Mentorship is the answer for developing programmers


Two cautions before I except and annotate the article on Medium Struggling to Find Great Senior JavaScript Developers? Mentorship is the Answer by Eric Elliott: as you can see by the title this article is strictly about the impact of mentorship on programmers and the article is very long. But if you are having problems hiring programmers or aren’t satisfied with the productivity or effectiveness of you programming teams this article is an absolute must read. It’s the best article I’ve seen on the value of mentorship in a specific domain in the three years I’ve been writing this blog. I will try to derive best practices that can be applied to any mentor domain, be it technical or business. But do keep in mind the article is 100 percent focused on software development and is about career mentorship, not business mentorship. There’s a lot out there about career development and mentorship which I usually ignore as I’m focused on the external mentor like MIT Venture Mentorship Service or TechStars, but this article is so powerful I thought it worth adding to the blog.

Eric Elliott starts off by making one of the most compelling arguments for developing a formal mentorship program I’ve ever 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.

He goes on to provide specific evidence of the value of mentorship to programmers. Here are the benefits the author outlines:

  • Accekerates 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)

Eric Elliott’s model is one-on-one mentoring, not the team approach pioneered by MIT Venture Mentoring Service. He is focused on mentorship as an means of training and a better alternative than traditional means.

Here are the ideal mentor attributes – leaving out developer-specific experience.

  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Excellent communicator

The last take away with applicability to business mentoring is creating a mentorship culture on venture teams. This is a powerful concept! Rather than just focus on how mentoring can help the venture teams, teach the team how to mentor so that they can apply what they have learned about mentoring in their own ventures. This is an outcome I have not seen elucidated in other mentoring articles but one well worth emulating.



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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