Mentorship programs

How to start an engineering mentorship program

As organizations compete for engineering talent, successful companies are leveraging mentorship programs to train and retain their engineering talent. Here's how to start a mentoring program of your own.

Meryl D'Sa-Wilson

Published on 

January 20, 2023

Updated on 

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Across industries, mentoring programs are known for helping both employees and organizations grow and advance in a variety of ways. From polishing hard and soft skills to taking up new responsibilities, mentorship encourages employees to grow.

If your organization is looking for a new way to support your engineers, give mentorship a try. Here’s a guide to help you get started!

How important is it to start a mentoring program for engineers?

Before we explain how to start an engineering mentoring program in your workplace, we need to explain why your company should invest in mentorship. So, how exactly can engineers benefit from a mentorship program?

Nurture a growth mindset 

Mentorship is a great platform to learn new tricks, test out new skills, and brainstorm possible solutions. And all of this will encourage engineers to think outside the box, expand their knowledge, and cultivate a growth mindset. 

Through mentorship, they will learn from different perspectives and experiences.

Support high-potential employees

When you identify your skilled and high-potential employees, you want to do your best to support them so they can help your organization do more. Because many engineers spend time problem-solving alone, having an engineering mentor or mentoring partner to brainstorm with will ensure they have a safe space to ask questions and get guidance. 

This is especially useful for budding engineers who have potential but need more experience.

Faster onboarding

When you include mentorship as part of the onboarding process, you give managers the opportunity to bring new engineers up to speed with job responsibilities much faster. This increases their speed to ramp up as well as bolstering retention.

Real-world examples of successful engineering mentorship programs

Many companies — from SMBs to large enterprises — use mentoring to develop their engineers and create safe and encouraging workspaces. 

Here are three companies to learn from: 

1. Cruise Automation 

Cruise Automation uses training programs and mentorship to support internal career development. 

They want to nurture their high-potential and hard-working engineers and help them advance within the company. And one of the best ways to accelerate employee development is by connecting new hires with experienced senior managers.

To this effect, they built a mentoring program that ran itself. They were able to quickly pair mentors and mentees using Together’s pairing algorithm and then monitor the growth of these mentoring relationships. Additionally, they made use of mentor meeting agendas and knowledge resources to guide conversations.

2. Buffer 

With their engineering team being the largest team, Buffer developed an Engineering Mentorship Program to ensure each employee had access to career guidance and growth opportunities. 

The decision to launch an engineering mentorship program began when their leaders noticed that many of their senior engineers naturally fit the role of a mentor. Plus, many mentoring relationships formed naturally over the years. 

So, to help more engineers, they formalized mentorship and paired junior engineers with more senior engineers. These mentoring pairs hold regular meetings where they encourage innovative thinking and engage in brainstorming activities.

What’s unique about this mentoring program is that Buffer wanted to support the mentors as well. So they added another layer of Mentorship Champions who would meet with mentors to provide support and advice on how to be good mentors. 

It’s becoming more common for organizations to support their mentors. “Mentoring communities” is a growing concept we discussed recently with MentorStrat, a mentorship consultancy. if you want to build a long-lasting mentoring program.

3. Google 

Google has many mentorship programs that focus on different needs, growth plans, and departments. Some of their best-known programs include the Summer of Code, CS Research Mentorship Program, and their onboarding buddy system.

One of Google’s mentorship programs ‘Build Your Future’ includes selection of remote and on-site programs across different departments to assist new employees in building their career path while being mentored by those with more experience. 

Another program aims at upskilling their potential employees (called Nooglers) within the Google ecosystem. This is a two-week program where participants are taught how to use different Google tools. As part of this program, they learn new skills, develop projects, and more, both individually and in groups.

Be sure to check out more examples for successful mentoring programs.

