What makes a manager a good mentor: a jr dev’s perspective

I’ve benefitted from working with a manager who is focused on making our development team as strong as possible. He invests time and thought into our growth and development on a regular basis. As I’ve talked with other junior developers who’ve received varying degrees of support and instruction, I’ve become increasingly aware of the things a manager does that truly make a difference, changing from just functioning as a manager to truly being a mentor.

A great mentor:

  1. Provides opportunities
    1. He encourages success.  Right away our manager made sure we had early successes and felt good about our accomplishments. From day one we were given real tasks to accomplish and issues to solve.  They weren’t huge or complicated, but they were necessary and resulted in “live” code being pushed.  This mattered a lot because it contributed to a sense of value and worth to the company.
    2. He continues to give us things to work on that push us beyond our current knowledge and experience.
  2. Encourages us to try and gives us time
    1. He knows we may fail at first, but also expects us to succeed.
    2. Our manager allows us to struggle first rather than just telling us how to do something.  By doing this, it conveys a sense of trust in our ability to reason, dig, and google our way to a solution (or partial solution). This gives us the chance for the satisfaction that comes with working hard to figure something out.
    3. He doesn’t leave us for too long and is always willing to help point us in the right direction or give us guidance (and lets us know it’s okay to ask for help).
  3. Teaches
    1. He teaches us specific things as we have need or interest, or when he feels it would be interesting or helpful.
    2. Our mentor encourages us to present new learning to the rest of the dev team, which allows us all to learn more in the process, both of teaching and listening.
    3. He models his process and is open about what he doesn’t know and how he approaches that.
    4. Our manager reassures us there may be some things we need to be retaught repeatedly before it will stick, and that it’s okay.
  4. Promotes us to the rest of the company
    1. He sometimes says something about us as a group (e.g., “this strong work brought to you by the interns”), and
    2. He sometimes calls us out by name for a specific feature we contributed to or issue we addressed
  5. Has weekly one on one meetings with us
    1. Our manager schedules a regular meeting to talk about how things are going, both with code and in general.
    2. He creates a safe environment to bring up any concerns, thoughts, hopes, or dreams
  6. Laughs
    1. He laughs easily and often. It’s just nicer to be around someone who smiles.  How can that not be good? 🙂

These things make a difference.  I’ve seen these same traits in the best parents and teachers I’ve worked with through the years and I see their effectiveness now as I sit at the other side of the table.   I believe that to make the greatest contribution to another person’s growth, one must show respect for that person’s ability to learn by giving the opportunity to do so in an environment that’s positive, encouraging, and challenging.  I’m glad my learning is happening in such a place.

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One thought on “What makes a manager a good mentor: a jr dev’s perspective

  1. You are so completely in the “right” place. I’ve watched you do the same with your sons and with children who were fortunate to have you as a teacher. We are all students and all mentors at different times. How we do it matters.

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