Over my time at Taplytics, we’ve had plenty of knowledge-sharing sessions and engineering pairings. However, these were informal and usually just ad hoc meetings between various team members.
These were helpful, but we noticed that new hires and even more experienced employees often didn’t know where to direct questions. While engineers are encouraged to talk about career growth with their managers during one-on-ones, it was initially left to them to figure out ways to get there.
To solve this, we started a mentoring program — one where engineers could learn from a mentor or, in some cases, learn how to become one themselves. Our goal was to share knowledge, get feedback, provide guidance, improve skills, and stimulate growth. This is how we made it happen.
Our first step was to create a Google Sheet. If you’re trying to implement a program of your own, any similar app or sign-up sheet will do. From there, engineers could sign up to be a mentor and share how many mentees they’d be willing to take on.
In our case, mentors range from intermediate to senior developers or engineering managers. Each mentor’s job revolves around growing their mentee professionally and technically.
The next step to take is to create a Google Form with a few drop-downs, each filled with a list of mentors (we gave individuals three choices). The reason for requesting multiple choices is to mitigate any overlap — and you should make it clear that a mentee might not be paired with their first-choice mentor.
Have a lot of mentors to go around? You may want to offer individuals more than just three choices.
Mentees can be any engineer that would want to learn and grow from a mentor. Keep in mind that mentees also don’t have to be junior. For example, a senior engineer can learn from an engineering manager if they want to grow into the management track. Similarly, a back-end engineer can learn from a front-end engineer if that’s something they want to pursue. And yes, mentors can also simultaneously be mentees.
After the mentee sign-up process is finished, the third step is to pair your mentors with mentees. In the case of engineering, the process can involve the head of engineering or management so individuals are matched accordingly. When the selection process is complete, you can post the pairings for everyone to see.
The next step is to have the mentor and mentee schedule an intro meeting with one another. During the intro meeting, topics can include:
Mentors and mentees will then schedule a recurring invite on their calendars. For example, a pair can have biweekly one-on-one meetings. They can also maintain a shared agenda for these one-on-ones in Lattice.
Mentorship programs are designed to primarily benefit mentees. Therefore, they should be responsible for bringing in and organizing topics for discussion during their mentorship one-on-one meetings. In other words, they should “own” the agenda.
Here are just a few examples of topics discussed in our engineering mentorship one-on-ones:
To date, we have had many mentor-mentee pairings along with group check-ins to discuss any challenges and things that need to be improved with the program. Here’s some actual feedback we received regarding the mentorship program:
“It’s been good to connect with and learn from both my mentor and mentee, especially because working from home makes it hard to have those conversations organically.”
“The mentorship program has been a really rewarding experience. I really enjoy seeing my mentees progress and becoming better. In addition, it has been good to be involved in different products and to be able to chime in on the process.”
“It’s going really well so far. I like the unstructured and freedom of being able to talk about and focus on whatever topics we want. Especially during remote work where it feels like there’s not always a lot of time to talk about non-project related topics. From a co-op perspective it’s really helpful being able to have open discussions with someone that has a lot more experience than you do.”
“It’s great to have a mentor to be able to reach out when you stumble over different difficulties. My mentor is very responsible, and very responsive in helping me getting unblocked and being able to continue my work.”
“The engineering mentorship program is great! It’s handy having a dedicated time to meet and ask questions or discuss helpful resources. It also helps to stop me from worrying that I’m bothering someone. I feel like I’m getting useful insight and learning a lot about my mentor as well! I especially like sharing screens and working through issues together so that I’m able to see the thought process.”
“The mentorship program’s been a great way to stay on top of my own growth as a developer. I’ve gotten a lot of constructive and proactive feedback about my goals and how to accomplish them, in a way that’s been really easy-going and conversational.”
In starting our program, we quickly discovered that Lattice served as a really valuable tool for facilitating mentor-mentee conversations. For example, one of the main issues that came up was mentors and mentees not having a shared agenda for the meeting.
Using Lattice, we can easily set a checklist of agenda items. This helps us keep note of the things that may come up during the time between meetings that we would want to discuss during the one-on-one. In addition, we can record shared and private notes of one-on-one meetings, which allows us to keep track of the discussions during the meeting that we can then go back on if needed. Furthermore, any takeaways that came out of the meeting can be added to an action item list so that we know what needs to be done.
Whether you’re in engineering or any other department, mentorship is incredibly valuable to both individuals and the business. The feedback we received from our program has blown us away, and we hope our story inspires your organization to give mentorship it a try.