Ryan Bigg

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What do employers expect of juniors?

Last updated: 11th April 2017

This post is part of a series of my replies to junior developer questions.

I asked a variant of this question on Twitter in April 2017, as I've been asked it a few times by juniors. Here are the replies I received:

Then there's this "tweet storm" from Culture Amp's most recent (5 months ago) junior hire, Lauren Hennessey:

(Coincidentally, Lauren is also Ruby Australia's newest President. Her election campaign was "fuck it, why not?" and she's ended up being one of the best Presidents the organisation has ever had.)

You'll notice a common theme here which is that nearly everyone expects an eagerness to learn. Nobody wants to mentor someone who's a reluctant learner, as mentoring someone like that is hard work.

Personally, my favourite people to mentor are those that come across a problem, try to solve it for a while to the best of their ability by trying different things or trying to find the answer online, reach the point where they feel stuck and then they try just a bit more. If after this point they are still stuck, I expect them to be capable of telling me what it is they're trying to do, what they've tried to accomplish it, and how they're stuck. If I can know all that, I can usually provide some good guidance on what to do to get through that roadblock.

Those that come against a problem and whinge about it and then refuse to learn "yet another new thing" frustrate me. I try to encourage the eagerness of learning in people, but sometimes some people don't get it. Or maybe I don't encourage that enough. People are hard.

So yeah. That eagerness to learn new things is essential.

On a related note: "Have the courage to be vulnerable" is one of Culture Amp's morals and I think it is totally applicable in the mentoring / mentored relationship too. I've adopted it as one of my own morals too. It's essential that the mentored person admit when they don't know something and also essential for the person doing the mentoring to leave a space for that sort of thing. The absolute worst thing the mentor can do is say something along the lines of "Oh my god! how could you not know that?". That kind of line destroys confidence. Mentoring should be about building it up, not crushing it.

The way I think about it is that it's not annoying/bad/wrong if someone doesn't know something; there's tons of stuff that I didn't know. What it is just another opportunity for the mentor to share their knowledge and that's a great thing.

What's even greater is when the mentored person comes across something or asks a question about something that the mentor doesn't know the answer too. Then it's a great opportunity for the mentor to show their vulnerability too and to work through this problem with the one being mentored.

It's totally OK to not know things. If you have the eagerness to learn and a good support network out there then there'll always be someone who can point you in the right direction. It's just about having that courage to admit you don't know first which really kickstarts that whole learning process.