Different ways to structure your engineering mentoring program

Now, there are a few different ways you can set up your engineering mentoring program. But, the right structure depends on a few factors:

  • Specific goals of this mentoring program
  • Number of participants
  • Potential scalability of the mentoring program
  • Budget and resources

Here are the 3 most common and popular mentoring models businesses often choose:

1. 1-on-1 mentoring between senior and junior engineers

1-on-1 mentoring is the original form of mentoring where you pair a mentor (the more experienced engineer) with a mentee (the less experienced engineer). The focus on such a mentoring model is to help new hires and junior employees learn the ropes and develop new skills. 

And so, the mentor provides guidance and support, shares knowledge and experience, and helps the mentee develop new skills and traits. 

Engineering one-on-one meetings encourage asking questions, solving problems, and exploring new solutions.

2. Group mentoring cohorts for high potential engineers

Group mentoring, as the name suggests, involves a group of participants; typically, you’ll have one or two mentors and several mentees. This type of mentoring model combines the intimacy of one-on-one mentoring with the support and community of being part of a larger group.

If you’re looking to build a pool of future engineering leaders, then group mentoring is a great way to start. 

You can also use group mentoring to see how employees learn and interact with each other and identify great candidates for promotions and sponsorships

You can run group mentoring in different ways:

  • One mentor with multiple mentees
  • Multiple mentors and multiple mentees
  • Peer mentors

3. Peer mentoring among engineers on different teams

While the above focus on pairing juniors with seniors, peer mentoring pairs two employees of similar experience levels. You’ll often find peer mentoring relationships develop on their own. This is because people of the same experience levels share similar interests and goals. 

And so, they can help the other grow but also advance simultaneously. Furthermore, together they can create better solutions and products by collaborating.

As mentioned above, the type of mentoring program you choose depends largely on your goals.

Engineering mentorship topics of discussion

Here are three different topics that engineering mentoring relationships could use to break the ice and start talking about their goals.

Determining why engineering is important

A great way to begin an engineering mentoring relationship is to discuss why engineering as a discipline and industry is important. Mentors and mentees can both share their stories on why they chose this discipline and what significance it holds. 

Challenges faced in your day-to-day

In peer-to-peer mentoring relationships, sharing daily challenges and roadblocks can be a great way to start building goals. 

Peers at the same career stage can discuss similarities and differences they have in their roles and the challenges they face. They can determine their hiccups and weaknesses and then work on solutions together.

Discussing the engineering design process

This activity works best in group mentoring as it encourages brainstorming and collaboration within a team. 

Divide your main group of mentees into smaller groups. Choose a particular item and ask mentees to brainstorm the different ways one can use, modify, or improve that item. They can write out words or sketch a picture of their new design and modifications.

Once done, discuss the process of brainstorming and inventing ideas. What about the process was exciting or challenging? How do you decide if an idea is good, viable, or bad? You can just choose to repeat the exercise with another item.

Check out guided questions for this activity here.

6 Clear steps to starting your engineering mentoring program

So, how do you build and operate your own engineering mentorship? Here are the 6 key steps to starting your own mentoring program:

1. Decide on the 'why' behind your program

The first step to developing your engineering mentoring program should be understanding and determining the reason for this initiative. 

It helps to decide on a specific purpose or goal for this mentorship program, such as:

  • Identifying high-potential and promising employees
  • Developing leadership skills in new hires
  • Improving diversity and inclusion efforts as well as sponsorship opportunities
  • Increasing retention rates and employee engagement
  • Creating an employee-friendly company culture, and so on.

Now, these goals may change over time. So, you might use a mentoring platform like Together to keep track of existing and new goals and watch how different mentoring relationships progress towards these goals.

2. Gain leadership buy-in by tying the program to business goals

As with any significant business initiative, you will need buy-in from your leaders for mentorship. This buy-in not only legitimizes your program but informs employees of its importance and value. 

With your leaders supporting and promoting the program, you can expect more employees participating. 

