How to Bring in a Junior Developer

Written by on Aug 17 2016

When Mike joined our team as an intern, I could immediately see “the glimmer” in his eyes. I hope you know what the glimmer is, cause I sure as hell don’t know how to explain it.

Seeing it in someone else’s eyes felt both intimately familiar and very distant. You see, I know the glimmer well. I had the glimmer in my eyes when I was starting out as well. Which isn’t to say I’m all blasé these days, but there’s a strong connection between the glimmer and the first few weeks of doing something you love for a living.

After a few weeks of this internship, I had no hesitation in recommending that we hire Mike.

If you come across someone like Mike and can afford it, you should absolutely hire them. You should also be prepared for some very challenging first weeks. And when I say you should be prepared, I’m kind of kidding myself. I knew how the first few weeks with Mike were going to go and I was still taken by surprise; the truth is you can never be prepared.

There’s this notion that’s used in cognitive psychology, the curse of knowledge. In this case, the curse of knowledge means that when someone experienced starts to work with a junior, it’s impossible for them to put all their knowledge aside. It’s impossible to walk in a junior’s shoes, even though you’ve been in those shoes.

Why this is so really doesn’t matter much. What matters is that the curse of knowledge is a thing and it will hit you over the head real hard when dealing with juniors. All I can do is offer something to help with the pain. No, not Advil, just some advice:

  • Be very diligent about asking juniors where they’re at each day. They’ll try as much as possible to stay out of your way. Do not let them do this. If you just leave them be, you’ll find yourself frustrated a few days later because they’ve made a lot less progress than you expected them to.
  • Always have someone available to answer their questions. If need be, you can have some designated hours for the junior’s mentor(s), but not a day should go by without the junior getting his questions answered.
  • A junior developer is a big time investment. Be prepared to put in the time. Think of it like this: if you were opening a restaurant, you’d expect to run at a loss for a good deal of time. That’s exactly how it is with juniors. You have to constantly remind yourself it will be worth it eventually.
  • If your junior needs to learn something, accept that and ask them nicely. This is where the curse of knowledge is most bound to get you in trouble. “What? You don’t know how to …?” Let’s try a little experiment. Think back to when you first got started and try to remember the most embarrassing experience of not knowing something basic. It may take you a while, but force yourself to do this. That’s where your junior is right now. Pointing fingers is the worst thing you can do for them.
  • Take the time to tell them why, not just how. If a junior is just given a set of instructions, they will continue to apply them going forward. Even when they should bend them to the task. Sometimes, even when the instructions make no sense. This is because you have a lot more authority in their eyes than you can imagine. So keep telling them why; the more you do this, the sooner they can figure things on their own.

Above all, bringing a junior into your team is an exercise in empathy. Empathy’s something you need to bring to work each day, juniors simply require a double serving.


Hi I'm Eugen,

I wrote the article you're reading... I spend my days in the eclectic city of Bucharest, Romania. I enjoy talking things through, and solving hard problems with a gentle touch. I love films, friendships, and tennis and I have an insatiable sweet tooth.

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