Being a mentor while simultaneously getting your own work done can be really hard. Arneau van der Horst from OneDayOnly, however, considers mentoring his full-time job: His approach with interns turned out so useful that they consistently use his methods to effectively practise continuous learning throughout their careers. Here’s how you can do the same in your company.
For most people, mentoring an intern - on top of everything else that one has to do - is a daunting thought. It’s a resource-heavy endeavour that takes time, energy and patience, but Arneau makes it look easy.
He says that ineffective mentorship puts you at risk of losing high-quality developers: “Your hesitancy to really spend time with the guys working with you leaves them feeling isolated.” If someone feels unsupported, they start questioning the value of their job. Arneau wants to prevent that thought from even crossing their mind. He wants his teams to say: “I’m learning even more than I did at school, college, or university. And yet I’m being paid to do it.”
Arneau has been a mentor for the past two years and has applied this thinking to the way he mentors interns. He doesn’t think that an internship can be really valuable to an intern, a developer or a company if mentorship isn’t the focus. Just “giving someone a fish” doesn’t help anyone. “And the irony is,” Arneau says, talking about internships, “often thinking ‘Hey, this is throw away time’ means it will end up being throw away time after-all.”
The results of his approach to internships speak for themselves: every one of the interns he’s mentored so far went on to become junior devs at OneDayOnly.
Arneau has primarily mentored interns, but the number plate dangling from the back of his chair - which reads “The Mentor” - says a lot about the value his colleagues attribute to his role and success as a mentor in general. Aside from the specific rhythms he applies to his mentoring schedule, his philosophy can be boiled down into two main drives:
- Everytime he works with someone is an opportunity to teach them something new, as well as an opportunity for him to learn something new.
- He treats an intern as if they’ve already been hired full-time, so he invests as much time into an intern as he would any other employee.
His philosophy is part of every step of a new team member’s path: From the first interview he has with an intern, all the way through to their career at OneDayOnly.
Every single person is an opportunity to teach
Whether he’s working with a colleague, a junior dev, an intern, or even someone who’s just come in for an interview, Arneau treats each and every person as a chance to teach, and to learn.
With people he’s interviewing for OneDayOnly’s internship programme, he spends a portion of the chat having a feedback session on how the interview went. In other words, he’s mentoring that person to be better at interviews wherever they go, no matter whether they will be hired or not. In Arneau’s own words, “the worst thing is to tell someone after an interview ‘Thanks for coming through, we’ll be in touch.’ And they never hear from you again.”
Instead, immediately after the interview, Arneau shares his initial thoughts. He tells them what they did well, where they could improve, and talks about the technical assessment to figure out if “wrong answers” were just misunderstandings.
By spending that time on feedback after the interview, Arneau achieves two things:
Firstly, he sets someone up to succeed at future interviews - regardless of whether they get hired at OneDayOnly or not. “By extension,” he says, “that means we’re empowering guys for the entire industry.” In his experience, people aren’t taught to ask “Why didn’t I stand out? What should I have done better?” He wants them to adopt that mentality no matter where they go in their career, because it’s something everyone could do more of.
Secondly, he primes someone for the culture of mentorship he fosters at OneDayOnly, should they be offered the internship. This will simply help them onboard and level up a lot faster.
Treating an intern like a junior dev
Once an intern is hired, Arneau uses mentoring “rhythms” that are a big part of OneDayOnly’s general culture. He treats them like they’ve already been hired full-time, rather than “testing” them to see if they survive.
He sees his role as training them for the positions they’re going to get:
This makes his job easier and their lives less stressful, because instead of an intern trying to prove themselves, intern and mentor are working towards something as a team.
To create this relationship from day one, Arneau integrates his interns into company rhythms right away. He emphasises that he intentionally uses a mixture of group and individual dynamics to simultaneously develop team skills and a communication channel that’s a “safe-space”.
