I strongly believe that mentoring can help a mentee develop into a better technical leader, and it’s also an exercise in leadership for a mentor — you’re sharing your vision and engaged in convincing someone else to go down a particular path. I’ve participated in at least four different mentoring programs during my career; some have had a focus on specific projects, while others are more of a “meet & discuss” model or even one where mentees have a specific goal like getting a job.
I’m currently a mentor in the MentorNet project, and I’ve had a great experience with it so far. I love that I can do it remotely. Being a mentor can be a wonderful experience. You can share wisdom and professional success stories that would be bragging in any other context. But mentoring is also about sharing things you’re not happy with or proud of. And sometimes mentoring can even admitting things about your profession that you don’t like (and reliving your own experiences through a mentee’s encounters).
Does the tech industry have some amazing opportunities to change the literal face of the world? Yes, it does. Does it also contain a marked lack of diversity and some of the worst sexism of any industry? Also, yes (just check out recent news coming out of Uber). Having to own all the good sides & all the bad sides of your industry makes it easier to call out the good & bad things when you see them at work every day. Every so often, you might even be able to impart some wisdom to others who come after you, or walk with you, to make it easier for them to navigate the good and bad as well. I think this is worth it alone for both parties.
Questions about mentoring
I still have some questions about technical mentoring; here’s what I feel like I still don’t know.
- What if you’re not in the exact same field? I’ve had mentees that are in fields like Digital Arts & Sciences, or frontend development. Am I still a good fit for these folks? Would they be better served by someone else?
- What if the goals change? If you start talking to someone about how they want to get a new job, and then they do (or decide to stay), do you keep meeting? Or is the mission accomplished?
- If you’re looking for a project to work on together, do you start with something the mentee already has a lot of context on? Or do you try to start with something greenfield that you’re both learning about?
- Is remote mentoring viable in the long term? Or is there something about place that’s important, e.g. getting a job in a specific city?
- How should you structure an open-ended mentoring relationship? Some programs have a cadence and topics, or even assignments, but what about ones that don’t? Should you define (at the start) when it should end?
- If you’re mentoring students and a student stops showing up (I always let the mentoring program know when this happens), do you keep emailing them? Was that a success or failure?
If you think you have any advice on these questions, I’d love more input. Please comment or tweet at me!