Stop Asking About Mentorship

Turing Students and Recent Grads: Stop Asking About Mentorship

When I meet with Turing graduates for coffee, I often ask, “What are you looking for in your first job out of Turing?” Most of these students answer by saying something like, “I am looking for a company with great mentorship.” Stop saying that.

Code school graduates have an asterisk next to their names in the eyes of many recruiters and experienced engineers. The thought is that by entering the field through a non traditional pathway and with little or no technical work experience, applicants from code schools are just too risky to hire. Even though Turing is a seven-month-long intense program with outstanding pedagogy, it still gets lumped in with lower quality, shorter duration, for-profit programs by those without much knowledge of the code school landscape.

When a Turing graduate asks a prospective employer, “What type of mentorship opportunities does company x offer?” the employer may have a few thoughts that are an unintentional consequence of a perfectly well-intentioned question.

First, the employer will judge that they have underestimated how much time and effort it will take to get the Turing graduate sitting before them to be a productive member of their team. Afterall, if the graduate could get up and running quickly, why would they ask about mentorship?

Next, the employer will think of the horror story one of their friends told them about the bootcamp hire who didn’t know object oriented programming or had never heard of test driven development. A cautionary tale.

Finally, and worst of all, they will get defensive. How dare this code school graduate demand that I teach them what they should already know?

Code school graduates are embarking on new careers and therefore want to know that they will continue to learn skills and gain experience that will increase their marketability over time. Unfortunately, that is not always what an employer will hear when you ask about mentorship.

Instead of bringing up mentorship, ask a better question that gets at this intent. Ask, “How does your company ship code?” Some companies will say, “We are moving fast, so we don’t have time to look at each others code. Plus we are the best engineers and we all know what we are doing. We just push to master and then zip our code and scp it to our server.” Run away. You will not get the mentorship you need because they are not committed to engineering best practices.

Other companies might say, “Pull requests need six engineering lead approvals, two QA team audits, and a final product manager review. Six months later it gets included in a bi-annual software release.” You don’t want that either.

A good company would fall in the goldilocks zone, somewhere in between. Maybe they deploy multiple times per day or better yet use a continuous delivery pipeline. Most importantly, as a code school graduate you want to know an experienced developer who cares about code quality will review your pull requests and provide feedback. In my opinion, this is the fastest way to skill up technically on the job. And that is really what the mentorship question is all about.

Unfortunately bootcamps do not have universally great reputations. For the uninitiated, Turing undeservedly gets lumped in with its lesser competitor programs. As a result Turing graduates may be underestimated by prospective employers. When a Turing grad asks directly about mentorship, it plays into this underestimation. Rather than using the word mentorship, ask about shipping code. You’ll get the same information without mistakenly undervaluing your skills.

If you are looking for place that has great mentorship in the form of a strong commitment to engineering best practices, lots of great folks eager to share their knowledge, and tough problems to solve at scale, and you think that you can successfully convey the value you will bring to an engineering team, consider checking out job openings at my company, Ibotta.