Will Smith, a world-renowned actor, said the following: “I decided that I would never walk into a room and do anything other than inspire, uplift, and enlighten people — help people be the greater versions of themselves.”
Celebrities have a much larger radius to communicate and inspire others. After all, not all of us have the power of 1 million+ subscribers on YouTube like Mr. Smith.
But we don’t have to let that stop us. It’s not how many people you inspire that’s important, but the inspiration given to those who are.
Everyone has the opportunity to make a difference in the tech industry because every day new people are joining the ranks for their first time. And just like all of us on our first day, newcomers need guidance along the journey.
That’s where mentors come in! Think you’ve never mentored before? I beg to differ.
What is mentoring, exactly?
Mentoring boils down to helping, guiding, and inspiring others in your areas of expertise.
Have you paired with another developer on part of the code base you know well or shared a design pattern you’ve learned when reviewing a pull request? That’s mentoring.
What about supporting another developer by providing feedback on their slide deck and helping them prepare for the presentation? You guessed it! That’s also mentoring.
Gave your advice about career decisions or work situations? That’s mentoring, too!
Mentors are there to provide support and wisdom for their mentees. We give our time and share our knowledge to help mentees accelerate their success!
Why does tech need mentorship?
Has the following ever happened to you? Someone in your family asks, “What exactly do you do?”
You tell them about creating web applications and how the application fits in an ecosystem of microservices that helps deliver a product. You explain working in sprints. You’re talking quickly and excitedly because you love what you do and, after finally finishing your monologue, you look to see if any of it is sticking … and of course, not much really does.
You can see that explaining different areas of the tech sector is like speaking to someone in another language, especially for those outside the industry, which is why having a mentor within tech is critical: they’ve likely experienced similar challenges you have.
There are many reasons the tech industry needs mentorship. Here are just a few.
The tech industry is fast-paced
Between updates to existing popular libraries (AngularJS to Angular v2 comes to mind) or libraries such as React, which took the web dev community by storm upon its release, keeping up with the latest information and software can be quite the challenge for anyone working in tech.
Not only do we need to stay updated on the technologies we’re working on, but we are also constantly learning new best practices that lead to better development flows. It’s a tough balancing act, making sure your work gets completed on time while making time for your own professional development.
Having mentors who can help direct and talk you through how to balance your time wisely makes a huge difference. Remember, mentors are veterans who have been through the cycles of our industry. Many of them can still remember what it was like writing websites with jQuery, which might not even be used in their current tech stack.
Mentors can help ensure mentees are continuously learning over time and keeping skills relevant by sharing tips and valuable resources, and by making sure they understand it’s impossible to know everything. All one can do is learn every day and keep your mind open and enjoy the process of taking on new challenges!
Burnout is real, especially in tech
No matter your industry, it’s common to face burnout. The tech industry, however, typically comprises a wide range of company sizes, but is known for its industry-disrupting startups. Startups generally work at an accelerated pace and lack foundational processes (due to being a new, innovative company) because they are often focused on getting the organization off the ground so it can be successful.
This can translate to long work hours, rapidly changing projects, constant shifts in momentum, small teams, and a lack of organized work processes and documentation — all of which can be burnout-inducing if you’re not careful.
Mentors can play an important role to reduce the chances and impact of burnout. For example, they can be a reminder and assist in helping you find a work/life balance, be a role model that provides advice, resources, and ideas regarding your current projects, team, and company, and challenge you to work on projects that invigorate instead of drain you.
Tech work is broad and varied
Now, imagine taking a trip down memory lane. How did you decide on taking your current role? Would you have guessed that today, you’re exactly where you thought you’d be? How about five years ago? If you’re anything like me, I doubt it. The “do something” principle shows that it’s better to try new things and learn from them then do nothing.
Careers are like that, too. Explore one area of tech like frontend web development and see if it’s something you enjoy. If you are passionate about it, great, then you can continue down that path; otherwise, you might change gears and try backend instead.
You might find individual contributor roles brings less joy as your career progresses, so you take a foray into management — only to work back toward individual contributor after learning that leading people isn’t your cup of tea.
The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s very difficult and very unlikely every single choice throughout your career ends up being the correct one, but we sure can try. But why try on your own? Others can help point you in the right direction!
You can learn from mentors before making career decisions
All throughout the tech industry, you’ll find people who have faced similar situations or decisions in their careers. Tapping your network gives you access to learn and ask questions, taking advantage of knowledge from tech veterans with expertise in the areas you’re interested in.
It’s an absolute must to research and discover information about a choice before making it, and mentors in the tech field are perfect for that.
Let’s say, for example, you are interested in trying out product management after being a developer. Is that the right move for you?
Asking the following from a mentor who’s been in product management can help you determine some answers:
- What does a day in the life of a product manager look like?
- What are important skills one should have?
- Where should one start in their effort to land a product manager role?
Mentorship in tech gives people making new decisions the opportunity to learn from individuals who have made similar decisions in their past. Mentees can then avoid mistakes and use those lessons as their own, making them better equipped in the future!
Mentors can help improve diversity and inclusion in tech
Access to opportunities in tech should be open to everyone, no matter one’s background, sexuality, gender preference, or skin color. Everyone deserves an opportunity to make an impact.
Mentorship provides a safe space for honest conversations. Mentors can give direct steps and advice while mentees begin tracking toward a promotion. They can also provide network extensions that connect people who may have never met, opening the doors to new opportunities.
Further, leaders can create or fill roles based on the trust built in the relationship for their mentee, providing a direct opportunity instead of a biased one through a tough application process.
When mentees have mentors that look like them, the bond can be stronger, and advice for specific situations will be more relatable. Diversity at all levels of leadership is an essential part of a modern company’s culture, and it’s one we in tech want to continue pushing for!
How mentors can change your life
The following question was asked in one of my past interviews: “What’s the biggest challenge you faced in your career?”
I replied, “Moving away from my friends, family, and hometown to take on a new job at GE Healthcare in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.”
The interviewer followed up with: “What was your biggest achievement?”
“Moving away from my friends, family, and hometown to take on a new job at GE Healthcare in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” I answered immediately.
He informed me how frequently the answers to those questions typically followed the same pattern. How inspiring!
I love how many of the toughest challenges we face become our biggest achievements. This phenomenon always reminds me of the wonderful people who helped make that happen, whether formal or informal mentors, friends or family, their support and wisdom were fundamental in any success I’ve had.
Uncle Iroh said it best in Avatar: The Last Air Bender: “While it is always best to believe in oneself, a little help from others can be a great blessing.”
Giving back as a mentor
Mentoring isn’t about directly changing the world. It’s about the possibility of being the one who creates a spark in the brain that does. And, while becoming a mentor can be challenging, it’s far more rewarding because gifting our time empowers the next generation with an opportunity to be better.
Throughout my career, I’ve had many mentors who have had a huge impact on my life by reviewing important presentations, providing career advice, and even taking me on a weekend shopping trip to help me build my professional wardrobe! My mentors were there to help and challenge me every step of the way.
The interesting part? Their only ask in return was for me to continue paying it forward. And now, I’m asking you to do the same.