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How to find a software engineer mentor

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

A common question folks have is how can they find a mentor to help them learn Swift? What should they look for? How should they approach this in the first place?

Paola Mata: Well, sometimes I'm lucky enough that like my manager, whoever's supervising me can be that mentor. But that's not always the case for people. I've definitely had people approach me just like via Twitter, DM and ask if I could mentor them. That was very direct. And in other cases it happened just more as a conversation like, “hey, what do you know about this topic? And could you help me?”

My main thing about mentorship is where it doesn't have to be this super formal thing. I think sometimes I mentor people a lot more informally just by taking the time to have a call with them and just sharing with them about my experience. It's funny because I do this fairly often and I don't even remember where... I'll forget the conversation I had. But then people tend to follow up and say like, “hey, this is how doing I wanted to let you know I got this job and I took your advice.”

“My main thing about mentorship is where it doesn't have to be this super formal thing. I think sometimes I mentor people a lot more informally just by taking the time to have a call with them and just sharing with them about my experience.”

And it's a fantastic feeling. So even just like asking for a call for somebody or requests for just like an informational call is something. There are situations where you might want more ongoing help. And I've definitely done that.

Being conscious, being considerate of people's time limitations and whatever. Maybe just see what they're able to do, able to offer you and whatever that is. Maybe it's just like once a month, once a week or whatever.

I had this for a while, an ongoing weekly call for an hour where I just do a video chat with someone now that I'm in Philadelphia. I didn't know anyone out here, so I was doing a remote one over Skype or whatever – whatever tool works that can screenshare and work through a problem.

And not just work through a problem, like I'm not trying to fix your code, but basically help you understand how to fix it on your own. I like doing it.

I feel like a lot of people probably get approached a lot and don't have the time to help out as much. I've heard that end of it as well. But just try reaching out over whatever means, maybe if they have a website whatever.

I've not done it personally, but I have reached out to a specific person wanting to learn more about where they work and what it's like being in this role, perhaps. That maybe I'm interested in pursuing just like informational calls. And start there. And maybe they have more time in the future. Maybe they're willing to set up a call for something else or do something more ongoing. I don't know if you have any other advice.

“You can be mentored by somebody who maybe works on a different platform entirely. Maybe somebody who does more web development, but who could maybe mentor you on maybe not specifically on Swift or iOS. But can mentor you on how they got to their particular role or how they got into management or whatever. People can be mentors in your life in all different ways.”

Paul Hudson: Well, I think the idea of just asking folks, “can I get a coffee? Let's go out and chat about Swift.” Is a real core one that gets overlooked so easily. I remember seeing, was it a Twitter thread? Or Reddit perhaps. Someone talking like this saying, “I want to do this. I want to ask folks, hey, I'll get your coffee. Let's talk about something. But I don't like coffee – what do I do?"

And I'm like, “well, you don't necessarily go there and literally drink lattes together. You can have tea, you can have sparkling water. The coffee isn't the point. The point is, it's a completely mundane place to go in public where you can just chat with someone in a safe, friendly way at a known quantity and just walk away.” And it's very easy to do.

And I do have a lot of it. During WWDC week normally if I actually were there a quarter of my time or so is spent in actual talks. I'm meeting people I'm supposed to meet at certain times. Some of my Bay Area friends, whatever at certain times. A quarter or so of the time I'm in labs trying to talk to engineers, getting answers. Then the remaining half the time is just free floating. People say, “oh, can get you coffee and ask about so, and so or show you my code.”

I end up of course, massively hyper-caffeinated. I have so much coffee and snacks and whatever for the week. I come back feeling 50 pounds heavier. And that's a problem, but I try and make time for it because that's what I'm there for – to meet folks, to hang out, to get ideas. To see other folks' code and see what they're doing and get ideas from them.

“Often for your career, what you need is not just more coding. You need interview skills or you need interpersonal skills.”

I see their ideas and share my ideas. And then I use these ideas somewhere else. It's a big system – people get as much from giving advice than they do from other way around.

So the simple, “can I get you a coffee and have a chat?” is a very, very sensible way to get started. So yes, that's a great idea. And what’s the worst that could happen? You get, “no I'm busy,” or, “no, I'm already mentoring other folks.” That's the worst you're going to get – there's not a great deal to lose in that respect.

Paola Mata: You can be mentored by somebody who maybe works on a different platform entirely. Maybe somebody who does more web development, but who could maybe mentor you on maybe not specifically on Swift or iOS. But can mentor you on how they got to their particular role or how they got into management or whatever. People can be mentors in your life in all different ways.

“You go for a coding mentor and also an entirely non-coding mentor. And it might be as Paola said someone who does coding who'll give you Swift advice. That's fine too. But also could be someone who doesn't do coding at all. They just want to do business or finance or marketing, and you could learn so much from them.”

Paul Hudson: Don't underestimate that folk, seriously. People seem to think that having a well-known Swift developer as mentor, is some trophy or whatever I get that. Often for your career, what you need is not just more coding. You need interview skills or you need interpersonal skills. Or you want to do better with promotion, or you want to do better with business or whatever it is. Something else that's not just coding. So that's entirely possible.

And honestly, personally, I would recommend it. You go for a coding mentor and also an entirely non-coding mentor. And it might be as Paola said someone who does coding who'll give you Swift advice. That's fine too. But also could be someone who doesn't do coding at all. They just want to do business or finance or marketing, and you could learn so much from them.

And they're just as willing to teach and explain and guide and help as anyone else. So it's very, very highly recommended having these two problem mentor approach is a really, really big deal.

Paola Mata: I agree.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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