ChatGPT - How Long Till They Realize I’m a Robot?

I tried it first on December 2nd... ...and slowly the meaning of it started to sink in. It's January 1st and as the new year begins, my future has never felt so hazy. It helps me write code. At my new company I'm writing golang, which is new for me, and one day on a whim I think "hmmm maybe ChatGPT will give me some ideas about the library I need to use." Lo-and-behold it knew the library. It wrote example code. It explained each section in just enough detail. I'm excited....It assists my users. I got a question about Dockerfiles in my teams oncall channel. "Hmmm I don't know the answer to this either"....ChatGPT did. It knew the commands to run. It knew details of how it worked. It explained it better and faster than I could have. Now I'm nervous....It writes my code for me. Now I'm hearing how great Github Copilot is - and it's built by OpenAI too...ok I guess I should give it a shot. I install it, and within minutes it'

Mentoring a Software Engineer

Whether it's about raising a small child or directing a full grown engineer towards her next promotion, mentoring requires a great deal of patience, honesty and self-awareness.  One wrong step and you could trigger a shame spiral.  Or just as bad, you could push your mentee to leave the team for a place with better career and/or learning opportunities.  There are clear rules of engagement to follow, but once you've mastered those, doing it right becomes an art more than a science, so bring your creative energies in order to drive excellence.

A common next step after becoming a competent contributor on a software team is to start helping others onboard.  When a new teammate joins, having a mentor can accelerate progress by showing them the next steps in their career path rather than letting them hack it out on their own.

But being successful as a mentor can mean many things - the KPIs for mentoring are not as clear as technical projects.  You need to have the trust of your manager and to maintain that you need to communicate often about how your mentee is doing and you have to develop the skill of introspection.  There are 4 important rules to mentoring that you can use to keep yourself on track and help assess how you're doing.


 Own your mistakes in guidance and drive ownership in your mentee about their mistakes in execution.  You're not going to do everything perfectly, even if your mentee expects you to.  Oftentimes an overconfident new engineer will have an expectation that any mistake you make in guidance will significantly delay their career.  Other new engineers may be too afraid to bring up a mistake you made for fear of repercussions.  Either way, it is your responsibility and privilege to learn to own up to your own mistakes without attributing infinite negative impact to them.

At the same time, you must also be clear when your mentee has made a mistake and ensure they do what's necessary to either fix it or ensure it doesn't happen again.  If you start to take too much responsibility and attribute every one of their failings to a mistake in guidance, you will actually hinder their growth by making them feel dependent as if they have no agency.  Making it clear that a mistake they made is on them is one of the best things you can do for your mentee .

It's a fine line between taking responsibility and assigning it, but over time you'll see more clearly where that line needs to be.

Raise the bar, don't lower it

When you joined and ramped up on your team, there was less knowledge than there is now.  If that's true, then you should already be expecting more from your mentee than you would've expected from yourself when you joined.  Some mentors will allow themselves to believe they are special and that no one else could learn as fast as they did.  If you do this, you'll set a bar that is too low for your mentee instead of allowing them to show you what their limits are.

The caveat is that you need to be specific about how you're providing them guidance and knowledge that is above and beyond what you received when you started.  If you do this well, you'll see them excel and sooner rather than later you'll have a productive member of the team who you can delegate work to and trust they'll do what's necessary to get it done.

The bar for performance at any organization is always moving, and that means either you're lowering the bar or raising it - there's no in-between.

Set boundaries

Mentoring is not a full-time job - you still need to get your own work done and drive your own career forward in other ways.  But your mentee will probably take as much of your time as you're willing to give.  So you need to be clear about when you're able to offer help and when you're not.  If this is your first experience mentoring, you might not be used to saying no to a meeting request or delaying a reply to an instant message so that you don't get context-switched.  But it's important to do because it gives you time and focus to be productive and it drives independence in your mentee.  If they don't know the answer to a question, they will soon find that it's faster for them to figure out how to answer it themselves - it could be looking through the company wiki or digging through code.  These skills are essential too.

Check yourself

Do you feel threatened by your mentee?  Do you feel resentment?  Do you have a strong enough driver to ensure your mentees success?  You have to be introspective.  With professional relationships it's easy to be put in a position where your mentees success is not aligned with yours.  Talk to your manager if you feel this and get clarity on what happens if your mentee is successful or not.  The best thing you can do for yourself and for your mentee is to align your mentees goals with your own goals.  You'll feel energized by the work of mentoring and your mentee will trust you more as they see the value you're providing for them.

In a good mentor/mentee relationship, growth can be experienced by both parties.  It's important to treat it as another important function of your role at the organization.  Be warned, if you pass it off as just another time sink, your influence at the company will wane over time and you'll find yourself quite lonely as you churn out code (or whatever it is that you build).  On the flip side, if you focus your attention on this skill and help your mentee and your organization grow, you'll become an integral leader and you'll be well-respected by your peers.  A little personal attention goes a long way.


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