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I am a statistician who is working at my first "good" job. Since I am new to this environment, I asked if I could be assigned a mentor.

My company doesn't have that many statisticians so I was assigned a very senior engineer.

I want to get the most out of the session and learn a lot about software development from this person since I deal with a large amount of engineering challenges in my job. However, I don't want to waste this person's time with questions that I can look up online.

This question is more for senior developers or statisticians/analysts: How should I optimize my time by asking intelligent questions that don't seem like something I could just look up?

I have had a lot of struggles with writing test driven code and combining various data structures. Are these valid things to bring up? Should I go over my latest code with this person? Should we keep the conversation to a meta level?

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A meeting like this is the perfect time to discuss challenges you're facing at work. That's pretty much the whole reason for having/establishing the mentor/mentee relationship. If there are very specific topics you want to cover, write them down. Even if you feel there are more than you'll have time to cover it helps to organize and prioritize your thoughts. You will feel more fulfilled by getting to talk about what you need to, and your mentor will appreciate you for coming prepared. If you still have more to talk about you can always suggest setting up another meeting with them.

Not everything has to be about work though. This is a human being you're dealing with, and you are a human as well (I assume) so making small talk can help establish the relationship. It also makes the meetings feel less forced and you will typically find more genuine answers and interest in helping you to succeed. A word of caution, do not make the talks too personal. Asking about a photo on a desk or an award is one thing, unprompted questions about family or home life can make things awkward or worse.

One last piece of advice I can give is that you should always take notes about things they suggest. Even if you end up not following their advice it shows that you care about their time and expertise. People will be more forthcoming with help if they feel that their knowledge is appreciated.

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Compile your list of questions before hand, as much as you can. Then search for the answers. Whatever you can't locate, ask.

Pretty much anything should be fair game to ask a Sr. Dev. Well, as long as it isn't along the lines of "Does a mouse bite?"

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