In my career as a senior engineer, scrum master, and later engineering manager. I have been the mentor for several interns and juniors. With some mentorships more successful than others. Reflecting on what made some more successful than others I found the cause. Mentorships that were a success were those where the mentee learned how to fish.
But how do you teach an engineer to fish? Let’s dive right in!
Teaching an engineer to fish
Mentorship is all about transferring wisdom. A mistake I made in my first few mentorships was to give them the answers. How do I fix this bug? Add a try/catch on line 27. I noticed they did not improve as much as I wanted them to. They came back with similar questions and seemed none the wiser on how to solve their problems.
When I reflected on what I was missing I thought about my own menteeship years ago. Whenever I asked questions, my mentor always seemed to flip the questions around. What do you think is causing this bug? How would you tackle the problem?
This realization made me think about one of the oldest quotes:
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.Probably: Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie
Your role as a mentor is not to give all the answers right away. You are there to transfer your knowledge. And most important of all, to make them capable of finding their own solutions.
Asking the right questions
Asking the right questions is a skill on its own. There is a reason why coaching is an industry on its own. It will probably take you time and effort to ask better questions.
Here are some of my favorite questions to dive deeper.
- How can we verify this assumption?
- How can we break this up into smaller steps?
- What steps have you tried so far? And what can we rule out?
- What do you think?
Don’t copy my questions. Use them as an inspiration for your own questions. Experience will tell you what will work with who.
Mentorship is all about transferring your knowledge to your mentee.
My tips for new mentors are:
- Teach them to fish
- Ask the right questions
With this blog post and your positive attitude, I have no doubts you will be a great mentor!
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