How a Software Engineer Mentor Makes All the Difference: A Beginner’s Guide

Headshot of CareerFoundry contributor Eric Thompson.

Slingshot your career while saving time, money, and stress by meeting with a software engineer mentor. Mentors act as personal guides through hands-on meetings with a focus on your career.

Dedicated and seasoned mentors train the next generation of software engineers for the challenges ahead in their careers. Finding your way without one can be slow and feel like you’re aimlessly walking. They’re with you through major obstacles, in order to alleviate much of the beginner friction that frustrates so many.

While programs offer various kinds of mentorship styles, like group mentoring, I’ll be focusing on one-on-one mentorship in this article.

Table of contents:

  1. What does a software engineer mentor do?
  2. Do you really need a software engineer mentor?
  3. Benefits of a great software engineer mentor
  4. How to make the most of your software engineer mentor
  5. Final thoughts

1. What does a software engineer mentor do?

A software engineer mentor is a senior industry expert who provides individualized feedback as well as industry insights. They support you regarding your course and career development. Mentors give advice tailored to your journey’s unique problems while empowering you to find solutions yourself.

Think of them as a guide for junior developers, like trail markers along a path that a mentor has already been down. They can tell you about helpful shortcuts as well as obstacles that will be in your way.

A great mentor is first and foremost a great listener. They hear you and understand how to meet you where you’re at in your programming journey.

As senior experts across various sectors, they provide you with invaluable insight into working in your field. They’re often hand-picked professionals with a deep knowledge of their craft.

If you’re in a bootcamp or taking courses they help you meet course milestones and prepare you for the working world. After that, they’ll often  accompany you as you start taking your first steps into the job market. As an expert who’s at the top of their game, they help you navigate the industry and consider your choices. Good software engineering mentors are multi-faceted and ready to train the next generation of developers.

2. Do you really need a software engineer mentor?

While there’s nothing that says you have to have a software engineer mentor, it’s highly recommended to jump-start your career and to sustain it.

A Harvard Business School study on mentoring found that most professionals over 40 years old could name a mentor they’ve had or currently have in contrast to younger generations. The study found that mentorship rates have dropped, despite them being instrumental to the training process.

Regardless of industry, the importance of mentorship is highlighted by the idea that most mentors have benefited from it themselves when they were starting their careers, so they are keen to pay it forward.

How to find a software engineering mentor and get started

Once you’ve decided that you need a software engineer mentor, it can be daunting navigating how to broach the subject and get someone to meet with you.

Here’s how to ask someone to be your mentor and prepare for your first meeting:

Network and connect

Network broadly with others in the software engineering industry. Get to know people and make it known that you’d like to be mentored. Connect with someone further in their career that you’d like to be your mentor. If possible, try and build a working relationship with them at first to gain their trust.

If you’re not comfortable with being vulnerable with someone at your job, consider looking for a mentor outside of your workplace. To qualify someone to be a mentor, they simply need to have more experience than those that they want to guide.

Define and ask

Determine what your own goals are in seeking your career and how having a mentor could help you reach them. Explicitly ask them to be your mentor and share with them only what you’re comfortable sharing.

Meet with your mentor

Find an initial day and time that works for both of you. Be sure to get to the meeting prepared with questions and whatever your mentor would like for you to bring.

If the first few meetings go well, find a consistent and reoccurring time to meet.

Remember, mentorships don’t have to be paid, nor do they need to follow a specific template. Find what works best for the two of you, and ensure that both parties are getting something out of it.

coding mentorship benefits both

3. Benefits of a great software engineer mentor

There are many career benefits from having a software engineer mentor. A mentor can help programmers get quickly acclimated and fast-track their careers, often by years. You don’t have to figure everything out by yourself along the way. Once in the field, according to Forbes, those in a strong mentoring program are five times more likely to increase their income.

Mentorship, mixed with good test scores, is a much stronger indicator of job readiness than just test scores alone. That’s, in part, due to the expert guidance mingling with your hands-on experience.

Get step-by-step support from your mentor for nuanced guidance both on the micro- and macro-scale of your career. They’ll show you better ways to perform at your current job as well as get a good look at your overall career path.

A mentor can:

  • Review your portfolio to be sure it tells your story and stands out
  • Help define your career path
  • Motivate you to continue forward
  • Help you network with others in the industry

Remember, while you are receiving a lot from your mentor, they are also learning from you, like modern concepts and tricks. The relationship tends to be symbiotic.

Even if you’re deep in your career, it’s never too late—you can reap the benefits of a mentor at any point.

4. How to make the most of your software engineer mentor

Mentoring matters, so making the most of your limited time is paramount. Your mentor is more than just a rubber duck to read code to, although they can be a sounding board for a project.

Here are a few tips to make the most of your mentoring time:

  • Schedule regular recurring meetings
  • Communicate your intentions of why you sought a mentor
  • Show up to and leave meetings on time
  • Take good notes during the meeting
  • Have a list of things you want to work on
  • Be sure to let your mentor know what’s working for you
  • Ask questions throughout your time
  • Follow up with your mentor on off days
  • Consistently show up and commit to what your mentor asks
  • Thank your mentor for their time

It’s best practice to, if it’s in-person, pay for your mentor’s coffee, although it shouldn’t be expected. This shows them that they’re appreciated.

5. Final thoughts

A software engineer mentor is an invaluable resource that points you in the right direction regarding your career. Many educational programs will make sure that their students have access to some kind of mentorship. You can find programs like group mentoring, but one-on-one mentorship is always the most effective

Now that you know the importance of a fantastic software engineering mentor, you can find someone who will help you through the industry to a career that best suits you. As you advance in your career, it may one day fall upon you to pay it forward.

CareerFoundry offers step-by-step mentor support in our Web Development Program. You’ll be paired with both a mentor and tutor—experts in the field—who give precise guidance within 24 hours.

They have intimate knowledge of the course as well as the course material and are ready to guide you through it. They look over your coursework to help you with individual exercises while making sure that you’re on the right path for your career. Most importantly, they’ll meet you where you’re at with empathy, patience, and expertise.

If you’d like to learn more about our software engineering offering, why not have a chat with one of our program advisors?

Prefer to read more about the area of coding first? Check out these articles:

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