Let’s be Friends: the value of mentorship

One thing that I advocate for is the value of mentorship and having a one on one relationship with someone who can help guide you and give you advice. But while saying “get a mentor” is easy, what does it really mean?

What is a mentor?

An experienced and trusted adviser.

My first introduction to a mentor was during my apprenticeship. As part of the agreement with the company, they had to provide you with a mentor. This was usually a senior engineer working in the same squad.

Mine was a senior engineer who was relatively new to the company. There were many advantages to this, one in that they had a wide range of experience of starting at new companies and immediately knew some tips I might want to know for a new role. And also they were eager to share their wealth of knowledge with me by proactively sending me articles and book recommendations.

Can I only have one?

I don’t feel like you should restrict yourself to just one mentor if you can get value from more. You may also have mentors for different scenarios – for example, a technical mentor for learning how to code, a career mentor or a buddy for when you are first finding your footing at a company or role.

My first mentor, who I mentioned before, hasn’t been my only mentor. In fact, they left the company a few months after I started and I was assigned a new mentor. Both of these mentors had very different teaching styles and it helped me release what I valued in a mentor-mentee relationship. When I moved companies, again I was assigned a new mentor.

While those three mentors had been very technical focused, when I started building my company I also found a new mentor while at a hackathon. She wasn’t technical, but she had plenty of experience in building her own business and we regularly have catch-ups and discuss my progress.

Do I need to work with them at the same company?

This again relies on what you want out of the mentorship relationship. Many companies have internal mentorship programs nowadays to help onboard and progress employees. However, you may find that you know someone outside of the workplace who has provided you with valuable lessons.

How do I get a mentor?

  1. A workplace mentorship program – many workplaces have a formal mentorship program set up where a new starter will be allocated a mentor. If there isn’t one already set up and you think it would be useful, consider asking if one could be set up.
  2. Online – reach out to anyone on social media who you feel provides valuable insight into your industry.
  3. Reach out to someone you know, this might be formally or informally.

Of course, no one owes you their time and you must remember to respect this. Some people you reach out to may not have the bandwidth to help you on a formal basis while others may not have any interest in mentoring. That is fine because to have a good mentoring relationship you need that agreement on timings and bandwidth.

Who needs a mentor?

Everyone. This is my own viewpoint of course, but I say the same for therapy and for mentorship. It is always useful to have that extra support even when we don’t think we need it. While many would only see a mentor as being useful for someone first entering the industry, I would argue that we need to be supported throughout our careers.

  • A new starter in a company needs a mentor to help guide them through the onboarding process.
  • A junior might need a mentor as a quick point of contact for any questions and queries.
  • A mid and a senior might be considering the next steps in their career, and could find the mentorship of someone more experienced valuable; and similarly, a technical lead or manager could use support.

Finally, how does it work?

To really get the most out of these relationships I think it is important that you both set expectations. For example, how often do you want to be able to check-in? Most mentors won’t agree to be ‘on call’ 24/7 – we’re all busy people, but having a regular check-in time can help with communication.

Also set goals with each other – what do you want out of the mentorship? While this is likely to be on a more informal basis (if set up outside of an organisation) then there won’t be a need to formally document things, but having some targets or expectations outlined can make sure the check-ins are optimised.

Finally, if things don’t feel like they are working or life gets in the way, respect each other’s time and part ways amicably. Even without the mentorship, it is always useful not to burn bridges and to keep someone in contact in case something crops up in the future.

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