One of the real rewards of working in open source development is the freedom it provides. If you want to learn something new, resolve a complex problem, or explore unfamiliar territory, all the tools are at your disposal. All you need to do is get to work.
Unfortunately, that sense of independence fuels a lone-wolf mentality. Rather than feeling comfortable asking questions and discovering solutions together, developers often would rather dive in and find their own answers. Teammates may offer help, but developers still feel the pressure to do it all themselves without a structure in place that encourages collaboration. You may still find the solution, but is this really the best way to spend your creative energy?
With that in mind, Four Kitchens is establishing a mentorship program within our teams that will do more than enable junior developers to work with us at a higher level. It will hopefully ensure you’re in a stronger position to dig deeper into wherever your work takes you going forward.
Web development thrives on open communication
Starting any new job is daunting, especially early in your web development career. Some firms may use unfamiliar jargon, and asking questions about processes or even a problem you’ve encountered feels vulnerable. And everyone runs into issues, which is why a culture of communication is critical to any workplace.
At Four Kitchens, even senior engineers are encouraged to ask questions “in public” (such as in a Slack channel). Along with providing an opportunity for everyone to learn and share knowledge, it demonstrates that no one here knows everything. It’s not embarrassing to ask for help. That’s how work gets done—better.
But beyond ensuring everyone at a digital agency can ask questions without fear of judgment, we encourage you to consistently connect with a senior team member. Different from a formal project status update, these regular meetings with a mentor within our organization set the groundwork for ongoing collaboration.
At Four Kitchens, we view these casual check-ins as a crucial tool for onboarding new hires. Creating a structure to support open communication minimizes the natural feelings of vulnerability that comes with a new job, especially in the early stages of your career. Plus, providing a regular platform to discuss where you are in your work and where you want to go clears a path toward long-term success.
Regular meetings are the key to effective mentorship
Setting up a mentoring relationship starts with an introductory, one-on-one meeting between a junior and senior developer. Primarily a means to get to know one another, the first meeting involves discussing your experience and aligning expectations for the mentorship.
What skills would you like to learn in the future? Are you interested in leading a project or presenting at a conference? As your mentor gets to know your interests and goals, you can work together on a plan to pursue them.
Meetings are easily put off during busy times, but we value and recommend setting a regular time on the calendar for even a casual chat with your mentor. Making time to ask open-ended questions that go beyond checking on upcoming deadlines leaves more room to see how you’re managing your workload or any other aspect of your role. Then, you and your mentor can focus on what can be done to ensure expectations are aligned and you have any resources you need.
Your role as a developer should accommodate your learning style
Early conversations with your mentor at Four Kitchens build an understanding of how you process information. Whether you learn best through hearing instructions, watching a task, or experiencing it firsthand, the right workplace will support what you need.
Answering “how did you get here?” during introductory meetings doesn’t just involve recounting your employment history; it also allows your mentor to understand what structure has (or hasn’t) worked for you. You may be someone who’s most comfortable jumping in and figuring out a feature request on your own. Or, alternatively, you could learn faster by collaborating with another developer or shadowing a senior team member as they work.
As your mentor understands what you need to develop, you can start shaping goals for the upcoming quarter and year. At Four Kitchens, we use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) to provide a framework to set quarterly and annual goals for each part of the organization. Depending on your experience, you can take the lead on a project, fix bugs, or create a custom feature as part of your responsibilities.
The mentor relationship evolves to suit your needs
As one-on-one meetings with your mentor go on, you play a pivotal role in shaping their agenda. Regular topics could include receiving feedback in a way that enables you to move forward in a constructive way, coding best practices, or any work challenges you’re facing.
You and your mentor can also share professional resources, discuss best practices, or even tackle a coding challenge together. Taking on an outside project that’s removed from the pressure of client expectations allows everyone to expand their skills in a way that’s a little more fun.
Mentor relationships are built on trust, and you should feel confident that what’s discussed during these meetings will remain confidential. By helping resolve issues with strategies like breaking up large tasks into smaller ones while leaving space for you to find the right solution, your mentor relationship contributes to our organization’s culture of continuous improvement.
The right mentorship—and workplace—offers room to grow
Along with feeling like you have a support structure behind you, your mentor will also ease you into the workflow with a targeted backlog of tickets needing attention.
Proper curation is essential to ensure a new developer gets started on the right foot. As tickets come in, your team lead will write up the acceptance criteria and tag each for assignment. Tickets should be appropriate for your skill set but not necessarily easy or, worse yet, tedious. The idea isn’t to assign a ticket because it’s simple; it’s to pose a series of growing challenges that suit a new developer.
Your tickets should stretch your capabilities and make you feel motivated to get started. Nothing breaks the soul quite like being assigned work that no one else wants to do. A challenging stretch ticket underscores that we believe in your capabilities. If the work is too difficult, your mentor can always make an adjustment. Plus, failure is an excellent teacher.
Part of the appeal of web development is how much knowledge is available in the field. Whether you focus on backend or frontend development, the technology is always changing. No matter how long you’ve worked in the industry, it can feel daunting to keep up. No one should have to do it alone.
All sorts of motivations are in play when you’re considering a new place to work. If you place a premium on working somewhere that will give you the support and mentorship you need to grow in your career, we should talk.