Software Companies: How to Mentor Junior Web Developers into Excellent Employees

January 13th, 2020

Lauren Mabra

Marketing Coordinator @ Suncoast Developers Guild

Hiring and mentoring junior developers can have amazing returns. Any time you're willing to invest in employees, the return is well worth it.

But let's talk about the actual care and feeding of junior developers. How do companies mentor junior software engineers to ensure that they will thrive, succeed, and grow with the business? Keep reading to find out...

1. Give the Junior Developer Ownership

According to this finding by Gallup, highly engaged employees result in 21% more profitability.

This is because giving ownership engages the developer which results in better attitude, behavior, responsibility and an increase in overall productivity. More importantly, employees who feel engaged and who take ownership in the work they do result in 59% less turnover which is a huge problem that many companies face. Since developers are in such high demand, they have the freedom to be picky with who they work for and bounce around whenever a better offer comes along.

2. Prioritize mentoring

Mentorship and engaging developers starts at the top. As the one who's in charge, place an emphasis on mentoring and it will show the developer that you value them and establish mutual respect.

Understand that mentoring and teaching junior developers takes time and doesn't have an immediate return, but their growth is the bottom line and your ROI.

Mentoring not only helps junior developers grow but also helps them (as new employees) overcome the onboarding process. It helps them feel like they're an integral part of the team which can help push them to do their best

3. Set Them Up to Succeed

Nothing is more discouraging than being highly motivated to learn yet feeling incapable of doing anything correctly. You can help set them up for success by giving direction:

  • What do they need to do?
  • How do they go about doing it?
  • Why should they feel motivated to get these things finished? This helps connect their personal vision with the company's vision. It's important that their own motivations align with the company's.

Early wins help quickly build the developer's confidence by showing them that they're able to accomplish things right off the bat.

Another way to ensure success is by giving regular and frequent feedback. Let the developer know how they're doing, what they're doing correctly, and areas they could improve in.

Lastly, anticipate pain points and questions that they might have. Try to provide answers before the questions are asked. This can help minimize confusion and prevent mistakes from being made. And since we're on the topic of mistakes, this leads to the next point...

4. Allow Mistakes to be Made

Often, making mistakes is the best way to learn because you're less likely to make the same mistake the next time around. As the mentee, even sharing your own failures and being open about the mistakes that you've made can help further demonstrate your teachings. This can also make you a better role model and nurture the relationship between the mentee and you.

After a mistake is made, it's vital to take the time to go over what went wrong and how to minimize the chance of it happening again.

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.”

—Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM

5. Give Code Reviews

This goes back to the suggestion of giving regular feedback. Code reviews are feedback on someone's code especially pull requests.

Getting code reviews help make the junior developer's code efficient and readable while also refining their skillset of tricks and techniques that they weren't aware of before.

It's helpful to provide context along with recommendations when doing a code review because it's important for the developer to understand why you're requesting a change. We recommend avoiding asking questions that may come off as judgmental to the junior developer: "Why didn't you do it like this?" It may be more helpful and efficient to maintain a helpful tone and provide reasoning behind why you suggest they make the change: "You can do X because it offers the benefit of Y."

6. Keep Your Ego in Check

Web Development is equally as much about the people as it is about the code. When it comes to mentoring juniors, scoffing, rhetorical questions, and arrogance are not going to help train them to be better employees for your business.

If a junior dev can't ask a question or make a small mistake, they aren't growing which means the company isn't growing either.

Many companies lose junior developers because of their negative environment. The developers will leave to go somewhere where they feel more appreciated and valued.

Looking to hire junior developers? Join us for Demo Day on January 31st where you can meet our graduates, get a full walkthrough of the apps they’ve built, and view their code.

Even if you’re not looking to hire right now, Demo Day can be a great networking opportunity as an employee or recruiter. Get more details and RSVP here.

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