Mark Pearl

The word “mentorship” is a loaded word, it means different things in different contexts to different people. I’ve seen software mentorship takes on two main forms:

1) Skills mentoring
2) Mindset mentoring

Skills Mentoring

With skills mentoring there is a specific skill or practice you want to learn that the someone else has already mastered, for example learning how to do TDD.

In my experience skills mentoring works best when there is a roadmap or a journey the mentor has in mind. With TDD, for example, the roadmap may be to do a set of increasingly complex coding problems. The mentor reviews and guides the mentee through the roadmap making sure the most important concepts of the skill are learnt.

At times when the mentee has not understood a particular concept the mentor will take them back to that concept and try alternative approaches until the mentee gets it.

With skills mentoring there is a clear goal and thus a clear end point—learning the skill. When the mentee understands and can apply the skill the mentors job is over.

Mindset Mentoring

With mindset mentoring there isn’t a specific skill the mentee is learning or a roadmap they are being guided through, rather the mentee is looking for solid advice from someone they respect and trust — their mentor.

Usually the mentor has previous experience in doing the work the mentee is learning. The mentor offers personal support. They usually share what they have done in the past in similar circumstances and help the mentee think through their options. Confidentiality and trust are key in mindset mentoring.

One of the challenges with this form of mentorship is that it doesn’t have a clear end point, because there is no roadmap it can drag out longer than it needs to.

I recommend in this type of mentoring relationship you use the review and renew approach. Upfront you commit to a set time period to meet for, say you agree to once every two weeks for two months. You make it clear that at the end of the two months you will evaluate if there is still value in the mentoring relationship and either review and adjust, or renew for another two months. I’ve found explicitly agreeing to this upfront removes some of the awkwardness around

Natural Evolution of the Mentoring Relationship

Often there tends to be a natural evolution of a mentoring relationship from skills mentoring to mindset mentoring. A mentoring relationship is set up because someone wants to develop a skill. Through working with their mentor they build a rapport with them and at some time the mentoring transitions from skills to mindset mentoring.

Also, the path may not be linear and the transition clear. I’ve seen some mentors move back and forth between both modes.

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