Mentoring Myself (Ep 1) – Lyft Engineering

Exploring the idea of attempting to “be the person you needed when you were younger” through comic form.

I dropped out of college after taking only a few introductory computer science courses, so I’m what a lot of people might refer to as “self-taught.” All of the practical software engineering knowledge I had prior to landing my first job was learned either during internships or while pulling all-nighters at random weekend hackathons.

While having a “non-traditional” background can be a fun ice breaker, early on it can also come with an almost crippling paranoia that you don’t have what it takes to succeed in the professional world. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I wasted in the beginning trying to figure things out on my own because I was afraid of revealing where my knowledge gaps were, only to later find out that someone just…forgot to give me critical background information.

It took me a while to realize it but, as a junior developer, I was only putting myself at a greater disadvantage by not asking for help when I needed it.

Now that I’ve been at this for a number of years, and have helped on-board and been a mentor to people with a wide range of experiences — from interns, to new grads, to some who’ve been at this a lot longer than I have — I’ve realized the power in asking for help. Unless you’re starting your own company (which I tried to do once), there’s always going to be context you have to gain. Resources you’ll need to find. People you’ll need to grab coffee with.

On the other end, being an effective mentor requires a lot of self-awareness. It’s understanding what information you have that someone else wouldn’t naturally, and being able to bridge that knowledge gap. For this reason, I personally try to avoid using buzzwords and acronyms when talking to new people, and provide as much context as I can (with links to code, internal documentation, tutorials, etc.) when putting together starter tasks for new hires.

I’ve also found it can be incredibly useful to schedule lunches and coffee meetings for them with some other people you know — both on and off your immediate team!

Since I can’t go back in time and actually help Lil Hallie navigate the professional world, I’m making it my mission to help people like her that I meet moving forward!

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