Mentoring is a topic that has always been an interest to me. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “On Mentoring…” as I was curious about mentoring programs out there. At Central Ohio Day of .NET 2008, Brian H. Prince mentioned the benefits of mentors as part of his “Soft Skillz” talk. At CodeMash 2009, I caught a couple Open Spaces that referred to having mentors – “Getting Started on Speaking” and “Being and Choosing a Mentor”. During CodeMash v126.96.36.199, my friend Joe O’Brien talked about all sorts of things in his “Refactoring the Programmer” talk, including having a mentor and that an informal mentor relationship works well too. At devLink 2011, I caught Randy Walker‘s session on “Managing the mentoring process”. I’ve always been intrigued by other people’s perspectives of mentoring, and even now, that intrigue continues.
Informal vs. Formal Mentors
Talking with friends at various companies, there are companies out there with formal mentoring programs. They match people to colleagues who can help them navigate through various stages of their career at a particular company. Sogeti, for example, is one of the companies with a formal mentoring process.
MentorNet is another program that is a formal mentoring program. I heard about this through ACM, and it’s a great way for people in engineering to find formal mentors.
I’m not sure how companies necessarily match mentors to those who they’ll mentor. I do know that sometimes the mentoring relationship works and sometimes people just aren’t compatible – different learning styles, different approaches – and it doesn’t work.
I am part of a mentoring program that allows students to find mentors in the professional arena, and from what I know, the students have a portal of mentors to choose from. The student I’m mentoring now is studying hardware stuff while tinkering with software stuff and lives in Jordan. It’s the first formal mentor program I’ve participated in, and I’ve enjoyed it so far – helping him find out how to go further in his studies and enjoying his development on the side. I’m also working on reaching out to my contacts to get them to help share their stories on how they got where they are, as that’s where my student mentee is aspiring to be.
Informal mentors, on the other hand, tends to be less structured. These relationships come to fruition on their own. There aren’t contracts or agreements. These tend to be people who can help you get to where you are by learning from them and can be colleagues, bosses, experts in the field, and even friends. Most of the people I’ve considered mentors would fit in this category.
Having Many Mentors
I have had many mentors throughout my career, as early as high school. From getting an internship in the field right out of high school (thanks to a sibling’s friend’s dad who saw my potential) to working with very talented students in college, I had the privilege early on to learn and grow with their help. While I don’t talk to some anymore as we’ve moved on in separate directions, there are still some who I stay in contact with and thank for helping me get to where I am today.
Right out of high school, I had a bunch of guys who I considered mentors – guys who’ve been in the field a long time and could teach me things. One in particular stood out – a consultant who worked with me and introduced me to database people, who in turn showed me how Oracle and SQL Server databases differed and worked. That really encouraged me to continue tinkering with databases.
In college, one of my fellow students who was a couple years ahead of me struck me as super smart, and he and I talked quite a bit about various aspects of software development. Talking with him forced me to step up my game, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him at a national programming conference and learn some Java from him while there. While at the conference, I had a lot of time to talk with him and learn more about his job, and once we got back home, he introduced me to some guys he worked with who would later hire me and teach me the joys of being in an IT role (while the guy who introduced us would graduate and move on to a Fulbright grant program – super smart!!).
Even now, I have mentors who I learn from and grow with the things I learn. I have mentors who force me to step up my game in the development arena. However, I also have mentors who guide me in terms of business development. My mentors in various areas are strong in their respective areas. I choose to look up to strong figures, as I know they know what they’re about and if I learn from the strong, I stand a chance at developing (or sometimes even exceeding) their strengths.
While I may not have a formal mentor, I don’t find that a problem for me finding success in my career. I’ve crossed paths with many talented individuals – developers, architects, business people, entrepreneurs, government officials, and others. I find that I learn a little something from most of the people I encounter, and I take from those. However, just because I haven’t had a formal mentor doesn’t mean I’m closed to that option. It just means that I haven’t found a formal program with people that I’d like as mentors. Overall, though, I recommend having mentors – formal and/or informal – to help further your career and/or interests.