How to mentor and coach remote junior developers

How to mentor and coach remote junior developers

Both mentoring and coaching, even though having different practices, enable team leaders to boost their teams’ productivity, gradually turn juniors into seniors and promote the culture of leadership. 

And software development, with its dynamic and constantly evolving environment, more than any other industry, needs their professionals to be able to grow their expertise, develop continuously and adapt quickly. It all can be achieved by mentoring and coaching.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started: a bit of time (1 hour a week for a session, 1 hour – to get prepared), motivation (both on an expert and a learner side), and a bit of management to make it all happen.

Mentoring

Successful mentoring depends on both a mentor (the one who shares knowledge) and a mentee (the one seeking for knowledge), their personalities and how they match each other. 

Getting started with mentoring

Firstly, define the goal. Here we have to distinguish between a technical mentor or a soft-skill mentor. If you want to become a Tech Lead and you want to fill in technical gaps, then your mentor must be a technical expert, ideally a few levels up in seniority and not necessarily from your core team.

A portrait of a mentor

Being a mentor doesn’t require any certifications. You can simply approach any professional you admire and say, “Look, you are cool at this and that, let’s meet in Zoom and have a chat”. And voila – from now on you are a mentor and a mentee. 

The first and the main skill needed to be a good mentor is active listening. Apart from being a senior software developer, a mentor has to be able to spot the areas for improvement in a mentee and be proactive to develop them by providing expert advice. 

The second aspect of a good mentor is experience. When a mentor is asked by a mentee, their answers and stories must be based on their own experience. Sure, you can refer to some books, but not only. A mentee can just take the book and read it, what’s the use of mentoring then? On the other hand, mentoring is not just knowledge sharing, there needs to be systematic work, milestones and growth indicators.

How to promote mentoring inside the company?

Some organizations want to make mentoring a part of their company culture. They organize internal mentorship communities and promote mentoring by providing additional benefits to the mentors (for example, being a mentor could be a plus during the performance review), creating online platforms to track record, collecting requests for mentoring and matching mentors and mentees according to the specific needs.

Does a mentor need to spend much time on mentoring?

No. Some people don’t want to become mentors just because they think it’s time-consuming. A mentee will adjust to a mentor’s schedule. If they have 15 minutes – it will be 15 minutes, if one hour – then one hour. A mentor is not obliged to work overtime. 

On top of that, mentoring is a two-way experience where both sides benefit from the relationship. A mentor is giving and receiving at the same time, they call it ‘learning by teaching’. Mentoring experience helps to polish knowledge transfer skills and putting thoughts more clearly.

The mentoring relationship can last as long as needed, typically, it should be not less than 3 months.

How to spot future mentees in your team?

Mentoring requires a strong commitment from both parties, but it’s mostly fueled by a mentee’s desire to grow and develop, both personally and professionally. Screen the team members, find those juniors who strive at sharpening their skills and show promise in advancing their careers. 

Coaching

The moment to look for a Coach is the moment when you know what you want and you don’t know how to achieve it. 

Unlike mentoring, coaching is not about long-term professional development, but more about helping you find how to achieve your everyday goals. A coach (an expert) helps a coachee (a learner) find solutions by themselves, with the help of coaching techniques, usually involving questions. A coach’s job is not to provide advice, but rather help a coachee THINK.

How to get started with coaching in your company?

Unlike mentoring, to become a coach, a person has to pass a training. Therefore, if a company wants to grow coaches internally, it has to invest resources. 

A company can also request an external coaching service, and run coaching sessions for the most promising developers (usually a course of up to 10 sessions for each coachee). A course with a coach can be provided as a performance appraisal bonus or as a part of a development plan with shared expenses (for example, 50/50).

What questions are used in the coaching practice?

Well-trained coaches know how to ask open ended questions and make little grey cells work. These are typical coaching questions to name a few:

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What is the best possible outcome?
  • What have you tried?
  • What options do you have?
  • What action can you take now?

What’s the benefit of coaching for your team of software developers?

If you have hired software developers on your team who are juniors and need to improve their skills quickly – coaching is the right solution.

Open-ended questions used in coaching will help to spot the weak areas or an issue and develop an action plan to resolve it.

Coaching Process

  • Zero meeting

Before starting coaching sessions, the future coachees (either picked by you or initiated by themselves) have to clarify their needs and professional goals as they are the base of the further coaching process. This can be discussed with a coach during a so-called zero meeting.

This stage really is crucial as it forms the foundation of a relationship where there is trust and respect on both sides making them equal partners in this relationship.

  • Coaching Sessions

At the beginning of the relationship, a coach typically gathers information about a coachee’s values, behaviors, competencies, goals, interests, and potential opportunities for development. A coach and a coachee then work together to cover the coachee’s goals. There might be any quantity of coaching sessions in one series. The most common duration of coaching is 5-10 sessions.

  • Feedback

Once the coaching sessions are over, a coach and a coachee will determine whether to complete or continue the coaching process. A coach provides feedback on the progress of the coaching relationship.

Wrap-up

You can easily leverage remote mentoring and coaching for your software development teams. The ultimate thing that needs to be done here is showcasing the benefits these practices may bring both to senior experts and to the knowledge-seekers.