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Heading for a job interview? Ask about the mentoring program.

As a developer, you get invited for job interviews quite regularly. Depending on your experience, you may already have a set of questions you always ask your potential employee. Chances are that you’re overlooking an important aspect of your future job - the knowledge-sharing possibilities. It’s a perk that perhaps is not as flashy as the decked-out chillout rooms companies like to brag about, but it’s really important to your professional growth. In this text, we’d like to encourage you to make sure that the mentoring and knowledge-sharing programs in your future workplaces meet your expectations. We’ll also share our own recipe for a mentoring program that actually works.

Why should you bother about the knowledge-sharing anyway?

Nothing could be easier than to demonstrate the benefits of knowledge sharing for junior developers. First off, this is how you grow as a programmer. Yes, tech websites and Hacker News-like forums help you stay on top of the latest trends and updates. All of them, however, cannot really match with an experienced mentor who can guide you through the multitude of possibilities that programming presents. We’ve seen many junior developers that have been puzzled by the “age-old” rivalries like the Great Angular vs React Debate. A mentor usually comes with some bias but also with real arguments that can help you pick a path.

Working at a software house or a startup often means being tied to a single tech stack for a long time, which makes you prone to rely solely on that knowledge for your future projects. Regardless of your seniority, having an option to discuss and learn about other frameworks or techniques provides you with a fresh perspective that you can put into practice once your current project is over. It expands your horizons in a very tangible way.

Finally, there’s a case to be made about the value of mentoring for senior devs, the mentors themselves. It’s one thing to be an A-class performer when it comes to coding, teaching others is a completely different ball game. You have to create a clear structure around your knowledge in order to pass it along and, very often, widen your expertise to be able to answer your mentee’s questions.

The bottom line is that programming is a ruthless field. You either stay on top and constantly push yourself to learn new things, or you become attached to yesterday’s news. Being part of a community that motivates and educates you is a massive advantage. Sure, there are plenty of dev events that gather this type of people and there is every reason to believe that attending them helps you grow. Having such community in your workplace, however, gives you even more of an edge.

Mentoring that doesn’t suck

As most of the companies out there, we realize that stagnation leads to people fleeing, so we introduced the mentoring sessions a while ago. Later, we added company-wide regular events called DevTalks (the name is rather self-explanatory here). It was a solid system but we wanted something to truly engage our developers. That’s why, recently, we’ve launched a comprehensive knowledge-sharing program that marries the mentoring with the events and adds a series of challenges to the mix.

This is how it works at Apptension:

  • there are 4 mentoring groups run by senior developers, a.k.a. the team leaders. The people within the groups don’t normally work with each other, which adds a teambuilding aspect to the whole initiative.
  • the team leaders, along with our head of frontend development, introduce a challenge of the month (last time it was to build an animation that was previously shown to the groups).
  • teams work on a solution and prepare a short presentation on how they handled the challenge. everyone meets once a month on a DevTalk and the teams present their work. Note that these meetings are open for everyone at Apptension, not just the mentors and the mentees.
  • the attendees get to vote on their favorite solution. The winning team gets the bragging rights and a new challenge is introduced.

Why does it work? There is an element of competition which brings teammates together and gives an extra kick when it comes to their motivation. They can brainstorm different ideas (in the previous competition all teams came up with different solutions to the challenge) and learn in the process. There’s also an engagement factor - team members don’t rely solely on the leader’s initiative but rather come up with various ideas.

Finally, our developers practice their public speaking skills by presenting their solutions during the DevTalks. It can be an overlooked value, but in order to be recognised as an influencer in the industry, many devs take part in industry events as speakers. They need to know how to handle the audience questions and how to explain the rationale behind their solution. Our knowledge-sharing program prepares them for those future challenges.

What’s next for you?

One may argue that mentoring itself is not necessarily a guarantee of great self-development. Of course, there are better and worse programs (hey, that’s why you should inquire about them). Are you afraid that the one a given company is offering may not be perfect? Truth be told, a company that even just attempts to introduce knowledge-sharing practices is a promising one. Ask about the particular rules, and your role in the program. Do make sure that a company you’re applying to supports your growth; we can’t stress that enough! If it fits your expectations - great! And if our challenge system strikes your fancy, don’t hesitate to drop us a line - we’re always on the lookout for talented developers. Our devtalks are open so feel invited to come, cheer on the teams and learn things that can push your career further.

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