do no harm Delicate advice for mentors who work with beginners

Short description

Olga Bolotova, a Developer Advocate at QIWI, shares her advice for mentors working with interns. She emphasizes the importance of interns’ adaptability and socialization skills, and recommends that mentors not interfere too much in the beginning, allowing for a natural selection process. Bolotova also suggests criticism as a means to build resilience in interns and encourages mentors to foster independence in their wards. Finally, she stresses the importance of authority for mentors, suggesting that they remain confident even when faced with questions they don’t know the answers to.

do no harm Delicate advice for mentors who work with beginners

Hello everybody! My name is Olga Bolotova, and I am a Developer Advocate at QIWI. Now I represent the interests of developers, but before that I was a front-end developer and worked with newcomers, interns and their mentors for five years. And then, as a manager, she launched an internship program in the front-end direction at my former company.

I personally know that interns can turn out to be pain and wasted time, but can become diamonds under the guidance of a mentor. In my work, I always tried to limit the diamonds and not spend the whole working day on it, to remain professional and not to bend the hook, to produce motivated, hardened and confident developers. Without false modesty, I will say this: if you are a mentor, are preparing to become one, or simply often interact with newbies, this article with advice is a must-have.

Onboarding is for weaklings

The key quality of an intern is the ability to adapt. If the intern slips on the first day, why is he wasting the mentor’s time at all. Processes, resources, access, current projects are elementary things. They are like fire for ancient man. He was able to extract – he survived: he fried food, warmed himself at night, scared away predators. He could not – unfortunately, he will no longer be able to pass on his genes.

You don’t want a newbie who can’t understand the fundamentals. I advise you to watch your ward carefully in the first days and most importantly, do not interfere under any circumstances. Try on the role of a National Geographic cameraman and use this period as a natural selection mechanism. Remember, any hardship will harden your Padawan.

The world belongs to extroverts

Socialization is also the intern’s responsibility. If a newcomer cannot immediately contact the team, get to know everyone in a row, take part in a coffee date – somewhere there was a mistake at the hiring stage.

Here are my recommendations for team calls:

  1. Do not under any circumstances imagine an intern.

  2. Act as usual, as if you are not a mentor.

  3. Observe and draw conclusions.

A serious beginner can take the floor at the first bell and introduce himself; able to instantly get involved in work issues and sketch ideas; can shut the belt of future colleagues and make you feel proud. If everything matches, then your padawan is not one of the timid ten. But don’t be fooled, this is a trainee base. Most likely (but this is not certain), such guys can be dealt with.

If a person is modestly silent or speaks excitedly, brace yourself, it will be difficult for you later. Do not worry about the fact that you may have to divorce. Most likely, this is not the person you needed.

The mentor gave one of our interns the task of getting to know all colleagues in the company on his own and only then moving on to work tasks. There are almost two thousand of us at QIWI – a long and thorough journey. But you can only imagine what kind of champion will eventually grow out of Veniamin Sumkin.

You can’t scold, you can’t praise

A classic of the genre. How many brilliant careers are built on shouting, pressure and self-assertion. But this is still a bonus plus for you, which will help you in management, and now we are talking about interns.

The mentor’s task is to raise a Teflon ward. For this, it is necessary to inculcate resilience and the habit of the harshest criticism. Tell your Padawan that the corporate world is not so sunny and welcoming. Explain that it is not important how you hit yourself, but how you hold the punch, how you move forward. Make sure that this is the only way to win.

That’s why I strongly recommend not only criticizing your interns publicly, but also encouraging criticism from the rest of the team wherever possible: in person, in meetings, in pull requests, in the elevator, at coffee points. Criticize the intern at those moments when he is least ready for it.

Do not believe, here is the story of Semen Ukhokusov. He is not very good with the code yet, but behind his shoulders are victories in all corporate competitions in boxing, judo, Greco-Roman wrestling and a gold medal in the slapping championship. Now we put him in sparring with all the newbies, test them for strength and weed out those who don’t fit.

