Let the Kids Play


As we grow in our respective careers, there is always someone ahead of us to guide us. Just as our mentors helped get us to where we are, the class behind us needs mentoring. For me, this has caused division and stress in my career. I know mentoring needs to happen, but how much is too much? I love to talk, so time slipping away while discussing approaches and solutions occurs all too often. Too often, these discussions turn into a full-on pairing session, where I am driving, and the mentee is hanging on for the ride. As we all know, this only solves the issue at hand. Some say giving the person the fish rather than teaching the method of fishing.

In discussion with my mentor, we both know this is an area of improvement. We devised an experiment to improve this for all on the team. The experiment? Rather than dive straight into the details. Take a step back. Discuss the problem as a user. Steer the mentee toward areas to look for a solution. Let the mentee go for a short amount of time. In the following discussion, we define what was explored areas and found. Apply some more steering toward areas to explore and experiments to run. In this discussion, it may be time to define the guard rails and places to watch for pitfalls. Continue this process, refining the thought process with the mentee and leading them to the solution.

But why choose this process? First, for selfish reasons, protect your time. A leader who needs to see further out into the future but is continually down in the details benefits no one, next for the mentee's benefit. You didn't get to your current position because everything was easy. It took work and time. The mentee will benefit from putting in the effort as well. Instead of teaching the solution, teach them the patterns to define it. The implementation should come naturally once the problem is understood at a higher level.

I have been trying this technique with those that are only a couple of years into their engineering career, up to senior-level engineers. So far, it has worked well. Coaching is never complete, it will take different forms as I grow and the others grow around me.