Friday, August 5, 2011

Software development career tip: Find yourself a mentor

A few weeks ago someone asked me the following question:

If I was to offer one piece of advice to someone considering becoming a software developer, what would it be?

At the time I answered that they should expect to never stop learning. Things in the software development world are always changing and if you stop learning you can easily stagnate.

Though I still consider that good advice if I'm asked that again I think I'll change my answer. My advice is simply:

Find yourself a mentor.

Usually a mentor will be a more senior developer, tester, agile coach etc within the company you work for. I know it's hard to ask for help, but don't be shy. Speak up and actively ask for mentoring.

I never had a software development or agile mentor. i.e. someone to take me under their wing, help point me in the right direction. I've mainly learnt everything by myself, via an occasional course and through talking to colleagues. That's not to say I don't value any of these methods, it's just I feel that being mentored accelerates learning.

After being a mentor to other developers, I've seen how quickly they've learnt techniques that I took many years to even discover and use properly. This plus their own self learning, eventually allows the student to surpass the master.

Though I've implicitly known this for years, I've only just recognised it and I recognise that I also could do with a mentor myself when it comes to coaching agile teams. I'm kind of using forums and social networking to fill this gap, but I don't feel like it's quite enough. If anyone wants to help me out let me know ;)

I sometimes wonder where I'd be if I had had a mentor throughout my career, but that sort of thinking is counter productive. Does it upset me? Not really, it's nice to see others build on the knowledge I've bestowed upon them. If I'm really honest I sometimes have a twinge of regret or jealousy, but it's fleeting and I'm only human.

What are your experiences in being a mentor or a mentee?

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