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You should be a mentor (robertheaton.com)
48 points by koomerang on Apr 25, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments



“That guy doesn’t know shit. Why should I listen to him?"

If you have to ask that question, then you already know the answer.

With a good mentor, thoughts like that would never even enter your mind. Why? Because a good mentor would never just tell you what to do, he/she would share data in such a way that you would learn what to do.

If you don't find a way to turn mentor input into new actionable wisdom very quickly (even instantly) and feel confident about it, then it's probably time to find another mentor.


Can you please elaborate on what you think is a good mentor, and how one may become a good mentor?

On that note, I've been considering of mentoring entry/medium-level developers for some time now but I seriously don't know what exactly that entails.

My goal is to help people understand and appreciate the importance of well formed, semantic HTML and CSS and unobtrusive javascript.

My belief is that all these different libraries/frameworks (Backbone, Angular, Bootstrap, Foundation, etc etc) confuse new comers and abstract them from actually learning the importance of well written HTML/CSS/JS in developer productivity and application maintenance.

Sometimes these libs make it very easy for developers to focus too much on short term gains at the expense of long-term maintainability and understanding what the code they publish actually does!

If anyone wants to help me become a mentor by mentoring them on HTML, CSS, JS please let me know.


Why not do a session/presentation/lunch&learn on how to build web apps without a library. Or how to build something like backbone. Showing teams how to test their front end code is also a great way to introduce better practices and more concern for quality.

The biggest challenge to being a mentor isn't wisdom, it is respect. The person you are trying to teach needs to respect you before they will be willing to learn from you.


> Why not do a session/presentation/lunch&learn on how to build web apps without a library.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I think libraries are bad - on the contrary. It's just that I'm really puzzled by people who are willing to blindly use some piece of code, and build their codebase around that code, without even understanding what that library actually does. This mostly happens with CSS/HTML libraries which unfortunately are considered to be second-class citizens nowadays as opposed to javascript frameworks. No, your HTML/CSS is equally or more important than, dare I say, the javascript framework of the day.

> The biggest challenge to being a mentor isn't wisdom, it is respect. The person you are trying to teach needs to respect you before they will be willing to learn from you.

As a self-taught professional, I really don't understand this. I can see why that would be the case, but I still can't really "get it".

Respect is important, and it goes both ways, but I'm not sure if it's (or should be) something that happens before even having some interaction with the other person.

I may respect the work someone has done but it doesn't necessarily mean that I respect them as a teacher (although learning from someone's work is still on the table) because I don't know beforehand how good of a teacher they are. At the same time, I may not respect the work someone has done but it doesn't mean I have nothing to learn from them.


This is what I tried to tell a conference promoter. He listed companies for his mobile conference, as speakers, that had all published bad or failed apps.

He response was to delete me from the mailing list. Best way to deal with a dissenting voice, delete it.


We've mentor about 75 students in front-end development at Thinkful (thinkful.com) – we're actually working with a team of about 12 mentors now. If you'd like to join, feel free to reach out (email is dan at thinkful). We've learned a ton about best practices for how to help beginners learn over the last 6 months of doing it.


Cool, e-mail sent!


Yes you should be a mentor or whatever you want to call it. It does not mean you have to be an absolute expert at something to be a mentor. It means that you are willing to advice/share your experiences with someone else with the goal of helping them with whatever you can. For example, so what if you are not a superstar code ninja/rockstar or whatever it is. You can still talk to someone about what you know and give them some options to think about.

I would encourage everyone to be a "mentor". Go and talk to some younger/junior/less experienced people and you will realize how much they need you. No matter how small, you could make a difference. And you want to know another secret? You will suddenly realize how much you actually know when you try to teach/mentor someone else. You will also improve your own skills including communication, interaction etc etc.


Some of you might be interested to give this mentoring stuff a try, either as a montor or as a student. If so, you might be interested in checking out the Learn Programming Mentoring Community (LPMC).

This project was started when it became clear that quite a few posters in r/learnprogramming wanted to contribute to open source projects, but didn't know how or noticed that having their PR rejected did in fact not afford the greatest learning experience. LPMC aims to, among other things:

1. Match students with projects

2. Help students create pull requests worthy of being merged by upstream (offloading busy maintainers)

If this sounds interesting you can check out http://learnprogramming.github.io/ or come shoot the shit in #lpmc@irc.freenode.net


I think calling yourself a "mentor" gets the response it does because it is like calling yourself "successful"- according to who? It just doesn't fit into the model of western culture of speaking with humility. It risks alienating people- no one would disagree with you if you said "I really listen to people at these events." Aren't you actually suggesting that you try to be a good listener and offer helpful advice.


Teaching / mentoring / coaching is good for you as well. Trying to teach others forces you to learn your subject even better than you already know it. Additionally, the questions and counter-points and feedback you get from students / people you're mentoring /etc. will expose you to new ideas and new ways of thinking, which you can then integrate and synthesize around.

I don't know if I'd be able to do much "one on one" mentoring, as time is awfully limited right now. But I have a lecture/class or two in mind that I'll probably offer to teach somewhere in the RTP area later this year. I have learned enough about market research to do a useful one or two night session on the topic.

