I've been brought in as a contract software developer with the side task of mentoring a junior developer. It turns out that the developer is not meeting the level of "fully fledged" developer that they expect. The junior developer in question does not fit the typical developer mould and is about 5 years behind the level of experience the client requires. Other people have the opinion that the person might not have the capability to ever become the "fully fledged" developer they're looking for. I have had just over 1 month to impart 5 years of knowledge and change their base attitude/personality. In other words I have been set an impossible task.

My client has now asked me to set my student weekly tasks. I've kept things simple, including a task that requires an hour or two's research. The student is not coping well with these simple tasks. In addition to this, they have put the student on a 4 week plan for them to reach the "fully fledged" software developer. This is an impossible task for the student.

My student now sees me (negatively) as someone who is testing them and they no doubt are going to see me as someone who is going to be responsible for their re-positioning within the client's company in 3 weeks time. The student has also emailed several of the management saying that they are unhappy and they feel like I'm testing them. It's obvious to me now that my client is setting me up partially to be "the bad guy".

I'm ensuring that my name doesn't go against any assessment of the student and I'm not going to sign anything. Apart from scowls from the junior developer in 3 weeks time, as I pass them in the corridor, is there anything else I should look out for to protect my own interests, or anything that could come of this that I should watch out for?

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    Have you tried telling the student what you're actually there to do, and why you're doing it, in the way that you are? It's a bit odd to complain about being tested by someone who is teaching them, but if this is somehow outside of what they were led to expect, it's fair enough.
    – user53718
    Nov 14, 2016 at 10:58
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    Are you in any shape or form an actual teacher? Did you represent yourself as such? If not, why did you take the job?
    – Kilisi
    Nov 14, 2016 at 11:05
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    The student isn't paying your invoices, laying blame is not constructive either. Make it clear to management that this is not going to end well. Then instead of making the chap study, just have him assist you where he can and observe where he can't and answer any questions he might pose about the work. That may be all the 'mentoring' that is required.
    – Kilisi
    Nov 14, 2016 at 11:31
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    "Tested" in the sense of having to think and work harder than accustomed, then. You're right - it's a hopeless situation and you're the one with least ability to do anything about that.
    – user53718
    Nov 14, 2016 at 11:53
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    Leadership could have intentionally made the mentoring task impossible, because the intention was only to create legal protection for a planned termination when the time period is over. Nov 14, 2016 at 15:42

4 Answers 4

  1. Let your management know ASAP that your junior is five years behind and that you don't see a path where he is full fledged within five weeks. It's up to management to work out what to do next with your junior.

  2. In the meantime, do as much as you can training your junior. Let them know what the client's expectations are. Your junior will draw soon enough the conclusion that they can't hack it.

  3. I wouldn't worry about any criticism from your junior. Your junior's complaints to management no less that you're testing them simply act as confirmation of your assessment.

Get your assessment in to management ASAP because you want to be the one framing the discussion about your junior's competence not your junior and not your management - you don't want your management to have a chance to go off on the wrong path and somehow think that you are somehow at fault for this fiasco.

Do what you can, don't take the oncoming fiasco personally. Given your junior's weakness, the fiasco is bound to happen. I wouldn't blame your management either, the only way for management to know whether the junior is working out is by putting them to work and the only way for management to find out whether that junior is trainable within the five-week time frame is by having you provide the training.

Recommendation: you're doing your part. You've accumulated relevant data on your junior regarding their suitability for the position. Now, share what you've found with your management, and don't drag your feet about it. Because management is going to have to take action at their level about this situation.

Note: I have barely mentioned your junior in my answer, and this is by design. Your junior's opinion of you, of your management and of the firm should be of little concern to you given that the context is your junior's unsuitability for the position - I am sure that they'll be much happier elsewhere and by giving them a chance to be placed elsewhere, you'll give them a chance at being happier. Versus the certainty of unhappiness if they remain in the position. You have to look out for the client, your management, the project - your junior is a distinct fourth in your list of priorities.

