When I started feeling like I wasn’t progressing in my career, I realised that mentors are an important source of support and guidance, and necessary for career progression and learning. Finding the correct mentor can be tough, and you need to work hard at your relationship to ensure it creates value. Here’s how I made the most of my mentoring relationship and how it helped me.
Why doing it alone didn’t work
When I kept getting stuck on basic functionalities such as connecting to a database, sending and receiving data from a database, password resets and order processing, I realised that my learning needed more planning and structure.
If I’d made a roadmap, I could have mastered the fundamentals first.
This would have laid the foundation for me to understand advanced topics and made my learning journey smoother. Instead, my freelance jobs dictated my focus and sometimes took me completely away from coding, so ended up conflicting with my learning. I realised that I really needed someone to support and guide me as I navigated this web development path.
Building a good mentoring relationship
I found my mentor through the Project Thrive mentorship programme - a 12-week mentorship programme that paired junior developers with senior developers.
At first I was nervous that I might not be able to connect well with a stranger, and that I wouldn’t get anything out of the programme. I felt like it was going to be the longest 12 weeks of my life.
Thanks to Anton Tuyakhov, a tech entrepreneur with experience as a senior software engineer and team lead, time flew by. From our very first meeting Anton made my experience with the programme exciting and valuable.
It was easy to build a relationship with Anton because he had expertise in the tech stack I was interested in, and had more than four years of experience in managing and mentoring junior developers. He had been a junior developer who also had to learn some things on his own, so he understood the kind of challenges I was facing and helped me to avoid making quite a few mistakes.
Here are a few foundations that made our mentor-mentee relationship work:
Giving honest feedback: At our first meeting, we agreed to give each other honest feedback on everything. It allowed me to take Anton’s feedback as constructive rather than personal, and this helped me to action it.
Having clear agendas: When it came to setting up our weekly meetings, we both owned the responsibility of sharing what we’d like to discuss before the meetings. This helped us to better prepare for them.
It’s important to identify the struggles you have first in order to figure out the kind of help you’d like to get from a mentor.
With this direction, you’ll be able to focus on what you actually need and get the most out of a mentoring relationship.
Open Communication: There wasn’t a single day when I felt like I was forcing Anton to help me. He also never undermined anything that I came up with. Instead, if something was off-topic he’d try and first understand why I wanted to discuss it and then we’d go through it. Anton’s questions helped us to understand each other’s thinking.
As a mentee, you should also be upfront about what you know and don’t know. This helps you to focus on the areas you need to improve on, set the right goals and keep track of your progress.
Building a roadmap: To help me achieve my goal of becoming a full stack developer, Anton and I put together a brief roadmap that outlined the topics that I had to familiarise myself with from foundation to advanced stages, and a list of accredited programs I could enrol in whenever I felt ready. This would give me a solid foundation to understand advanced topics. Anton also shared Roadmap.sh with me, a useful resource to create a more comprehensive roadmap.
Adapting to new realities: Anton’s advice and support to create a structured plan for my career and learning was just the beginning. Sometimes they weren’t included in my goals or roadmap, but I still wanted to discuss things like project pricing, work-life balance and dealing with stressful situations like losing my job.
Three weeks into the mentorship programme, I lost my job and we had to adapt our goals and strategy. We discussed the possibility of changing the goal from learning new skills to finding another job, but chose to remain focused on upskilling because of how beneficial I had already found it.
Acquiring the skills to develop more powerful applications first would enable me to then apply for the types of jobs that I wanted. This was an important foundation to do any job well, which is why we chose to continue with it.
Even though we chose not to focus on it, I had very strong moral support from Anton, and Andréa and Nicole from Project Thrive, during this rough patch. They provided me with resources to help me in my job search and prepare for interviews. My journey throughout the programme continued to be fruitful, and I learnt a variety of skills.
What I learnt from my mentor
During the 12 week Thrive programme, Anton and the Project Thrive team helped me to build the following skills:
This helped me to organise my code in a cleaner way, and to write programmes that have better performance by using the right programming style needed for each functionality.
Through the feedback Anton gave on the code that I’d share with him in our meetings, he helped me understand how I should approach solving each problem through programming.
I would previously explain my ideas by giving examples before explaining the idea, and wouldn’t give others a chance to ask anything before I was done “selling” them the idea. Anton advised that communicating in this way makes it difficult for the next person to fully understand what I’m talking about, and also makes it difficult for them to give any input since I exhaust all my points before the next person can join the conversation. Now, before communicating my ideas, I always try to think of how to most clearly get them across in a way that engages people rather than alienates them.
Anton showed me what to look for in a potential employer. For example, I shouldn’t only focus on the tech stack used, but also the kinds of projects companies work on and what the companies have achieved. This shows if there will be room for growth.
Anton also stressed the importance of not taking rejections personally, but as an opportunity to learn as I get to know more of what companies are looking for: I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
Career development skills
My mentor also helped me with overall personal development, such as:
- Taking my time to learn things properly and being consistent rather than rushing.
- Reaching out to other developers to work with them on projects, develop teamwork skills, and learn from them.
- Figuring out what products I’d like to work on to avoid situations where I’d make enough money but not enjoy what I was doing.
- Creating a healthy work-life balance to build friendships and avoid burnout. I now have a work schedule which allows me to spend time with my family and friends and exercise.
Anton’s feedback and advice helped me to set realistic goals and actionable milestones to get where I wish to be.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve just started a career as a junior developer or have been doing it for some time - mentorship is for every developer who needs help in building a career in tech.
Below is the list of some of the resources that I have found helpful on my learning journey :
- Udemy courses
- MDN Docs – I found this really useful when I dug deeper into each concept. It’s comprehensive documentation that explains web development concepts in more detail.
- W3Schools – This comes in handy when you want to understand when to apply a certain concept because it provides you with an option to test the code to see its output. You can tweak the code however you like and see the effect of your changes.