Hi everyone! I’m Kostia, PS Department Manager, working for one of SD Solutions’ partners — Pepperi. For 3.5 years, I have been working here with Juniors a lot.
At first, I was a Team Lead and became Department Manager. During this time, 40 beginners came to our team to be mentored. My fuck-ups helped me to sort out how to become an effective mentor. Still, we won’t talk about my fuck-ups. I want to share my conclusions on how to lead newbies so they grow into pro specialists wishing to stay in the IT field.
How to find a beginner and not regret it
They say everyone wants to be in IT, but only some understand that this field is not perfect for anyone. Choosing the right people among many willing ones is crucial. Relying on the inner voice that tells you whether you like a person is the beginning of failure. Our team takes people determined to work for a year or two, not less. Accordingly, we provide them with everything necessary for their development and career growth. There is no doubt the fewer people leave – the better it is for the company and the team. But, we should leave space for juniors to figure out what they want and what they can do.
Studying is more important than work. I don’t judge such people; quite the opposite. I believe that A-marks students are diligent people. Yet, at full-time jobs, they either don’t stay for long or cannot spend enough time at work. I had two cases when students said they could combine studying with work, and after a few months, they quit.
Dodging questions and finding excuses during the interview. A person can say many practical things but not answer questions directly. “I thought the interview would be different. I was preparing for something different”. Excuses like that indicate either an absence of skills or an inability to admit mistakes. Anyway, it makes working with them difficult for both Team Lead and the team.
Switching many companies in a short time. It is a “seeker” who doesn’t know what he wants and tries everything straight. With the slightest doubts, such a person abandons all work without examining it.
Indicating knowledge of Microsoft Word and OS Windows as hard skills in the CV. Weird definition of hard skills for a person who will do code.
Worked in startups but has no specific experience. Some people emerge from startups with a lot of experience. Others have tried everything, but valuable experience or specific knowledge was not gained. Thus, an experience in a startup may be an advantage, but better check it within a few technical tasks.
Have a certificate from a programming school with a percentage of knowledge. Such schools give shallow knowledge and terms. They don’t teach students to think in an independent and analytical way. A candidate showed me a certificate with “knows Java Script by 80%”. Well, who knows by 100%, then? How are these percentages calculated? A question left without an answer.
Junior didn’t do the test task on their own. Analyze the test task on the technical interview to avoid falling for such a deception. I had a case: the candidate made a test task with his mentor, or, even worse, the mentor did it alone. Even though you catch a cheater who gets a concept of a task, you are likely to regret taking him to your team. People relying on somebody are not strong team players.
Those who studied by themselves. Self-taught programmers are prodigies! It is easy to attend the courses where tutors hand everything on a silver platter. And see if you can learn everything on your own through the Internet and books.
Have advanced theoretical knowledge. The theory supports the practice. It’s better to choose candidates with technical education already showing their mathematical attitude. Still, there is no rule without exception.
People who have studied at IT school with payment after employment. These are schools where tutors teach for free, and afterwards, students get their job, 10-20% of their monthly salary is paid for 1 or 2 years. Such schools have a rigorous selection and give valuable and practicable knowledge.
People who appreciate self-development and valuable experience the most. Such Juniors usually learn and grow as pro specialists extremely fast. They are stable and reliable because of a strong will for self-improvement.
Proper task sharing
Beginners can’t stand still. If you learned something — well done; study the next one. A Team Lead has to increase the requirements for Juniors all the time — for some, faster and others – slower. Prevent a situation where one person is drowning in tasks, and another is chill doing nothing.
Making Juniors think independently, rack their brains, and analyze is necessary. A Lead’s task is to help them with hints and direct questions, for instance. To make it work, I never give newcomers tricky tasks or those they can’t deal with.
I share all tasks that can be done by somebody else. That is how everyone feels they make their input, and their work is appreciated. At the same time, I don’t want Juniors to do tedious tasks and waste three days to cover them. Instead, if I can do it in 4 hours, I am not afraid to “get my hands dirty”.
One of my trainees has studied for half a year. Everything had to be thoroughly explained to him and shown in practice. Still, he appreciated all the time and effort I gave him and was always doing a good job. Now I have a perfect team member.
Also, a Team Lead must define whether certain people are worth such attention and if they will do their best. This skill comes with experience and screening out the red flags.
Defining the motivation and desires
One of my trainees can easily cover all the tasks, but routine and similarity bore him quickly. I pile on him more complex challenges, and he is satisfied. Let’s take another person: he appreciates the flexibility and a non-toxic work atmosphere. If I used the same strategy for both, I would lose one.
Challenges at the beginning of work
I aimed to get a team that works not just together but as one brain. Once in our team, a Project Manager preferred verbal communication. He was accompanied by a Service Partner who needed to improve her English. Still, they understood one another like no one could. That was a high-levelled synchronization of a mini-team. In that way, even the strongest introverts can relax, help others and work as part of a team.
I am always in touch with my team, but I wait before answering questions immediately. Giving a beginner time to think and google a solution is vital. Soon he’ll text, “oh, I got it myself”, and will deep-dive into the task again. Managers can text, “I’m a bit busy, so try to deal with it on your own”, to show their commitment but not waste time.
Until the 24th of February 2022 (the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine), I insisted on attending the office. I can explain everything on the call or do it twice at the same time when sitting next to the team. A team in the office creates a shared knowledge base and supports internal communication. To be in sync, we can play a board game during lunchtime and then continue working.
Whether a Junior is 40 or 18, everyone can feel fear and anxiety for different reasons. If a Manager doesn’t spot it in time, people can leave, assuming they lack skills or results.
To prevent such cases, a Lead shouldn’t compare or devote someone’s achievements. Juniors’ management is about teaching and leading but not pressing and lowering self-esteem. Show the value of work done on one2one with detailed feedback and mistakes analysis. Support is the best way to overcome fear, and stonewalling the subordinates is the aim of a good Team Lead. It builds trust, breaks the barriers in communication and adds confidence.
Repeatable complaints and what to do with them?
If Juniors complain, the reasons are likely to lie in the management. Communication cracks, lack of attention, and wrong effort evaluation are common causes. But, some complaints should be stopped immediately.
“When will I start writing a code?” These words are often followed by suffering and not knowing what to do. Juniors should understand that they are still not ready if a manager doesn’t give them specific tasks.
“I’m bored”. Routine assignments happen to everyone. Proper task sharing plays the leading role – do not pile all tedious tasks on one person.
“It’s hard for me”. There are two possible scenarios here. When Juniors are drowning in work, a Lead has to ease the workload, so they do not burn out. But when such complaints constantly appear, even if assignments are simple, this is an error sign.
I do everything for newbies to enjoy their work, not burn out and be satisfied.
To sum up, managing Juniors is a responsible job yet interesting and inspiring. You won’t ever be bored as there is always something to happen. Sometimes it’s challenging, and sometimes Managers should reach their limits, but it’s worth it. The main thing is to want to teach and not teach because you have to.