We’re in a new age of mentoring and you have a lot to gain if you accept that
What comes to mind when you hear the word mentor? If you’re a Star Wars fan like me, you might think of Yoda. Or maybe you’re thinking of that special person who’s guided all your big career decisions in life. Maybe having a mentor is a concept that’s still intangible. They might be an all-knowing, super helpful person who could solve all your job issues with a silver bullet if only you could find them.
After years of doing mentorship while working at companies like Amazon, Groupon and HotelTonight and more recently in my career advancement community, Hustle Crew, I’ve realized that mentorship – like careers themselves – have adapted in the millennial age.
From long-term progression to an exchange of information:
A classic mentor-mentee relationship evolved in industries like law, where a professional might spend years working their way up from graduate trainee to partner. A mentor could show a mentee the ropes and reveal all the mysteries of the unwritten rules — how to navigate office politics, how to pick specialties, how to pick teammates, etc. But in the tech industry its rare to see a young upstart spend more than a couple of years at one company.
Most startups aim to go public on the stock market or be acquired within five years of their inception. Folks that miss the pace of the early days move on to pastures new or to start their ventures. For this reason, a mentor in tech would be less focused on helping you move up a single company’s ladder and more focused on helping you build your career capital. That is helping you find the best opportunities to hone your craft or improve new skills, maybe even open doors to new adventures.
From one on ones to the strength of community:
When I think of my own professional life and who I consider being a mentor, the list quickly grows from one to multiple people. It’s a list that includes all those who I turn to for guidance and who give me valuable advice in return. I ask them for guidance, and I also answer their questions when I am needed. Sometimes I just act as a sounding board. I don’t have a mentor, I have a team of mentors willing me to succeed, and that’s even better.
By being a part of communities like YSYS and POCIT, I can broadcast a question or concern to a broad audience and receive a range of perspectives. I can tap into a group of people with a variety of experiences and expertise and find the most relevant person to help me. With an internet that’s increasingly open sourced it makes sense that mentorship in tech would be collaborative, too.
Be helpful and help will always find a way back to you:
More and more corporate companies are introducing a reverse-mentorship scheme. Big consulting firms pair a senior partner with a younger professional so that they can learn about issues like careers progression and diversity and inclusion straight from the horse’s mouth. This is promising for progress given there was once a time in work when age trumped everything. With the rise of tech startups and 20-something college dropout billionaires, those days are gone.
This means even though you don’t have decades of experience under your belt, you shouldn’t doubt about what value you can bring to a conversation. Your experiences are data points that are useful to someone who has not shared those experiences. We are all out here trying to make the best out of what we have. If knowledge is power than sharing what you know about work – whether that’s your experience in a company, in a role, or even making an introduction – is empowering the person you share it with.
Putting this advice into action:
Next time you’re thinking about finding your ideal mentor remember that a community may serve your needs just as well if not better. At the start of the Hustle Crew journey, I envisaged mentors and mentees building long-term relationships. I assumed that such a bond would be the most useful. It quickly became clear that what young tech professionals need most isn’t a single guiding light but rather the right information or support, at the right time.
That’s why I’ve been building NonTechTech, a mentorship directory and Slack community with threads dedicated to the most common challenges, from finding the right opportunities to negotiating for more. It’s free to join, and we’re always looking for more people to get involved and help break barriers to succeed in tech. The name is a nod to the fact that there are thousands of jobs that require zero coding skills— but if you weren’t in tech you might not realize that!