I've recently gotten into the position where I am in charge of mentoring a new developer.

While I'm very happy to oblige and and positively influence the career of a younger individual I'm seeing some problems that I'm not sure how to approach.

The Situation

The mentee has shown an extreme willingness to learn but is really new to the field of programming and software development and has no degree in SE either. (They have however taking some side schooling where they learned the basics of web development.)

What further complicates matters is that there is a cultural barrier. I come from a western cultural background where education places a high emphasis on figuring out problems on your own in whatever way you see fit.

The mentee however has a Japanese cultural background where I feel they are way more used to taking direct and literal orders and are more foreign to the idea of 'just figuring it out'

What I've tried

What I've tried so far is setting up a training program where I have the mentee fulfill tasks of increasing complexity to make them somewhat familiar with our current stack. This has had some success but I've noticed that one thing holding them back is the ability to search for answers on their own which I feel is an essential skill to become a successful developer.

How could I effectively teach a mentee how to search for answers to solve their problems?

  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Getting a junior developer to be more self-reliant
    – gnat
    May 15, 2019 at 7:01
  • This question, or perhaps a rephrasing of it, might work well on the Computer Science Educators site. Have a read around there and see what you think
    – AakashM
    May 15, 2019 at 7:55
  • My experience working with juniors indicates that sometimes the difficulty resides in finding which words to use for your search, so I tend to help them by proposing search terms.
    – Laurent S.
    May 15, 2019 at 11:55
  • 1
    As someone who teaches technical stuff at a college level (AS degree) I can tell you that I require students to read Eric S Raymond's "How to ask questions the smart way". catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html .
    – ivanivan
    May 15, 2019 at 18:06

2 Answers 2


Repetition is the mother of all learning!

You have to start the mentoring from the fact that he had a life-time to train to think in a certain way. It will take time for him to adapt to the new kind of thinking required.

Although annoying for you, all you have to do is to show him time and again that using Google and certain sites is the good answer for most problems.

Whenever he has a question answerable by a Google search, don't give him the answer. Instead, play a role. Pretend you do not know, go to his desk / computer, and search together with him the answer. Pretend to be surprised when you find it quickly.

He will learn two things: 1. It is OK to no know everything, it is OK to "fail". 2. The "failure" can be fixed easily by a search.

He will ultimately go your way.

With all due respect, as a joke: Monkey see, monkey do. This is how I took some dance classes (bachata) when I had about zero knowledge of the language used in the class (foreign country), with nobody available to translate for me.


How could I effectively teach a mentee how to search for answers to solve their problems?

Ummm... teach them?

When this "issue" crops up, sit with them and teach them how to research the problem and how/where to go to seek answers.

"What problem are you having?" - "OK, let's go see if we can find an answer." - "What does Google say about the problem?" - "How about over on StackExchange?"... etc., etc.

  • 3
    I feel "teach them" is not a sufficient answer to "how can I teach them?". It seems the OP asks for teaching methods and has already realized that he needs to teach his mentee.
    – Lehue
    May 15, 2019 at 6:50
  • Another less hands-on method to imply this is asking "Ok, what search terms have you used?". This helps save you time in the event they did search it, and in the event they didn't they'll stop and think it through.
    – lucasgcb
    May 15, 2019 at 7:33
  • @Lehue what is wrong with "sit with them" and "OK, let's go see if we can find an answer." - "What does Google say about the problem?" - "How about over on StackExchange?", What else do you suggest if you think the answer is insufficient?
    – Solar Mike
    May 15, 2019 at 17:03
  • @SolarMike Teaching to keep valuable information you found opened and picking what is valuable and what is not could be useful too - in case the mentee doesn't find a full answer, or finds conflicting information, this can help if he/she asks a senior for help - the senior can quickly verify what the mentee found, compare it with his/her knowledge and give an answer or suggest what else they should look for. I really apreciate if someone shows me how much they have found out when they ask me a question at work - not even seniors remember everything by heart.
    – Rachey
    May 16, 2019 at 13:05
  • @Rachey do you make sure they found everything possible or go with what they had?
    – Solar Mike
    May 16, 2019 at 14:12

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