There is a reason why high performance athletes and successful business leaders always have coaches and mentors. The shortest path from struggling to being productive is advice from someone who has been where you are going. These successful individuals seek out help early and often because they recognize the value of mentorship. We can learn from them the following:
- Why do we need a mentor?
- How is that relationship formed?
- Tips to create an environment where the mentorship can be successful?
The tech industry is known for the huge amount of skills you must learn and master. This is where Mentorship is essential.
- A mentor has been through what you are going through and can help guide you through the learning process. They can help you avoid making common mistakes that will cost you time and effort.
- A mentor can help you see different approaches to a problem or an alternate ways to learn a skill that you may not be aware of. A great example is the mentee trying to reinvent the wheel. The mentor can easily lead them to a battle tested industry standard solution.
- Based on a question or conversation, the mentor can guide you to an answer or what's really important. Imagine an aspiring developer asking about a specific problem. The mentor quickly sees that the issue is in the coding pattern being used. Solving that one specific problem will just lead to more problems because the underlying issue isn't understood.
- While comparing yourself to others isn't always healthy, having a mentor can provide a target goal to strive for or help you chart a path previously unknown. For a long time I thought a single developer created each application or website. A mentor helped me to realize other roles essential to development like Cybersecurity, Product Manager, Scrum Master, DevOps Engineer, SRE, Database admin, tech support, technical business analyst, Project Manager.
- An important aspect of having a mentor is accountability. This is someone who knows where you have been and where you are going while having the experience to guide you between both points without the drama of everyday life. Let's be honest, we all know our planned path but life normally gets in the way. Sort of like not seeing the forest because of the tree in front of you.
I think this is the one million dollar question. You normally can't just walk up to a complete stranger and say “Be my mentor. Lead me to fortune and fame free of charge.” I ask my local community for advice and the following are my takeaways.
- The vast majority of mentorships starts organically. An example is a conversation regarding a PR request can turn into something a mentor/mentee relationship. One of my mentors began with me attending a tech meetup he was hosting. I attended every meetup afterward, built up a friendship, started helping organize them, and now consider him a mentor (just don't tell him).
- The best relationships start with the mentor publicly stating they are willing to mentor others in hopes of finding a self-motivating mentee. I encourage you to get on active social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, and other and follow tech-savvy people. If you are active in your community, you have a higher chance of spotting an opportunity to get mentored.
- Mentorship starts when both parties think of it as a relationship and less as a transaction. No one wants to mentor someone who doesn't provide them with value back or outright try to use them.
- The mentorship relationship is built on trust and respect (regardless of the “isms” such as race, age, gender, etc.). I can't stress enough how important this is for both mentors and mentees. There can be mutual growth between people who are on opposite spectrums of power or something more “ism” like race, age, gender, etc. But each person must have respect for each other. A mentor may have to confront personal issues that they didn't know they had or train their emotional intelligence. This could be one of the “isms” or lack of empathy. This is a great learning opportunity and a way for the mentor to get value in the relationship.
- A mentor can start the process of mentoring by keeping in touch with someone and slowly building the interaction into a mentor/mentee relationship. As the relationship grows, the mentor can expect a fresh view on technology while the mentee gets season advice. Both parties can gain a deeper knowledge of harder concepts through a conversation.
My local community gave me some wonderful advice on this subject.
- In order to be mentored you have to be faithful. Which means you believe what you do not yet see because the mentor is farther along than you.
- You need to make yourself available to their schedule. An example is when communicating you need to respond quickly and not days later. A big no no is being late or missing schedule appointments.
- An important issue is to be teachable and self-motivating. Understand that you don't have all the answers but this is a learning opportunity. My dad used to tell me “God gave you two ears and one mouth. You need to listen twice as much as you talk”. Being teachable also means to do the things discussed and be an active participant in discussions/learning environments (pair programming is one of those if you are fortunate).
- A mentee can help the relationship by explaining what they already know when asking questions. This gives the mentor a starting point in helping you and appreciation of how much work you put into solving the problem before asking about it.
- I want to reiterate the invaluable advice of doing the suggestions, advice, or lessons previously discussed with your mentor. There are few things more negative than to discuss a plan of action and there is inaction.
A surprising concluding takeaway was just because someone knows more and is senior doesn't mean their advice is a fit for you. Being willing to walk away from a non-beneficial mentor/mentee relationship is important to have.
Code Connector is a non-profit that organized tech meetups to help people start their journey into tech. You can join our daily conversations like this one by clicking this link to join our Slack channel: Code Connector slack channel.
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