  • Thank you, your advice on this is great. I'm being open with management and point 1 on your list has already been explained. I will ensure I can provide as much training as possible. It's a good point you make about the person possibly being much happier elsewhere. Nov 14, 2016 at 13:10
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    Keep something else in mind: Sometimes, contractors are brought in as "hired guns", to do an unpleasant job that has to be done, but will leave a serious black mark at the firm on whoever has to do it. That's why you're getting paid the big bucks... Nov 14, 2016 at 17:47

Talk to management and ask them to clarify their requirements vis-a-vis mentoring this chap. Let them know that this guy is unsuitable material as you understand their requirements and your time would be more productively spent concentrating on 'real' work. That is the only option, otherwise you are wasting company resources on a project you have zero confidence in being able to do and you are therefore misrepresenting yourself to them by omitting to tell them which will hurt your reputation.

Upsetting the guy you're training is more minor, he's relatively insignificant in this. He obviously has a different idea of what is happening, and quite possibly management has a totally different idea of 'mentoring' than you do since I assume they're not high level technical people.

The student isn't paying your invoices. Make it clear to management that this is not going to end with an equivalent of five years experience. Then instead of making the chap study, just have him assist you where he can and observe where he can't and answer any questions he might pose about the work. That may be all the 'mentoring' that is required.

If after informing them they decide you have to carry on, then just carry on cheerfully collecting your pay. Just make sure you have it in writing.


You've been given a task to mentor him, stick to that task and do what you can with the material that you're given. Whether he's qualified or not should not be any of your concern. You're not getting payed to evaluate his skills (at least you haven't mentioned that), you're getting payed to teach as possible, even if it is impossible. He'll always learn something, but having a negative attitude towards him won't help.

I think you're overreacting and worrying for no reason. If he fails to learn, even if it were your fault, he'll take the blame for not being good enough of a student, it's very unlikely that your client will be blaming you. If they do, you can simply state the obvious, that he's simply not ready for the level of development that they're looking for. If they ask why you didn't bring that up, you can tell them that your job was to mentor the individual, not second guess their choice of employees. I would't lie to them about the situation, however, if they ask about how he's performing, in your opinion.

There's always the possibility that the student will hold a grudge but it's highly unlikely too, he has to be aware of the fact that he's not keeping up so he's most likely blaming himself. If he's an ignorant person who blames everyone else for his failures then it shouldn't even matter, his words probably don't mean too much to others in that case.

If it turns out your client is a douche who just wants to play a blaming game, just get out and find something worthy of your time.

There is really nothing to be done here or think about, just do your job. The worst case outcome of all of this is that he fails and even if he fails badly it won't have a negative impact on you, you could only do so much with the time that you were given. Just try to help this person as much as you can.

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    The only thing that's keeping me from upvoting this answer is the fact you recommend against the OP bringing up their evaluation to the employer. If you start a task and then discover it's impossible, it's important to communicate that as early as possible. This gives them the opportunity to decide if they want to keep dumping money into it or not. If they do, keep going, but if not, you've saved everyone time and effort and money and frustration.
    – jpmc26
    Nov 14, 2016 at 22:53
  • I get your point and I don't fully disagree with this. However, I think it's important to know whether OP is making assumptions based on what his client has told him or whether OP is mostly concerned about covering up for himself. It is a fair point, however, that it's up to them. Only question is whether it's truly op to OP to bring it up or not, which I think is circumstantial. It can very well be that the student is not as skilled as OP would want him to be, but it can very well be that the client is fully aware of it already and just want to train him as possible.
    – Jonast92
    Nov 15, 2016 at 10:27

Aside from the other great comments already here, I'd enlist the use of an online skills assessment. This will add a level of objectivity to the mix, and help this not be a situation where your insights are ignored because of the idea of a personal bias.

Chances are high that there wasn't any real sort of assessment done when this co-worked came through the door. This will quickly help you to identify weaknesses. Make sure you pick a good assessment with sample content you can try out.


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