Commit #8: An introvert’s take on mentoring engineers

Do you prefer reading books or listening to music over partying for your “rest time”? Or planning deliberately instead of taking spontaneous ideas when speaking in the front of a crowd? Are you feeling drained after interacting with a lot of new acquaintances, wanting to retreat? If your answer is yes, there’s a big chance you’re an introvert (or ambivert) like me.

Us introverts have to rest after a certain amount of social interaction. It doesn’t mean that we hate people… our brain has different wirings on how to recharge ourselves. Due to my introversion, I tend to evade unnecessary social interactions since young, which inhibited my social skills. Growing up, I realized their importance and ended up analyzing my extroverted friends to catch up. (Yeah, that sounds nerdy, I know.)

I learned that social interaction takes different forms and contexts. In the professional setup, these interactions come in various kinds – discussing in a meeting, writing technical documentation, listening to a person, and giving proper response. Out of all of them, I took an interest in a particular interaction: mentoring. And I want to share what I learned about it as an introvert in this post.

Why mentoring?

As humans, I believe most of us learn from experiences. A mistake from the past, for example, provides reasons and steps to prevent a similar outcome in the future. Thankfully, we don’t always need to learn these lessons from firsthand experience. Reading one’s experience through books is a great example. Another alternative for reading is (surprise, surprise) mentoring!

A proper mentoring could significantly accelerate the mentee’s growth. In the process, a mentor tailors lessons based on the mentee’s needs. In addition to the lessons, they also provide a living example for the mentees – an advantage which reading lacks. In my opinion, nothing increases confidence more than someone who models on how to do something properly.

In addition to the mentee’s growth, the mentoring process forces the mentor to grow, too. Besides the required accountability from “practicing what you preach,” the mentees could also drive the mentors out of their comfort zones through their questions. I experienced these on my career growth, and I’m thankful for it.

From a business perspective, mentoring provides a long-term value. On The Effective Engineer, Edmond Lau states that investing in your team’s growth is one of many high-leverage activities, which will multiply the given effort as a result. Mentoring is one of them since it will help the mentees to grow and take part in the mentor’s responsibilities. Following the mentees’ growth, the mentors could delegate their tasks and tackle more challenging responsibilities.

Last but not least, I have seen the impact on both being a mentee and a mentor to career and personal growth. My personal growth is the main reason why an introvert like me bother writing a post about mentoring. It also helped me to push my comfort zone a little bit wider every time I get demotivated as a mentor.

Make a one-on-one routine

As an introvert, I reluctantly start social interaction with others. My comfort zone as a junior engineer was working on my code while listening to music or reading through technical blogs. Sure, I could speak in front of the public or explaining in-depth technical details in a one-on-one setting, but those events require enough preparation and happen infrequently. This comfort zone was blasted when I got promoted and requested by my manager to mentor junior engineers two years ago.

Based on my mentoring experience in college, I know that I need to ensure my mentee’s growth by checking on them periodically. The context is slightly different, though – I still need to deliver my day-to-day job! Left alone, I might ignore my mentees due to my introversion and use my workload as an excuse.

To battle my comfort zone, I decided to schedule my mentoring sessions. I sent a periodical schedule for each mentee in my work calendar. Having it on the calendar helps me to plan my day, leaving me with no room for an excuse. It also helps to remind the mentees to allocate time for the sessions, too! On top of that, it prevents others from disturbing us during the allotted time.

When having a one-on-one session, it’s important to remember that your mentee is human. Your mentee has a personal life, and it affects their performance in the workplace. This fact has driven me to ask for their well-being at the start of a session. Is there something that they’re concerned about outside of work? Or perhaps a great experience from last weekend? The answer could be anything – A typical “everything’s fine,” a passionately-told story, or an in-depth discussion. Your mentee might be reluctant to open up on the first few sessions, which is normal. Try to open up to them first. Share your experience or thoughts when they share theirs, and deliver it in a positive language. Offer help when possible.

After discussing their concerns outside of work, ask for the work-related ones. Should they raise technical questions, try your best to ask their thought process first before giving the answers. If it’s outside of your forte, refer to others who might be able to help them. Don’t hesitate to ask them to explain the solution when they solved it – and appreciate them when you learned something new!

There are times when your mentee’s concerns related to the workplace. Listen to them well, since you are their go-to person to raise their concerns to the management. If you’re not senior enough to offer a helping hand,  you could raise it to your higher-ups, too. It’s also a good chance for you to impart cultural company values or lessons – e.g., how to tackle an over-promised feature.

Last but not least, ask for their technical growth. What have they learned since the previous session? You could improve this by assigning a specific material or book to be discussed, which is even better if it applies to their day-to-day work. For me, I always assign new hires to read the Clean Code book for starters and discuss each chapter in each session.

Remember to take notes on every session, based on the date. Writing down their concerns and learned lessons will help you to track their growth. It will also help you to follow them up on future sessions. Those notes could also serve as evidence to the management during their periodical performance review.

