Seniors and leads must mentor

Published on March 24, 2022 • 2 minutes to read

Since I went back to the leadership track I have been focusing most of my energy on giving opportunities to my team members to grow and giving myself time to mentor them during moments where I have knowledge that can be helpful that they do not have, now, you may think that this might not be the best use of my time as a team leader but if you think this I will strongly disagree with you, let me tell you why.

When I started my career as a developer, I was strongly focused on the frontend, I didn’t understand anything about APIs, Databases, and how the backend on the applications I worked on did anything. Everything was just magic for me. So when my company had to shift directions and required everyone to be full-stack developers I had to unravel all the magic by myself to continue riding the success of the company or jump into the lifeboats and navigate to a different ship.

I chose to stay and what followed was the most complicated days of my life, where I felt like developing code wasn’t my calling even though it was what I enjoyed doing.

Why am I telling you this? Because I could not have done it without a mentor. My company had 2 strong senior engineers that focused and made time for me to level up my skills, they were there to answer my questions and straighten up my code when I was doing a terrible job.

To tell you a fun story. For context, I was coding on Ruby with Rails and I didn’t know anything about polymorphic associations and how Rails handles basically everything for you. So I had a story where I needed to create a new relationship of this type on the database and I decided to create from scratch every single association which was not only slower than what Rails did because I had to manually create all my Models, but my Models were an unoptimized mess without indexes and a really bad naming scheme. (I wish I had that branch with me to show you an example of how terrible the code was).

And you may wonder, why didn’t you google it first? Well, to search for something on the web you first need to know that you have the issue. These are known unknowns, and knowing these come with experience. The experience I didn’t have at the time.

But it was fine, once you understand that you can’t know what you don’t know or as we should call them unknown unknowns then you will value and see how mentors shine. It’s all about getting feedback from a more experienced peer who can say “hey, there’s a better way. Let me show you”.

It’s the highest value any senior can give and it is the best single-use of their time, and this also applies to team leads, because you have gone through the experience of mentoring others before most of your senior developers and it’s up to you to mentor them to become better mentors.