You can’t show slack and praise your Padawan. But if it does happen and you are forced to do it, no one should know about it. Use personal messages, they can be deleted immediately after reading. For one-on-one praise, schedule meetings in the most secluded corners of your office. First, ask if the trainee has brought a tail with him and check if he does not have a bottom microphone.

Care and attention are poison, take care guys

Every leader wants to see independent and self-motivated employees in his team. As a mentor, you must be able to nurture these qualities in a beginner, otherwise how will he continue to work?

Give him time for himself. Do your own thing, they are much more important to you and the company, because your efficiency is much higher than that of an intern.

No joint coffee breaks and one-on-one meetings. Read messages, but don’t reply until noon. This develops a sense of independence and a desire to independently search for answers. To all requests, answer “tomorrow”, “I have a fire”, “I don’t have time”, “it’s not for you now”, “I’m in a different time zone, and it’s already night”. So you can not only distance yourself from the intern, but also teach him your tricks.

If you bump into someone in the hallway, look away and pick up your pace. Just in case, buy big sunglasses, fake mustache and nose.

If you doubt the advice, then the story of Helga Skorohodova’s deep self-reflection is for you. By his absence, the mentor awakened in her an extraordinary level of independence. She herself was disappointed in herself, she herself made the decision that “going is not for her”, she herself found a new courier job and successfully passed the interview. Clever woman!

Once should be enough

What else needs to be developed in an intern is attentiveness and intelligence. Already at the first meeting, set strict conditions: you will not explain again. This applies to everything: work tasks, conditions and new information.

A mentor is not a teacher who runs after a student or answers questions after a couple. And not a YouTuber with a lecturer where you can rewind or pause. Learning in the past. Nowadays, work where everything is grown-up. If a person was able to find his first job, then he should understand the task from the first time.

Do not react, even if you see confusion and awkward silence on the intern’s face. If you give up, you will only make things worse and spoil the newcomer. And in general, the company has a lot of colleagues. It won’t disappear, someone will explain. If a trainee has trouble with awareness and being present in the moment, that’s not your problem.

And I will turn, for example, to the big ones. Master Yoda died to avoid answering Luke’s nagging questions. So far, no one has died here, but trainees are constantly leaving one mentor. They are waiting to see that they are being chewed. And a real master does not bend. I am proud of such guys!

The power of a mentor is in authority

Mentor – it sounds authoritative. Your mentee should not doubt for a moment that you do not know something. Especially if you really don’t know.

If you’re caught off guard by questions you don’t know the answer to, say something difficult in Middle or Senior. The main thing is to look smart at this moment. To be sure, practice in front of a mirror.

Funny fact. More often than not, interns ask specifically to test you, not because they really need help. They read smart things on the Internet and try to find the mentor’s weakness.

If there are no ready-made answers in stock, roll your eyes and feel ashamed for not knowing elementary things. I share another tactic – forward questions to the intern. “And what do you think about this?” – Should come off your lips automatically. This is called coaching.

One of our interns, Oleg Pankeykov, after two months of working with a mentor, became a coach himself and opened his courses on Instagram. In the description, he calls himself abracadabra-senior-tomato-teamlead-supernova-developer. Asks open questions about JS in stories and has already collected 24 subscribers. Preparing to fly to Forbes.


So, these are the best practices tested over the years. Do not listen to those who do not share them, they cannot be trusted. I can. And if you have difficulties with colleagues after using it, don’t call Sol, write to me. I am a Developer Advocate for a reason.

Okay, of course this is all an April Fool’s joke, and I don’t recommend anyone to take these tips seriously. And I also looked into the QIWI mentor school with one eye and knew that the guys use mirror tips: in a game form, they teach colleagues to make a diving plan for beginners, help them develop, and also pump up their own mentor skills. Just love!

If you have any hacky tips too, share them in the comments!

Related posts