This article was first published on Medium. You can take a look at it here.
Last October, I had the opportunity to work with the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital to develop a robotics activity for Cadette’s to earn their STEM badge. The activities were designed to teach the middle school girls how robotics relates to STEM and to excite them about the possibilities in the field. We built catapults, designed rafts to hold 25 pennies and learned about algorithms and encryption. As I looked around the classroom, I had one thought running through my mind: ten years ago, I was the only girl in my robotics class and now I’m surrounded by almost 100 middle school girls hyped about robotics. This was amazing!
At the end of the day, one parent thanked me for being a role model and a mentor. I had never considered myself to be a mentor. My mom is my mentor, my teachers and professors are mentors, but not me…right? Well apparently, that’s false. So I asked myself, what is a mentor?
I believe a mentor is someone you can look up to, someone who can show you the ropes and that your potential is limitless, someone to help you believe. The mentors I have in my life push me to be better: a better technologist, a better teammate, a better person. They do so by being honest with me, whether I did something good or if I made a mistake. One of my mentors tells me, “you never lose, you only win or you learn.” Sometimes its hard to hear that you messed up, but having an open conversation about what happened is how you learn and how you ensure that you never make the same mistake twice.
Two other qualities I recognize in a good mentor:
- A mentor will share his/her experiences with you to contribute to your knowledge base.
- A mentor will use his/her network to help you succeed to achieve your goals.
Well that’s great, we can all agree that everyone should have a mentor, but how does one go about actually getting a mentor. What worked for me was to find someone I admired, not for her position at my company, but for her strengths and skills so that when I say, “I want to be like her,” I mean I want to be a confident public speaker and a respected technologist. I then started attending networking events where I found her and introduced myself and started to have casual conversations. It is important to realize that mentoring is like any other relationship and that it will grow over time based on respect and trust. Mentoring is organic, so forcing it will kill the potential relationship. I never formally asked my mentor to be my mentor. However, I did ask if I could set up a monthly meeting with her so we could stay in touch. Take the initiative, you can’t just wait for someone to find you and mentor you.
It’s also important to note that mentorship is a two-way street. A mentor will give advice but they are also actively listening to your opinions to evolve their thinking and consider different points of view.
Having a mentor is great but being a mentor is equally rewarding. Thinking back to my experience in my robotics class, if I had been discouraged by being the only girl, my life would be very different today. I was lucky to have a supportive teacher who encouraged my passion for robotics and technology, it helped shape who I am today. And I think that’s the true meaning of being a mentor, providing someone with a positive experience so that they feel confident to succeed in whatever they choose.
This is my ninth post in my "What is" tech blog series. I'll be writing more every week here and on my blog!