I’m currently mentoring a junior engineer. He is indeed smart and driven but lacks the experience to be effective, as is customary for members of this rotation program at our r&d facility.

My team is facing stringent deadlines and I do need his help with a different project, which could be decribed as a by-the-book engineering effort.

The person’s current assignment is intended to be exploratory and somewhat advanced, yet the goals and deliverables are clear. The person is currently facing a complex task, which will likely take a couple of weeks to finish, mostly because of its research vibe.

I could reassign the task to someone else or do it myself, possibly in one evening, yet I’d prefer the person to somehow do both: 1) learn on his own, struggle, but it in the end come out stronger and 2) have the person help me and the team deliver on the high priority task.

There are some limitations: the person cannot do both tasks at the same time since thee first task needs to be wrapped up in the next few weeks. Dilution of his time would likely make the person miss the deadline.

Thank you for insight.

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    I think this will depend too heavily on your company, your workload, the junior's job and the specifics of the tasks for us to be able to you which option would be best. Letting a junior learn is almost always a long-term versus short-term gains trade-off - you should know better than us how important each is for your situation. If you can't make the decision yourself, your manager would be the person to ask. Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 20:54
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    This kind of conflict of interest is exactly the reason why a "mentor" should not be a person who you directly "report" to (either on the management or the technical ladder).
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 7:51

2 Answers 2


Have you considered asking the junior engineer which task he or she feels would be able to accomplish given the circumstances? The junior would be the most knowledgable of his or her experience and most importantly, motivation to complete a complex task.

Given the research oriented focus of the current task and the ‘standard’ nature of the second, input from more parties might be better than just your own. Namely that of your superior, peers, and the team as a whole should be considered.

With anyone new to a given task, there will always be some initial efficiency loss as the individual learns the esoteric knowledge associated with the task and overall loss as teammates dedicate time to assist the new person. But if you can somehow quantify the initial loss to subsequent output, then a determination from this perspective can be made. Once on board, the junior can handle low priority tasks from senior engineers, allowing you to better allocate senior engineer-time to meet deadlines.

At the same time, think strategically. Which task would better prepare the junior engineer to perform in projects down the pipeline? If there are ‘bigger fish’ so to say, wouldn’t it be better for the junior engineer to learn the ropes on a less important project?


Maybe I can give you the perspective of a junior because I am one myself. The solution is just to sit down with him and discuss the problem. In this way he feels involved in the problem and you get his insights. He knows best whether he will succeed or not (if he has good self-knowledge).

There are three options that the junior can say. The first option is that he believes that the tasks can be achieved within the deadline. This is of course ideal and you have nothing to "fear". If you expect that he will not succeed within the time period, then it is a good idea to discuss the possible problems he may encounter. By doing this, he can do the job independently with your tips and the deadline can be met earlier. Do this, of course, rather than later.

The second option is that he says he doesn't know. Annoying and useless answer because you do not achieve anything with this. The best thing is to continue asking and trying to understand why he does not know this. This of course takes time and I do not know if you have this time. Maybe it becomes clear that he wants to complete the task but he does not expect that he will succeed. It is difficult, especially as a beginner, to estimate how long a task will take. Especially in R&D. If there is a time pressure behind it, an inexperienced person person will say more quickly that it will not finish in time and that the best option is that someone else will take over.

The last option is that he says he can't finish it in time. Annoying but hey, you can do the tasks by yourself or let somebody else do it. However, there is a catch. You gave him this task with the idea that he can finish it. I know from my own experience that I did not liked it when i was put off a project due a deadline. It feels a bit like failure because you have not been able to complete the task you were given. This is demotivating and my advice is to clarify why this happens. Do not try to get him completely removed from the task but have a part done.

If you suspect that this problem occur often and you want to avoid this problem, give the junior shorter but not necessarily less important tasks with a deadline or larger tasks that have less priority. This way you can keep him motivated, learn to deal with deadline without putting him of the project and in the end stronger.

I assumed from my answer that there is time to guide him.

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