Besides programming, there is an opportunity for developers to join internship programs as mentors. It is a special challenge, but also a pleasure when you successfully transfer the acquired knowledge to younger colleagues. A responsible but also demanding approach is necessary, so here is some good advice that you can apply during the program.
Get to know your mentee
When you take on the role of mentor, one of the important tasks is to get to know the person you are mentoring. This will help you to understand the obstacles that the mentee encounters and thus finding an adequate solution will be easier. From my personal experience, during the internship program, really positive reactions occur when, as a mentor, you show interest in the mentee’s hobbies and if your work plan is in the line with his interests, the results are even better. When a candidate works according to such a plan, he is additionally motivated, goes a step further, and will, very likely, dare to step out of the comfort zone.
Communication is the key
Mentoring brings responsibility. You need to be there for candidates. Of course, we are not talking about the obligation to answer the questions immediately, especially when other projects are active, but you should not go to the other side and not answer for hours. It is necessary to harmonize communication with the mentee, to respond to all doubts in an adequate time, and encourage candidates to discuss and express their opinions and potential task solutions. Very often candidates are reluctant to ask questions because they feel they are stealing your time and don’t want to bother, they think those questions are too basic. In that case, you have to step up, encourage them and make it perfectly clear that you are there for them. This prevents the creation of any potential communication barriers. You have to be able to listen, let the candidate express his idea, and give your own if you have one. These steps show that you are interested in your interns, in their work and thus make a significant contribution to strengthening their self-confidence.
Plan and goals
All these steps that I am talking about are some of the ways of motivation and encouragement. However, you have to keep in mind the main reason for mentoring – interns came to learn and progress, and therefore it is necessary to set work goals and a plan according to which those goals will be achieved. It is a good idea to start with smaller tasks, which can be quickly realized. In that way, the mentee has the impression that he is progressing and there will be fewer chances for them to be demotivated and give up. It is necessary to go gradually, in smaller steps, which will eventually lead to the realization of more serious goals and challenges. Don’t make plans that take 3 or 4 months to complete, because these are people who are often without any previous work experience and who can really drop down if big tasks are put in front of them. One of the suggestions could be to give a candidate a chance to break one larger task into smaller ones, for him to get used to such a working system. This can be followed by some of your personal examples where you got to the solution by dissolving a big goal into several smaller ones and working on them step by step. So, at the beginning of the internship program, stick to tasks that can be solved in a couple of hours, and later you can set bigger challenges.
It is recommended to take your time for monitoring the mentee’s work and progress. To be more specific – use spontaneous conversations with your candidate and find out how far he has gone and whether he needs any help. Also, an official meeting once a week where you will together check all tasks and problems from past days will benefit both sides. Keep a record of your conversations, notes on problems encountered and solutions agreed. These records will help you later to see if the mentee has followed your recommendations or he found other solutions.
When you are a mentor, your opinion of someone’s work has a lot of significance. That is why it must be honest, and provided promptly. This means that you have to react immediately if you notice any mistake. Giving feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it is necessary if you want a candidate to progress. If your opinion has a negative connotation, make a plan on how you will say it as well as mandatory steps on how to resolve the problem and prevent further possible mistakes in the future. By doing so, you make it known that you are aware that a problem exists and that you want to work together to solve it. If you show some examples of solving mistakes and misjudgments, you have also contributed to the candidate not giving up. Of course, there is more than just negative feedback. Highlight, praise a good idea, solution, or significant effort to achieve the goal. What is by no means allowed – not providing an opinion and not giving any feedback to the candidate.
Mentoring can be challenging, sometimes it can take you more time than you planned and require a lot of patience. However, it awards you significant progress. A good mentor never stops being a student. Don’t be surprised if, at the end of the internship program, it comes out that you are the one who learned a lot, maybe more than the candidate themselves.