Mentoring software engineers or engineering leaders

I get asked every now and then if I offer 1:1 mentoring for either software engineers or engineering managers or leaders. While I used to do this in the past, I don't offer this any more. I collected much of the advice I have to offer for software engineers in The Software Engineer's Guidebook. I also write The Pragmatic Engineer Newsletter where I do cover topics like what it means to be a senior engineer at various companies, how to deal with a low-quality engineering culture, and other topics.

I do believe great mentors are useful for professional growth, and have benefitted both informal and formal mentorship from experienced engineers and managers. I wrote more on the benefits of developers mentoring other developers in the past.

Here are approaches, as well as people I can recommend:

  • If you are working at a large company: look for mentors, internally. Mentors who are inside the organization will be able to offer insights and observations that external mentors would likely not be able to help with. How do you find these people? They could be people you already worked with; or you can ask your management chain to connect you with folks who might be open to mentoring.
  • If you are in an engineering leadership position at a smaller company, a paid coach/mentor could be a good investment, which could potentially be footed by your company. See a list of paid coaches and engineering managers based on both people I know personally; and recommendations from engineering managers who worked with them.
  • If you are a software engineer, try to connect with and learn from more experienced people at your workplace. See advice on various approaches in my article Developers mentoring other developers: practices I've seen work well. You can also consider connecting with more experienced folks online: either through free sites, or via paid ones. See a list of these sites to connect with mentors.

Mentoring doesn't have to be a big deal. Software engineer and engineering leader Rodrigo Pimentel shares this advice (read his full post):

"For a long time, I hesitated to actually try and find a mentor. Not only am I not good at asking for help, but I felt embarrassed to ask the people on my radar.

But then it turned out *I* was mentoring someone and I didn't even know it! A friend and former team member asked me to keep having our 1-1s (which I always have with everyone on my teams) after I left the company and moved to a different country. Which was fine by me, I enjoyed the chats, I learned a lot from them. One day, this friend casually referred to himself as my "mentee", and I was taken aback. I had no idea!

This made me realise that being a mentor doesn't have to be a big imposition. So I approached a friend whom I admire and asked for a recurring chat. It was very unstructured, and we didn't even manage to have many sessions, but the ones we did have were valuable to me.

(...)

If you find yourself not having a mentor because of some (perhaps self-imposed) friction, try to unblock yourself by lowering the task. Ask a friend you admire for some of their time. Most people are happy to help.

I hope you find these pointers useful.


Featured Pragmatic Engineer Jobs

The above jobs score at least 9/12 on The Pragmatic Engineer Test. Browse more senior engineer and engineering leadership roles with great engineering cultures, or add your own on The Pragmatic Engineer Job board and apply to join The Pragmatic Engineer Talent Collective.

Want to get interesting opportunities from vetted tech companies? Sign up to The Pragmatic Engineer Talent Collective and get sent great opportunities - similar to the ones below without any obligation. You can be public or anonymous, and I’ll be curating the list of companies and people.

Are you hiring senior+ engineers or engineering managers? Apply to join The Pragmatic Engineer Talent Collective to contact world-class senior and above engineers and engineering managers/directors. Get vetted drops twice a month, from software engineers - full-stack, backend, mobile, frontend, data, ML - and managers currently working at Big Tech, high-growth startups, and places with strong engineering cultures. Apply here.