Mentorship plays key role for software developers


climberI was surprised and intrigued by the article Struggling to Find Great Senior JavaScript Developers? Mentorship is the Answer by Eric Elliott on Medium. I’m focused on mentoring of entrepreneurs, but fascinated by the mentoring process and always interested in how it is used in different fields. This article is one of the strongest arguments for mentoring I’ve seen.

The more I study the impact of mentorship on the teams we work with, the more I’m blown away by the magnitude of change it produces. The cost of mentorship increases on a linear scale with time, but the impact of mentorship increases on an exponential scale, with compounding productivity returns orders-of-magnitude greater than the time and money invested.

This is a powerful statement in favor of mentoring by Eric Elliott. He backs it up with data:

  • According to the 2016 Stack Overflow survey of over 56,000 coders, mentorship programs correlate with higher pay than a college degree — reflective of the fact that mentorship is an extremely effective way to learn skills.

  • According to the 2017 Stack Overflow survey, company-sponsored learning opportunities consistently rank among the top benefits employees look for in job opportunities.

Note that the extensive list of benefits for both mentees and mentors are not technology-specific. They apply to mentorship in any field, including entrepreneurship.

Mentorship benefits for mentees

  • Accelerates learning & growth
  • Increases confidence
  • Better access to positive examples (how to do things the way experts do them)
  • Decreases fear of contribution/collaboration/idea sharing
  • Increases communication skills
  • Mentees feel more invested-in and valued
  • Improves upward mobility — a Sun Microsystems study found that mentees are 5 times more likely to be promoted
  • Mentees become mentors and pass all these benefits on

Mentorship benefits for employers

  • Great perk for recruiting

  • Increases developer productivity & retention¹ ²

  • Reduces knowledge silos

  • Improves the “bus factor” — reduces succession risks

  • Creates a more positive, helpful, collaborative team culture

  • Increases loyalty

  • Increases employee engagement and motivation, dramatically improving financial outcomes³

  • Improves leader identification and promotion pipeline — mentors are 6 times more likely to be promoted (Sun Microsystems)

The article goes on in great detail on the difference between junior and senior developers, the problem of hiring developers and related issues. More importantly from the viewpoint of Mentorphile, the author starts listing domain specific mentor attributes. such as 6+ years building apps full time.  There is also compelling data about the value of mentoring inside a technology company, which is well worth reading for tech entrepreneurs. For anyone hiring developers there’s a great deal of very valuable information, but it’s not germane to mentoring entrepreneurs. However, it does raise the question, what are the required attributes for a mentor of entrepreneurs? Here’s a suggested list:

  • Ability to not just hear, but to listen.
  • Ability to pay close attention to not just what a founder presents or says, but how he says it. What does his tone of voice and body language tell you? Is she leaning in or leaning back?
  • Ability to ask great questions. Founders react much better to questions than to statements. And the mentor will learn much more from their answers than reactions.
  • Empathy – mentors need to not just understand, but share feelings about startups, not just facts
  • Patience – mentorship is about relationships, which take time to build
  • Ability to provide feedback and constructive criticism in a clear, firm but not harsh or argumentative manner
  • Experience founding and running a startup
  • Expertise in several of the key functions of a startup: recruiting, raising capital, developing a product, etc.

Note I’ve listed specific founder experience last. MIT Venture Mentoring Service has a number of mentors who have not started companies, but have deep business experience. I’ve worked with several of them and they can be just as good or even better mentors that those who have founded several companies.

The bottom line of mentorship, whether inside a company driven by software engineers or within an individual mentoring relationship is that mentorship is an educational process. It’s all about learning, not just by the mentee but by the mentor.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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