Empathic Mentoring for Developers

Why Should You Care, and How?

Dervis Mansuroglu - @dervismn

The Developers Conference - TDC Future 2021


This talk will share with you proven techniques for helping developers succeed. You will learn about the speakers experiences of mentoring developers from underrepresented groups of the IT-industry and how they succeed landing jobs and trainees positions after just a year and a half of mentoring. Learn about challenges along the way, and the prerequisites needed before mentoring others. Becoming a mentor requires you to face your biases and inner demons. It requires you to believe that all people, no matter background, are unique and skilled. You must relearn what trust and empathy really is in practice. Being a mentor elevates your career, your personality, and it can even save lives.


The last two years, I have spent most of my time mentoring developers from underrepresented groups in the IT industry in Norway. I have focused especially on helping people with mental illnesses and disabilities, autism and aspergers, and also anxiety and depression. Companies does not hire or give these people even interviews because of prejudices. 

Mentoring by believing, trusting, supporting and deeply caring has transformed the relations with my mentees, and I have seen these wonderful people landing jobs and trainee positions one after another. They overcame challenges most others wouldn't think they could, at times, not even themselves. 

There is a ton of material, talks, and courses already about becoming a mentor, so why should you listen to my talk? I believe the existing material often miss some crucial points - the aspect of servant leadership, deep empathy, inspiration and vision. I want explain in my talk how I put these topics into practice by preforming and thinking about them.

People from underrepresented groups do not need teaching - they need human beings believing in them, seeing them and giving them a chance. Any person in a position of power, can choose to use that power to help others or silently ignore people. As a leader, a manager and a Java Champion, I chose to help and to include more developers from underrepresented groups to get into jobs. I want tell how others can do the same.

Principal Officer / teamleader

Norwegian JUG javaBin, Oslo Organizer

Who am I and why listen to me?

Oslo Software Architecture Co-Organizer

Java Champion


What is it?

What do you think is the biggest source of innovation and why?

Is it diversity, technical skill, humanity, employee equity, something else?

Satya Nadella

Empathy. To me, what I have sort of come to realize, what is the most innate in all of us is that ability to be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see the world the way they see it. That’s empathy.

Empathy is about deeply caring


Ability to feel what another person is feeling, by placing yourself in another's position.


Empathy but not sympathy: When you understand someones feelings, but do not agree on their situation.


Ability to perceive, understand, and react to the distress or need of another person.


Sympathy but not empathy:

When you understand someone is distressed and want to help, but do not understand their feelings.

It all start with you

You have a key.

It can open or lock doors


Know your story, know your journey.


Show and talk about your own emotions and fears.


Adjust your moral compass. Be honest and kind.


Who is your role models? What are their values?


Be true to yourself. Speak truly to yourself.

Challenge your inner dragon!


A summery








Teams & tasks

Government projects

Job agencies





Your company

Leaders and managers must embrace diversity, and create a strategy for inclusion.

HR helps you with recruitment, enrolment, and welfare administration.

Teams provide relevant tasks from anywhere between 3 to 18 months.

Colleagues share knowledge, provide feedback and creates social events and networks.





You demonstrate trust. You are the safety net around your mentee.

You plan, speak and motivate your mentee on his/hers vision, goals and dreams.

You help your mentee build a network and you encourage him/her to reach out.

You provide support; emotional and technical. You also challenge your mentee.





Partners are external companies, non-profits, gov. and non-gov agencies.

They help you get in touch with both employed and unemployed people.

Partners might also help you during the mentoring time.

Partners might support you economically and make it easier for you company to take in trainees.



Your boss

You boss told you so, and you kind of jumped into it.

The money

You get extra cash, and you need the money.

For fame

You want to be famous or celebrated.

To help

Because you actually care and want to help people.


For who?





Developers who want to grow within the company.

More than often these people are from underrepresented groups.

Developers in transition between roles/positions.

Developers working towards personal growth.

Wide range of ages, genders, abilities, skills and backgrounds.

Helping underrepresented groups in IT and tech.







Asylum seekers


Remove the stigma and the negative labels!

Learn about the uniqueness in everybody.

Important experiences:

1. Set aside your political, religious and historical beliefs

2. Have a code of conduct, and fight injustice and hate speech

3. Teach from the perspective and skill level of the students

4. Be available for questions and support

5. Present simple examples and repeat basics

6. Invite inspirational people as co-hosts


What is it?


The sum of values, behaviours and attitudes in the company. 

Strengthen the behaviours you want, and actively make a stand for damaging behaviours.


Over time, the values, behaviours and attitudes becomes your culture.


How do we do it?


Holistic approach to a person growth and wellbeing.


Task-oriented training to grow a skill or set of skills.


Here is how we did it:

2 days workshop for mentors & mentees.

Weekly meetings

1 day workshop for mentees.

6 months

1st week

3rd month

Feedback 1

Bi-weekly meetings

6 months

Feedback 2

Transition to job


12 months

Feedback 4

Interview techniques, technical workshops

15 months

15 months

Feedback 5

9 months

Feedback 3



9 months

Building trust and safety

Personal & interpersonal skills

Think long-term

Effect over time, not change on time.

Building skills, confidence and trust takes time. Be patient, it's worth it!

Many victories along the way!

Growth Mindset


Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.

Product Development

Prefer product over project

Stuff that does not work well:
- Command & control driven managers
- Waterfall projects & tight deadlines
- Misaligned teams (ref. Kniberg's model, Spotify)


How do we give feedback?

Because you did/said ....

I felt ....

so that I couldn't/didn't/wouldn't ....

Here is how it could be

better ....


Building teams is hard

Building high psychological safety is harder.

Alexis Sánchez

  • 2015 Arsenal's Player of the Year
  • 2015 PFA Fans' Player of the Year
  • 2015 PFA Team of the Year
  • 2015 Chile, Copa América winner
  • 2016 Copa América Centenario
    (Golden Ball for Best Player)
  • 2016 PFA Player of the Year

Arsenal 2014 - 2018

Manchester U. 2018 - 2019

  • What happened ?

You might be the best, but you still need a strong team in order to succeed.


  • World outside the team & within the team
  • More people, harder to communicate
  • Include developers, do not filter outside requests
  • Priorities of tasks - how?
  • Lower priority - how?

Communication lines
8 - 28

30 - 435

101 - 5050

2037 - 2 073 666


Working on domains that lives in old systems, at the same time as exploring new ideas in modern systems are hard, and it makes communication really hard.

Building trust in an empathic way. How?

Its all about communication


Your life is not your office, calendar or time sheet.


Family and friends are everything!


Whenever you feel down, take a day off. It's ok.


Whenever you need support, don't worry, I got your back.


You say you made a mistake. I say you made a discovery.


Only you know you.

Believe in your potensial.


How can I make your day and your experience better?

(servant leadership)


Know your people

Educate Your Self

Talk to non-profits, user groups, unions and organisations who work with your target group of people.


Intelligent developers, masters of finding and remembering patterns.

Can discuss and branch to several related & unrelated topics.

Can deeply analyse problems.



Thanks for listening!