When building a proposal for your mentorship program, here’s how to make your case to leadership:

  • Clearly specify the goal of the program and why the goal is significant 
  • Explain how this goal and the mentoring program will benefit the company — Make sure you align the mentorship goals with the company’s overall goals
  • If relevant, provide examples of other successful mentoring programs — Feel free to share the above examples and case studies
  • Share your game plan and how the company will operate this program — This involves the budget, resources, tools, mentoring platform, etc. 

You may benefit from using mentoring software that lets you handle everything from registration to matching mentors with mentees to reporting. 

With everything accessible in one place, your team will have less work to do in terms of the logistics of running a mentoring program. That time saved can also help you get the buy-in you need.

3. Promote your program to employees, starting with mentors

Once you’ve got your buy-in and everything is set to go, you can start promoting your program and recruiting mentors by generating excitement. 

Explain to new and existing employees how this program will help them individually as well as the company as a whole. 

  • Hold an information session to explain how the program works and what will be required of participants. Include leadership in these get-togethers so they can also discuss the benefits of participating; you may even invite potential mentors to talk about their experience.
  • Additionally, you can advertise and promote the program on your company newsletter, policies, or the intranet. And with a mentoring platform, you can send out email reminders, add registration as part of the onboarding process, and more.

Remember to continue to send reminders and encourage employees to participate both as mentors and mentees.

4. Matching: find the right mentor for each mentee

One of the biggest hiccups that most people have with mentoring programs is how to match people efficiently and well. Wrong match-ups can lead to conflict, friction, and a waste of everyone’s time.

To ensure the success of mentoring relationships, you need to have certain criteria in place that go beyond job roles. You may want to consider:

  • Personality types
  • Communication and work styles
  • Life experiences
  • Goals and ambitions
  • Challenges, and so on.

Even with such criteria in place, matching can be a hard and time-consuming task. That’s why the Together platform uses mentor-matching software to pair mentors and mentees based on the right factors. You can customize this algorithm to meet your specific goals; our tool offers a few different matching methods:

  • Mentee-led matching - where mentees select preferences from options provided  
  • Admin-led matching - where the program manager reviews our suggestions or pairs manually
  • Hybrid pairing - a mix of algorithm and administrator input.  

While you don’t need software to make comfortable and effective match pairings, you can rely on data-based algorithms in mentoring platforms to make your job a little easier. And we recommend such tools if your future plans involve scaling your mentoring program.

5. Provide session guides for mentoring relationships

Once you have your participants registered and matched, you must decide on structure and guidance to ensure the success of the program. After all, they will need a slight nudge to get them started on the right track. 

You can provide session agendas that mentors and mentees use to guide their conversations and meetings. These agendas can prompt them to:

  • Discuss career goals and plans
  • Share knowledge and experiences
  • Identify challenges and roadblocks
  • Celebrate wins and achievements
  • Provide feedback and evaluate progress.

These agendas will not only help mentors and mentees navigate the mentorship process but also ensure they get the most out of this important career relationship.

6. Monitor and improve the program

Finally, you want to measure and evaluate the success of your program. Some KPIs to look for include:

  • Participation rates through registration and progress-tracking
  • Satisfaction rates through surveys and feedback
  • Retention rates of people who participate versus those who don’t
  • Overall impact such as career path development and achieving business goals, etc.

Without proper measuring and reporting, it will be hard to determine whether your engineering mentorship program is working as intended. 

Together’s platform makes it really easy to focus on important KPIs and track the success of your program. You can get custom reports, detailed feedback, and more.

Launch a world-class mentoring program with Together

Building a mentorship program from scratch and getting the necessary buy-in can be a daunting task. But your engineering employees can vastly benefit from having a community of learning and support. 

And with the right tools in your pocket, you can make this program-building process easier. 

With Together, you have a mentoring platform built to make operating a mentorship program easy and cost-effective. Simply set it up and watch it work for your organization. Learn more about our mentorship platform today, or book a demo!

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