quite normal that experts are not available for extra projects and responsibilities. All you need to do is just try again until you find someone you can be really compatible with.

How to work with a mentor?

Once you have a mentor, you have to remember that their time is really precious. So, the last few tips are related to using this time wisely and effectively.

Make sure that every meeting with your mentor is structured. Remember to prepare the agenda prior to the consultation and decide on the topics you would like to discuss. It will be easier to get straight to the point.

Define and write down the next steps that you should be working on after every meeting. Combined with carefully selected indicators, it will be easier for both of you to monitor your progress.

Before the online call make sure that you are in a calm, quiet place with a stable internet connection. Talking in a car or a cafe causes a lot of distractions, is disrespectful and make you both lose a lot of time. So, do everything you can to stay focused during your meetings, and in case you cannot make it - let your mentor know in advance and reschedule.

Show off that you are grateful and that their advice helps you to grow. Their satisfaction is critical in the process and will help both of you to stay motivated. Also, ask whether you can help them with something and let them know that you are ready to support them on their projects with your time, skills and extra set of hands.

We hope that this article was useful and that you will start your great mentorship journey very soon. And if you need support or more information on how you can grow as a software developer, feel free to browse our blog posts and search for other interesting topics.
Written by: Klaudia, on July 15, 2022
Developer Experience