Building a more effective, bidirectional mentor-mentee relationship, by Andy Andrea


Mentorship is such a key part of our industry that most of us will act as both mentor and mentee many times over the course of our careers. However, unlike our other important skills that get honed through processes like code review or retrospectives, there are often few mechanisms to help us grow as mentors and mentees.

We’ll cover common problems that occur as both a mentee and mentor and cover strategies, skills and concepts for how to deal with them that originate not only from our own experiences but from research in the fields of education, psychology and business. We’ll cover concepts that won’t only build your skills but improve the value you get from being a mentor or mentee and show you how to make an evidence-backed business case for expanding mentorship at your place of work.

Session format







Our intended audience is anyone who has experience as a technical mentor or mentee. Our primary context for this talk will be on-the-job mentorship where the mentee is new to a team, stack or job and the mentor has more experience in that environment. We’ll be including tips for all experience levels with a focus on earlier career mentees and mid- and higher-level mentors.

The narrative of the talk is anchored on common problems faced in mentoring including one problem common to mentees, one problem common to mentors and one problem common to both roles. In working through these scenarios, we’ll be introducing concepts and strategies that are related to either the problem, the solution or both. Additionally, we plan to demonstrate that issues that mentees encounter and issues that mentors encounter are commonly interrelated and will include strategies for mentors to support mentees and for mentees to support mentors for each problem. Core themes of the talk will be two-way communication, the bidirectional value of mentorship, documentation and personalized mentorship.

In part one, we’ll anchor on the case of under-mentorship where the mentee is receiving little to no effective mentoring. We’ll cover how to make a compelling, research- and statistics-backed business case for expanding mentoring programs at your organization. We’ll also cover strategies for finding mentorship in environments with low access to senior or more tenured developers including flash mentoring, finding a mentor external to your company and how early career developers can mentor and support one another.

In part two, our common mentor problem will be when a mentor feels that a mentee under-communicates. In this section, we’ll introduce the concept of psychological safety and how to foster it in a mentor-mentee relationship. We’ll also cover time management and check-in strategies and will close the section with how to use these concepts to make a mentee feel more empowered, confident and independent.

In the final section of the talk, our common problem faced by both mentors and mentees is the sense that the relationship is feeling ineffective. Here, we’ll cover research- and evidence-based models and methods from education and psychology related to mentoring including learning styles and mentoring models. We’ll also show how these concepts can be specifically applied to our industry.


We met in the RailsConf Scholars program as scholar and guide. We are both very passionate and thoughtful about mentorship but have very different and complementary backgrounds. We believe that our varied backgrounds and shared passion for effective, bidirectional and thoughtful mentorship have us well-equipped to share our knowledge, experiences and insight on mentorship in a way to help other members of the community build more effective mentor-mentee relationships.

During the length of time we’ve known one another, we’ve constantly been teaching and learning from one another. Between the two of us, we have extensive experience as mentor and mentee within and without the industry including in volunteer and professional roles.

Mentorship is a key part of our industry that is foundational to effective teamwork; knowledge-sharing; growth; and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. However, while there tend to be many mechanisms in other areas that help us expand and review our other relevant skills (e.g. code review, retrospectives, security or accessibility audits), there tend to be fewer processes to help grow our skills as mentees and mentors. We have several hopes for this talk: it will spark discussion in the community allowing for more knowledge- and skill-sharing; it will improve people’s skills by providing listeners with actionable suggestions; it will provide a base of terms and concepts to allow people to do more targeted research.

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RailsConf 2023 - Accepted [Edit]

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