Group them together

I was concerned about my team’s camaraderie, so I scheduled all of the one-on-one sessions to be done in a week and added a group session in the following week. The group session has one rule: each session will be lead by one of us, sharing something to the group. I remember bringing a presentation about Clean Code’s first chapter in the first session. At the end of that session, I asked Heri to deliver the second chapter for the next group session. The five of us took turns until it circles back to me. So the routine goes.

The group session gave my mentees a chance to know each other better. Thanks to our constructive communication culture, we covered each others’ missing material and offered feedback on how to deliver them better. It’s not long until Sinta delivered her clever-and-dry jokes to light up the situation. I am glad that the friendliness that built in the group session extends to the day-to-day job, too!

Besides the camaraderie, the group session allows my mentees to refine their skills before speaking to a larger audience, e.g., our company’s weekly demo. It also helped us to keep learning something new, especially when we’re too busy to learn due to a project’s deadline. Talk about hitting three birds with one stone, eh?

We usually hold our group session in an open space or see-through meeting room in the office. There are some occasions where our coworkers dropped in to join us. Besides listening to the material, they also happily give inputs or share their knowledge!

Lastly, this two-week session gave me a room to breathe on the alternating week, since I’m not always the one who delivers the material. I usually use this time to focus on my current project, learning something new, or maintaining a pet project.

Let them take the wheel

As a mentor, there’s an important goal for us besides helping out mentees grow – it’s to prepare them to lead and become a mentor someday, too. I tried to hone their leadership skills by letting them take the wheel.

I tried to instill a sense of ownership by asking the speaker for the group session to send an invitation through the calendar. They get to decide the date, time, and location! I’m thankful that other team members were also quick to respond, so the speaker knew when the session needs to be rescheduled.

There are occasions where my mentees gave brilliant ideas, too! In 2017’s third quarter, we were thinking about our quarterly team-building event. We usually hang out for dinner, and I was thinking about something new. Sadly, I don’t have a good idea (damn introversion). When I shared the question to the team, Yoga suggested us to take an escape room game. We ended up going to Pandora Experience on Puri Indah on the next Saturday, and we had a lot of fun!

Law of Demeter's Q4 team building event
The Law of Demeter! From left to right: Me, Yoga, Sinta, Iqbal, and Heri.

There’s another occasion where we’re looking for new discussion material. Last year, we read the Gang of Four’s Design Patterns book and discussed one or two patterns on each group session. In the last two sessions, I pointed out that we need new materials and requested them to look for a new one. Iqbal offered to go through Wayne Bishop’s “Algorithm and Data Structures with Swift.” All of us agreed to do it. We enjoyed the book!

(A glance at Iqbal’s presentation for self-balancing trees. Heri went to the toilet when I recorded this. 😔 We also got Fathureza dropping in!)

Recap

As a recap, these are the practical points from this post:

  1. Schedule one-on-one sessions with your mentees.
    1. It will help you get out of your comfort zone.
    2. Ask their well-being first, be it from their personal life or work-related concerns.
    3. Listen and take note of their concerns.
    4. Share your experience. Show your mentees that you’re a human, too.
    5. Last, but not least, ask what did they learn since the previous session. When possible, share some relevant technical knowledge or work ethics.
    6. Don’t be shy to praise them or ask for further details when they’re sharing something you don’t know.
  2. Schedule group sessions.
    1. Decide on a topic to discuss. It would be better if you could divide it into several parts, e.g., a book with several chapters.
    2. Encourage them to deliver several parts of the topic.
    3. Build a culture of appreciation. A small “thank you” at the end of the talk would go a long way.
  3. Instill a sense of ownership by encouraging them to take part in the group.
    1. The speaker for the next group session should decide the date, time, and place. Make sure they’re the one who sends the invitation, too.
    2. Ask them what materials they want to have for future sessions.
  4. Remember to have fun!
    1. If needed, ask your extroverted mentees for ideas! 😉

Be reminded, though – this method works for my team and my company culture. Yours might be different, but I believe that mentoring could improve your workplace.

Acknowledgments

I wanted to thank the mentors I had in the college, Arthur Lumolos and Sarah Awuy, for giving me the example of how to live in the Word of God. And for giving me the room to make mistakes and grow by leading others.

I want to thank the mentors I had in the workplace up until this point: Fauzan Emmerling, Batista Harahap, Muhammad Taufik (Obet), Pria Purnama, Abdul Haris Ilmawan, Darrick Rochili, and Lars Oleson.

I want to thank my Law of Demeter team for the great journey for these two years – Heri, Sinta, Iqbal, and Yoga. It’s been a joy to watch all of you grew in your career! Don’t forget to share what you have learned – and be a mentor! Help other engineers out, and you might make this world a slightly better place.

Published by

edopelawi

Romans 1: 16. A brutish, senseless beast in God's gracious hands. Writes iOS apps for food, and hopefully, for a better world.

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