Beyond Good Karma: The Surprising Benefits of Mentoring for Professional Growth

RailsGirls is a global movement that aims to empower women by teaching them the fundamentals of web development with Ruby on Rails. The initiative has become increasingly important for the tech community in recent years, as it encourages more women to take up careers in tech and helps to address the gender gap in the industry. By offering a safe and supportive environment where participants can learn the basics of coding, RailsGirls has become a powerful force for change.

As a software developer with almost a decade of experience, I was excited to participate in a recent RailsGirls event. However, I was surprised to receive several questions about why I chose to volunteer my time and knowledge to this initiative. One ex-coleague even asked if I was trying to prove something to my wife 🤦

For me, the answer was simple. Throughout my career, I have relied heavily on open source tools and the knowledge shared by other developers online. I have learned from countless blog posts, tutorials, and forums, all of which were freely available to me thanks to the generosity of the tech community. As a result, I have always felt a strong urge to give back and contribute to the community that has helped me so much over the years.

Participating in RailsGirls was an opportunity for me to do just that. By sharing my knowledge and experience with others, I could help to inspire the next generation of web developers and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive tech industry. It was a chance to pay it forward and ensure that others had the same opportunities that I did when I was starting out in my career.

But RailsGirls isn’t just about giving back. It’s also about learning and growing as a developer. As a mentor, I found that explaining concepts to beginners forced me to think more deeply about my own understanding of the subject matter. It highlighted areas where I may have been overconfident and helped me identify gaps in my own knowledge. It also challenged me to communicate complex ideas in simple and accessible ways, a skill that is invaluable when onboarding a new team mate for example.

In addition, mentoring at RailsGirls taught me patience and adaptability. Working with two non-technical women at the same time was challenging, but it was also a valuable experience in how to manage multiple priorities and adapt to different learning styles. I had to be patient and willing to repeat myself multiple times, but I also had to be able to assess when to dive deeper and when to cut corners. These are skills that are valuable not just in mentorship, but in any leadership role.

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    key takeaways

    1. As a mentor, explaining a concept to someone else not only helps them, but it also shows you how well you understand the material and where your own weak points lie. However, it’s important to avoid being too confident and intimidating the mentee.
    2. Mentoring can be challenging, especially when dealing with multiple questions at once. This can be similar to managing a team of junior developers, as well as navigating the needs of more experienced team members, stakeholders, and project managers. It requires good communication and multitasking skills.
    3. Patience is key when mentoring. Knowing when to repeat an explanation for the 14th time, when to simplify concepts, and when to dive deeper into a topic requires careful consideration and empathy for the mentee’s learning style. It’s important to strike a balance between covering enough material while not overwhelming the mentee.

    Ultimately, you don’t need to be a rock-star or a charismatic speaker to be an effective mentor. The most important quality is a willingness to give back and help others. If you have the urge to mentor, don’t hesitate to sign up for a local workshop in your area of expertise. It may not change your life, but it can certainly make a difference in someone else’s journey towards success.