code-for-a-living July 7, 2021

The unexpected benefits of mentoring others

At some point in your career, you may well be advised to seek out a mentor. However, the benefits of being a mentor are often overlooked.
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At some point in your career, you may well be advised to seek out a mentor. The idea is that if someone who is further along in their journey guides you, you can move faster in yours. For the most part, this is solid advice. Having a mentor can provide you with invaluable insights, give you tailored support, and get you thinking in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.

However, I’m not going to talk about being a mentee today. Instead, I’d like to inspect the other side of the coin and look at the benefits being a mentor to others can bring. I feel this is an often underrepresented aspect of this relationship and one that deserves more attention.

Deepen knowledge by teaching others

When learning new skills, most people focus on the theory. They take a new course, follow a tutorial, and then think that’s job done. What far fewer people do is then move on to put that newfound knowledge into practice. Even fewer go on to teach others. By not going through the whole process of learning the theory, practicing, and teaching others, you could be missing out on crucial insights on the road to mastery.

Even if you feel you know a subject, there will always be new ways to approach and conceptualise the topic. By teaching others, you don’t simply need to understand the theory. You need to articulate the core concepts so others will understand and internalise them. Explaining concepts to others is a brilliant way to reinforce and deepen your knowledge.

People come at problems from different directions. If you don’t expose yourself to other people’s questions and queries, you might only see the subject from a single perspective. For me, this has been especially apparent when teaching people JavaScript. There is often a variety of ways to achieve the same result. I’ve found my mental models and approaches to problem-solving shift as I’ve interacted with developers of all experience levels.

Mentoring improves soft skills

In any profession, your skillset can be broken down into two categories: hard and soft skills. Hard skills are typically the “technical” part of your role (e.g. writing code, version control, etc.), whereas soft skills, like communication and teamwork, are more difficult to quantify. By mentoring others, you are teaching hard skills using your soft skills, and both of you get a chance to improve. 

We pay a lot of attention to learning hard skills. We are inundated with courses, tutorials, and guides teaching us about the latest and greatest tools and technologies. But it’s often your soft skills that will set you apart from others in your field. 

Although not set in stone, you’ll often hear people say they’d prefer to work with less technically gifted but more well-rounded teammates than the proverbial “rockstar” with no soft skills. Time invested in improving your communication skills, teamwork, and leadership by mentoring others will make you a better teammate in your professional life and will be time well spent.

Meet others and build strong relationships

There are few better ways to make a lasting impression on someone than to show your willingness to help and guide them. Mentoring others is an incredible way to meet other people in your field and increase your network.

Your professional life isn’t just about the work you do; it’s also the people you meet along the way. By putting yourself out there, you never know who you might meet and what friends and acquaintances you’ll make. I’m still in touch with many people I’ve taught and have even received numerous job interview requests from companies where a former student has recommended me for a role.

Reinforce your own perspectives

As I mentioned earlier, mentoring others is a great way to open yourself up to other people’s viewpoints. However, mentoring is also an incredible way to reinforce (and sometimes even challenge!)  your own beliefs and preferred techniques.

Your experiences up to this point in your career have shaped your understanding of the topics you’ve chosen to learn. Over time, you learn what works and what doesn’t. You gain knowledge of particular best practices, workflows, and insights that can help you on a daily basis.

Through mentorship, you’ll be repeatedly recommending particular approaches to help others refine and improve their processes. By continually talking about what’s worked for you, you have a constant reminder of what you’re doing right, which can be extremely valuable.

Boost your CV

If you’re looking for a new role, it helps to find ways to boost your chances of getting your foot in the door at a company and being hired. For any given position you apply to, it’s likely there will be numerous other developers with similar skillsets.

Mentoring others is an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge, capabilities, and enthusiasm to potential employers. Your mentees could even act as additional references to help a hiring manager get a deeper understanding of your personality and temperament.

Demonstrating that you’re proactively helping others through mentorship might just help tip the balance in your favor.

Where to mentor others

Answering questions

A perfect place to start tackling questions around particular topics of interest is Stack Exchange. Whether you’re answering code-related questions on Stack Overflow or helping people out with code golf solutions, there’s a lot to dive into!

Code reviews and project feedback

Giving project feedback on Frontend Mentor is an incredible way to mentor others without any official commitments. By providing community members support and feedback, you’ll be helping other developers improve their knowledge and can even pick up some new tricks yourself!

With so many ways to complete the challenge projects, you often uncover different techniques and tools. There are community members on Frontend Mentor diving into areas where I’m learning new things for the first time. For example, I’ve seen a rise in people using Svelte, and I often dive into their code which helps me learn more about the tool before I’ve even played around with it myself.

Reviewing PRs within your own company and on open-source projects is another way to help guide others through code reviews and feedback. The act of reading other people’s code and analysing it is an incredible learning experience. Thinking critically about code and providing constructive feedback is a valuable skill set in its own right. You might even come across new mistakes that you hadn’t thought about before, broadening your understanding further.

1:1 mentorship

If you want more 1:1 mentoring experience, MentorCruise and CodingCoach could be great options for you. 

MentorCruise enables you to take on mentorship in a more formal capacity. You can get paid for your time and earn some extra money on the side, which is always nice! 

CodingCoach is a free, open-source platform where they match volunteer mentors with mentees. If you’re looking to do 1:1 mentorship on a slightly more casual basis, this might work for you.

Coding challenge feedback

If you’re into more logic-based exercises, giving feedback on platforms like Codewars and Exercism could be a perfect fit. With many people completing exercises and looking for feedback, these platforms are always looking for developers to chip in supporting others.

Conclusion

Even if you don’t feel quite ready to take on a mentorship role, I’d strongly recommend giving it a go. Getting out of your comfort zone is an incredible way to grow both personally and professionally.

You don’t need to know everything about a subject to get started either. If you’re one or two steps further along than someone else, you’re in a position to help them.

Plus, it feels pretty good to help others out!

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