The opportunities to be a mentor or, as Jack Donaghy would say, a mentee, are few and far between in the world of web development. On one hand, few potential mentors want to sacrifice the precious, precious time on junior developers who will likely be gone in less than a year. And then there are the developers who scowl at any attempt to share knowledge believing that to be a mark of showing off.
Besides spending your own time and being a showoff, there’s another mentorship prevention layer: the direct management of junior developers and tight deadlines. A developer once asked me to show him how to do something, but as I was explaining, I could see my other co-worker in a neighboring pod getting more an more frustrated. After 5 minutes, as I was getting into a little more detail, he piped up – well, let’s not confuse […] there — just tell him what he needs right now, Michael.
“Like the guy who was sort of our manager—the one keeping an eye on us—Skef Wholey, was this giant blond-haired, barbarian- looking guy. Very intimidating-looking. And he didn’t talk much. I remember a lot of times I’d be sitting there—it was kind of an open- plan cubicle kind of thing—working, doing something, writing some Lisp program. And he’d come shuffling in with his ceramic mug of beer, bare feet, and he’d just stand behind me. I’d say hi. And he’d grunt or say nothing. He’d just stand there watching me type. At some point I’d do something and he’d go, “Ptthh, wrong!” and he’d walk away. So that was kind of getting thrown in the deep end. It was like the Zen approach—the master hit me with a stick, now I must meditate.”
Or here’s a passage about the concept of “nusumi-geiko” that is still alive in Japanese culture:
“The cabinetmaker’s training usually began in his early teens. In the ensuing ten years of apprenticeship, he endured a great deal of sweeping and menial tasks, but was also exposed to the work of the master craftsmen around him. The term nusumi-geiko refers to what actually took place in cabinetmaker’s training and many other trades. It means “stolen lessons,” alluding to the fact that the apprentices were not instructed so much as they learned the requisite skills by sheer determination through observation.”
I am very thankful to the people who took their time to show me the ropes: Lothar Krause, Bill Cunningham, Dan Tepper. They spent a lot of their time explaining things to me.