Mark Pearl

An interesting scenario cropped up with a mentor/protege in a technical mentoring scenario.

A protege was working with one of their mentors. In looking at the protege’s code the mentor acknowledged there were better ways to do what s/he had done but would not say what it was.

The protege got frustrated because they felt the mentor was holding back on them. What the protege wanted was an opinion and some direction.

What’s interesting is I’ve heard this scene play out many times. I want to offer a couple of reasons why a mentor would do this and how they can approach it differently to get a better result.

I don’t want to introduce too many new concepts at once

As a technical mentor you may have a concern around not wanting to introduce too many new concepts at once. This is a legitimate concern. “The principles of instruction” explains how our working memory is limited and can only handle small amounts of new information at once and that presenting too much material at once may confuse someone because their working memory is unable to process it.

Instead of not introducing the information, you have a few choices…

1… Don’t acknowledge it at all. If you feel it is going to push someone into overload simply don’t mention it at all. 2… Acknowledge it. In some situations your protege is going to explicitly ask if something can be done better. Someone asking for feedback indicates they have the capacity to handle it. In those situations give them the feedback

What if I don’t want them to loose focus on what the goal is

What if your protege is asking for feedback but you don’t want them to loose focus on what the goal? It is still better to acknowledge it and park it. Explain at a high level what it is you see and then make it clear that you would like to park it that item for now because you believe it will make them loose focus on other more critical learning.

Having a “parking lot” where you can put things to come back to later is a good tool to help someone conceptually move on.

“Let’s not worry about that aspect because it can distract you from the concept/skill we are focussing on right now but we will come back to it.”

It is subjective and other developers would have other opinions on it

As a mentor you are valued because of your opinion. If you have an opinion on something share it. If it is subjective make it clear that it is subjective and then share your thoughts on it. Your opinion matters. If it was just information transfer your were in for your protege could get that from watching a video.

Often the subjective things that require discussion and explanation will help your protege internalize things.


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