No, I'm not an expert on it, but what I've learned in the past 2 years would possibly be beneficial to the people who are now, where I was two years ago. I figure if I can help shorten someone else's learning curve, that's a good thing. And, inevitably, if I do the class, I'll learn a lot from the process itself.

So yeah, if you have some useful knowledge you've accumulated (and you probably do) teach a class, or take on a pupil to mentor. It's a win-win for everybody.


This post read like a bit of a humblebrag to me. I think it's fine to go to events and share experiences as part of conversation - the community is a big part of making a great event. To go to an event with the mindset of being a mentor to other people when you're just another guy trying to get a startup off the ground would definitely put me off.

“That guy doesn’t know shit. Why should I listen to him? Why is he even here?” I'd be that guy. I wouldn't be presuming you don't know shit or wondering why you're here, but rather wondering why a guy in the same position as most people trying to launch a startup is mentoring people.

Having said that, promoting oneself seems to be part of entrepreneurial culture and I don't blame you for seizing the opportunity to do it.


To go to an event with the mindset of being a mentor to other people when you're just another guy trying to get a startup off the ground would definitely put me off.

Why? You don't believe he may have learned some useful stuff from the process of "trying to get a startup off the ground"? Some "stuff" that could be useful to someone who is earlier in their own journey than the OP? If so, why wouldn't he share?

And as far as that goes... I don't know about you, but I subscribe to the belief that "everybody can learn something from pretty much everybody else".

There's also something to be said for the old saw about how an expert's mind is full and closed to new possibilities, while a beginner doesn't know what is "not possible" and can therefore discover new things more easily.


I wouldn't be presuming you don't know shit or wondering why you're here

I think it's fine to go to events and share experiences as part of conversation

I absolutely think you can learn something from everybody. In this situation, I feel that should be in the context of learning from a peer, rather than a mentor


Great post!

I've started a number of businesses over the past 10 years, first of which was when i was 17, i've learned so much over this time, but had dismissed it as general knowledge.

Recently I took part in an accelerator here in the UK and one of the things I enjoyed most was offering advise to other teams, even just on simple things like Tax/Vat etc. I really didn't appreciate that much of the knowledge I've amassed over the past 10 years was valuable to people in the early stage of a new business.

I'm hoping to be invited back to that accelerator as a mentor this year, and I'd hope I can do this for other accelerators too as it's extremely rewarding, I'd almost say I find it more rewarding helping others than building my own startup!


The same advice applies for undergrads (though I wouldn't call myself a mentor). For a year or two now I've been part of a group of students who hold volunteer CS "office hours". We normally get visits from frustrated students who aren't in CS, and are able to make a huge difference for these people.

We don't get paid, but I still benefit from it, of course; my knowledge and teaching ability have both greatly improved. It's fun, too =)

A word of advice: operate outside of your school's official tutoring system. Just get a bunch of friends and make yourselves known within your department: you'll spend less time working the system and more time helping people. Feel free to get in touch for advice.


For me the only criteria is to stay away from 'mentors' who have never worked on a product.

Being in Pakistan, I get to meet tons of industry experts who have racked up millions solely by outsourcing and creating low-quality software for cheap. All they do is that they bring you down to their own ambition-level. Don't listen to them !

some real life examples:

"so why would you like to hire such an expensive resource here when you can get two average developers for a lot less and he can get your job done? that's bur resource management"

"you mentioned celebrities in your pitch but let me just tell you one thing , those people will never use your app"


I understand where you're coming from, but the examples provided are not that good. First of all, I'd build everything with the possibility in mind that celebrities won't actually use my app. Helps me focus on the benefits for the average user. Secondly, if a pair of good developers can truly get the job done for a lot less, I would seriously consider going that route instead of an expensive solo hero.

Having said that, too limited ambition can get you the same result that too much ambition can.


Learn from other people, let people learn from you. A great way to cultivate a more fulsome understanding of a topic is to try to describe it to others, to share your understanding with others. Mentoring is like writing that way, and like writing, you can't expect to be good at it without practice. I think sharing what you know with people, people who you believe are both less and more knowledgeable than you, is incredibly beneficial to any environment (work, play, whatever). MENTOR EVERYONE!


Couldn't agree more – when we started Thinkful (mentor-led training for front-end development), my co-founder and I mentored every student ourselves, and it was amazing how quickly it exposed every hole in our understanding of even basic concepts. Even though the team has grown and we now have 12 mentors, we still try to work with a few students because we enjoy it so much.


It seems like a nice thing to do to help people out. I can see a reason why some people might be sceptical though: It's difficult to tell the difference between someone who's made mistakes and can share that with you, and someone who's just wasting your time. Success helps to differentiate the two.


I would love a mentor. How do you find mentors in software development? Pick a public figure that you respect?


I'd say more than a public figure, reach out to folks with good software development experience with a specific query. See how they respond, and take the conversation from there.


Is anyone looking for a mentoree? I'm a self taught software engineer at a small company in the SF Bay Area. I studied mathematics at Berkeley. Lived in Los Angeles most of my life. Worked in film, real estate and advertising prior. I even helped start a company before I knew what HN was!


Sure. I'd love to help out, get in touch: jon+hn@jonabrams.com


How about the opposite question, at the beginning of your career how do you find mentors?




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