Corporate talent development has always put a heavy emphasis on training programs - and it's having an adverse impact on developer growth. Whether it's a large company investing in expensive sessions that utilize a preset curriculum, or a startup pulling a senior developer in to train its team, what's still missing from large-scale developer training programs is personalization. With development skills in high demand, and programming languages growing in number as well as complexity that individualized attention is the key to training success. So how can companies make a better developer? The evidence is clear: mentorship provides what the big, impersonal programs can't - and is poised to change the future of talent development for good.
Not convinced? Here are three ways mentorship may change your verdict. While I may not feature this in documentary style spanning 10 years, like the hit show Making a Murderer, I have factored in many years of observation and involvement in mentorship for companies ranging in size from seed-funded startups to Fortune 500 enterprises.
1. Turning Rookies into Rockstars
The "learn to code" wave has brought in a rise of developer bootcamps, which in turn produced an unprecedented number of junior developers looking to join the workforce. Although there may be some stigma behind hiring bootcamp graduates due to concerns of the quality of instruction that they receive or lack of theoretical knowledge, the right motivation and technical know-how can make them viable candidates for the thousands of developer jobs available today.
Instead of forgoing this group of talent due to their lack of programming experience outside of the classroom, businesses can save time and effort by hiring entry-level developers with high potential to build a development team that is ready and willing to both mentor, and be mentored. This way, even entry-level developers can be nurtured into rockstar developers that a company needs.
The fact is there is no perfect developer. All too often, you'll end up realizing that no one will have all the skills you need at the exact right time. If you're constantly looking outwards to find the developer you need, know that with the right mentor and resources, your "perfect" developer may already be in your office.
2. Shifting Curriculum from Preset to Personalized
From Intro to Computer Science to corporate training programs, experience has led us to believe that learning to code is best in a group setting with a fixed curriculum. We sometimes forget that there's more than one way to do something, and the same goes for learning and understanding new programming languages and technologies.
Mentoring, on the other hand, allows for specially catered learning that resonates with an individual's background, learning style, points-of-context, strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone starts at the same point or learns at the same speed, but this is often unaccounted for in large-scale trainings.
Instead of just learning concepts from those who may not understand all the complexities of your team's code, being able to step into the shoes of someone who is experienced with the business' technologies, and has had his or her fair share of trial and error, is an irreplaceable practice. Another positive outcome for one-on-one attention is the special bond that forms between mentors and mentees, which can be an important factor in talent retention and beneficial to the team as a whole.
3. Turn Learning into a Welcome Life Sentence
More often than not, training programs are designed to be quick and short-term, lasting a few hours to a few days. After that, there is little to no follow-up to see how developers are doing, whether or not they have been able to absorb the material, or what challenges they have during implementation. This is where mentoring can play a big role in facilitating on-going learning and true mastery.
It is easy to assume that developers, especially senior ones, can learn a new technology in a short period of time, but that is often not the case. Understanding concepts of a new technology can be much different from applying them in the real world, so having access to a mentor is crucial.
Having been mentored as well as providing mentoring, I can personally testify that throughout this process, even mentors have much to gain from mentoring others. Mentors learn how to communicate effectively and engage in sharing and passing over knowledge. This type of dynamic within developer teams are what make stellar teams stand out from the rest.