Written by Jen ArmstrongJuly 12, 2021
We've all likely been students or employees for many years off and on in our lives, but mentorship can be a different experience. A mentorship is a voluntary, mutually-agreed upon relationship to transfer knowledge between a person who is more experienced (mentor) and a person who is less experienced (mentee) in a skill or discipline.
Mentorship is extremely valuable in a career like software development. This field is immense, subjective, and ever-changing. One of the best ways to improve your skill is to find someone to give you 1-on-1 discussions and feedback about your code, your projects, and the industry. Not very many people have the time or energy to devote to this kind of relationship, so it's a good idea to make the most of it when you have one.
So what can you do to be effective and successful as a mentee?
Here's some habits that great mentees have in common.
1. They set expectations early
Effective mentees plan ahead of time on how often they'll be available and for how long. They think realistically about how much time they'll have to dedicate to a project or a goal. They think, "How many hours a week would I really have to do this? How much do I need to get done?"
They share these answers with their mentor and decide together how often they want to check in and what they want to accomplish.
They recognize that these expectations can change, and that's OK!
2. They fulfill their obligations
Great mentees are prepared for meetings, putting together an agenda for what they want to talk about or preparing a status report on their progress.
They also "underpromise and overdeliver." What that means is that they commit to doing a task or tasks that are smaller than what they think they can get done in that time. When they bring back as much or more than they promised to do, this helps build their reputation as a person who is accountable and reliable.
When they can't fulfill their obligations, they take the initiative to tell their mentor early. They understand that the more advanced notice they give themselves and their mentor to adjust, the greater their chances to still meet their goals.
3. They are courteous and polite
They are prepared and on time for meetings, and remember that sometimes "a little early" is actually "on time." They respect that their mentor is a volunteer, and regularly thank them for their time and energy.
They use professional language in their communication, unless otherwise directed by their mentor. This could be through email, chat, or in-person conversation. That means keeping slang and profanities to a minimum, bruh.
4. They trust their mentor's expertise
Mentees don't always know much about the area that they're being mentored in. That's part of why they have a mentorship! They understand that their mentor's advice comes from a place of experience.
Even if a mentee might disagree with an opinion their mentor holds, they choose instead to ask more questions to better understand their mentor's perspective rather than argue with them.
5. They take ownership of their learning
When a mentor provides a mentee with a resource -- a course, a book, a tutorial, or a library or toolset -- the mentee makes a concerted effort to look into that recommendation.
They actively participate in conversations by asking questions or summarizing concepts back to their mentor to demonstrate understanding.
When a mentee does their own independent research, they might bring those resources back to their mentor to talk about them more in-depth. They recognize that mastery of a craft is as much about being taught as it is being curious and willing to learn.
6. They regularly communicate and evaluate their progress
Nobody's a true mind-reader, no matter what they say on television. Effective mentees understand that communication is essential to any relationship, and that their mentor might not know if they need something if they don't mention it.
They ask their mentors for help when they get stuck, remembering that everyone was new at one time or another. When their mentors offer feedback or critique, they accept it gracefully -- even if they don't agree with it.
They resist the temptation to compare themselves to others, and instead evaluate their progress based on their past selves. That means looking back on how far they've come and reminding themselves that nothing worth doing happens overnight.
7. They stay positive and celebrate their wins
The majority of this post is about how to avoid pitfalls and how to communicate when things go bad or when you get stuck. But it's important to remember that great mentees don't just anticipate problems; they celebrate victories, too. A win can come in many shapes and sizes. It could be finishing a task, picking up a new language, fixing a bug, or even learning a pile of things not to do.
They know that a positive attitude can make all the difference.
Programming is made up of a bunch of fundamental principles. Once you master those, everything you learn from then on is transferrable. Every experience teaches you something and contributes to your overall success in your career.
These mentorship skills work the same way. And they don't just apply to mentorships, either; these fundamentals are transferrable, too. With gratitude, positivity, and curiosity, you will be well on your way to many fulfilling relationships across the rest of your career.