He wants his interns to be able to work in groups, but have a place where they can voice concerns they might not be comfortable sharing publicly. Some of the rhythms Arneau uses include:
Sit-downs (daily, as a group)
An intentional parody on “stand-ups,” Arneau uses these daily group meetings as a way for all the interns to get together and discuss how they will achieve the things on their schedule that day.
Getting everyone to discuss their methods has two benefits:
- Arneau can give initial guidance and
- Other interns likely to face similar tasks in the future will benefit from hearing how someone else did it first.
Arneau leverages the extra time to go through a bit of code, look at case studies of a specific problem, or discuss techniques. Afterwards, the team does have a quick stand-up session, but he keeps this short and to the point.
Catch-ups (weekly, as an individual)
Arneau’s version of a 1:1 is the catch-up. This is an informal chat to see how the intern is coping and if they’re still enjoying their time. Arneau deliberately makes these a one-on-one meeting, and leverages that engagement towards creating a real relationship with the person he’s mentoring.
Aside from helping someone feel at home, Arneau has found that problems get addressed much sooner. It means an intern is less likely to steam-train down the wrong path, and Arneau’s job becomes easier by knowing how he can help that person change course early, and learn.
Secret lunch appointments (monthly, as a group)
“Secret Lunch Appointments,” another intentional parody on “SLAs”, are monthly lunches which are limited to his interns. They get together for lunch on a random day and chat about everything non-work related, with the intention of building camaraderie within the group.
Team lunches (monthly, as a team)
Then, each month, they also have team lunches, which bring the entire dev team together. These are integral at OneDayOnly: By joining the wider team, interns are given the opportunity to form relationships with people in the company that they don’t normally have the opportunity to work with on a day-to-day basis.
Although Arneau tries to make himself available for any concerns an intern has, this casual interaction helps to create a comfortable space to ask other people in the company for help as well. Arneau encourages this as a way for the interns to integrate more holistically into the company and its culture.
Personal development programme (quarterly, as an individual)
OneDayOnly has “Personal Development Programme” (PDP) sessions for their team members every three months. During internships, Arneau sits down with each intern individually, checks the progress on the goals from the previous three months, and sets goals for the next quarter.
They also discuss how OneDayOnly as a whole can help them achieve each of the goals they set. This makes each intern’s goas a team-effort, and not something they are left to do on their own. It also sets the stage for something else OneDayOnly encourages, which is to spend an hour of every day learning something new.
1-hour learning session (daily, as an individual)
Whether it’s a programming language, a coding problem, or going through some tutorials on YouTube, interns are encouraged to dedicate at least an hour of their day on “learning.” The company also pays for online courses to help interns level-up quicker.
Where mentorship would normally “teach someone how to fish,” Arneau tries to go one step further and show them how to hold the rod on their own. Rather do things for someone, he gives them what they need to do things on their own. This way, they’re more likely to realise when they go wrong, and ask for specific advice when they do run into obstacles as opposed to sitting on something for hours without a clue of how to get around it.
Making mentoring easier through daily practice
These rhythms not only integrate interns into company cadences, but also help track an intern’s happiness and the value they’re getting out of the internship. They are definitive “check-in” points that Arneau can use to make sure he’s doing a good job.
Continuous learning is something he instils during the internship, and practices on a daily basis:
“If you treat everybody you work with as an opportunity to teach, an opportunity to share, collaborate, help out… it’s invaluable. It develops an environment where everybody’s helping everybody out. Nobody feels like they don’t have assistance. Your barrier to entry is so much lower just because of that shift in mindset.”
The way Arneau gets his own work done as well is by giving interns tasks from his to-do list that he thinks they can learn from. This achieves a number of things:
- He gets his own work done,
- He helps someone learn through practical experience, and
- There’s organic investment from both sides because it’s a task that both parties care about.
The intern learns through practice, and Arneau can put sufficient time into both his own work and his mentoring, without the trade-off. In his own words, if he’s sitting at his desk then he’s doing something wrong: “It means that somebody’s out there who might need my help, and who I’m not helping right now.”