Anyone can mentor!
Regardless of your experience, knowledge, and time, if you're not mentoring already, you can. It starts with sharing what you can, when you can, and how you can.
Mentorship simultaneously helps the mentee, the mentor and our community as a whole.
However, despite its benefits and progress made, mentorship is still not accessible to all.
If you're already mentoring, thanks! Please encourage a friend to get started as well and help guide them.
To help make mentorship more accessible, I open sourced the Mentorship Guide, which provides strategies, advice, and community support. Feedback and contributions are greatly appreciated.
Similarly, I gave a talk at JSConf US 2018 about this idea (a great community!). As well as a talk at the Linux Open Source Summit Europe 2019 on applying open source principles and technologies to mentorship.
Below is a written up, expanded version of the JSConf US talk.
First, thank you mentors
I’ve experienced firsthand the importance of having mentors. After all, I
- Wouldn’t have majored in Computer Science had it not been for mentors
- Wouldn’t be a developer had it not been for mentors
- And much more
Their guidance, encouragement, and resources were invaluable. I’m here thanks to them.
"A candles loses nothing by lighting another candle" (James Keller)
They taught me that a “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” (James Keller)
For our community to be more inclusive, collaborative, and innovative, we need more mentorship.
There is good progress being made with formal programs, like when you are an intern or a new hire and your paired with someone and meet on a regular basis.
Those programs are important. That said, I’m here to talk about a mentorship that is more organic and fluid.
What are the obstacles to mentoring?
Do you consider yourself a mentor?
As for me, I didn’t at first, I thought to myself …
- Don’t have the time
- Not part of a formal program
- Not an expert
- Those are big shoes to fill (a bit intimidating)
- Am I giving the wrong advice? Too much advice?
- Why do I even need to/have to?
Why is mentorship important?
It helps them
It helps them. Imagine the fulfillment knowing that you helped someone with their career, even if a tiny bit. Or that you helped someone with an issue at work.
Or that you provided that ‘aha moment’ when they were learning a new framework/tool/concept.
It helps you
Paying it forward benefits you as well. Learn more about yourself and expand your world view.
I remember explaining a concept to someone and they kept asking questions and I realized, “Wow, I there's much more to learn.” So I gladly went to fill those knowledge gaps.
Hearing other people’s stories and perspectives on life has made my own that much more richer and dynamic.
Other times, you make a new friend, ally, supporter, and you help each other with your respective goals.
There are valuable feelings and experiences that money cannot buy, but that only mentorship can provide.
Helps the broader community
What we put in, we get out. Imagine a community that is more inclusive, collaborative, innovative.
We’re raising the waters so that we’re all uplifted. It’s a ripple effect. We help someone and they someone and it continues.
And before you know it, it’s a boomerang of help which returns to you.
"To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world” (Dr. Seuss)
One of my goals is to make the world a better place. This quote reassures me that I can at least affect 1 person, today, and it’s equally important.
“To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world” (Dr Seuss).
Throughout the course of my life, I will forget a lot of things. In fact, I’ve forgotten many already. But the type of things I will remember, is the help I received from others.
Anyone can mentor: share what you can, when you can, how you can
People need your help, you can help them, and your can make their life better. And you benefit as well.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, stressful, or time-consuming. I’m talking about mentorship that is more organic and fluid.
It’s about … sharing what you can, when you can, how you can.
Mentorship is like watering a garden
Mentorship is like walking through a garden with a watering jug.
Sure, you can choose one plant and return every morning to water it. Which is fine. Or you can also walk through a garden, picking and choosing. Here’s some for you. Here’s a lot for you gulp gulp. Spend an entire day. Or just spend the morning.
In fact, go to a different garden next time.
If you think it’s a good thing, do it. You don’t have to define it, justify or reason about it. If there are good, genuine, sincere intentions to better someone’s life, do it.
What to share
I used to asked myself, how can I mentor if I’m not an “expert” at something? And you don’t need to be. It doesn’t even have to be related to tech.
What if you could condense and share whatever took you 3 years to figure so that the other person doesn’t have to take 3 years as well. Which allows them to refocus their time and energy on something else.
Knowledge & experiences
One of my favorite things I’ve done is speak at organizations like Girls Who Code, sharing my experience in how in my journey to tech, there were times when I asked myself, do I belong, am I good enough, passionate enough. Receiving positive feedback that some felt the same way too, made it worthwhile.
Perhaps you know a thing or two about a framework, tool, concept.
Or you share about the obstacles you faced and want to give others a heads up of what lies ahead.
General & specific
I personally enjoy mentoring those entering/switching to the tech industry. And about applying psychology to our daily day. While I have a friend who can talk for hours on anything related to serverless. Another friend makes herself available to new joiners when they’re learning our codebase.
Maybe you went from developer to manager. Or developer to team lead.
I even saw someone tweeting advice about performance reviews.
Challenges & encouragement
I used to underestimate the power of encouragement, active listening, and just being there.
Several months ago, I was helping someone apply to jobs. She felt apprehensive because she thought her background in music would be looked down upon. We brainstormed strategies and I reminded her that her skills would speak for themselves. And that her background was actually a big plus.
Really, I was just listening, providing encouragement, and help build her confidence. She did all the hard stuff. She’s now happily employed at a company’s innovation lab.
Questions and connections
Another time, I was asked for advice on deciding between to job offers. I connected him with a friend who previously worked at one of the companies he was looking at.
The intention of trying to help is important and valuable as well. I was asked if I knew any people in Berlin tech industry, I didn’t, so I reached out to friends of friends. Unfortunately, I haven’t found someone yet, but the intention was there.
When someone joins your organization or team, you can connect them with others.
Connections are not limited to people. It can be resources too. It can be articles, videos, books and more.
Similarly, I know of some who mentor by replying with questions, instead of giving straight answers and opinions.
To learn about different forms and styles of mentoring, read the Mentorship Guide.
When you can share
We have families, friends, hobbies, and other responsibilities. How do you fit mentorship in too?
Mentorship doesn’t have to be time consuming. It’s an ongoing process. It can be an hour a month. Or just 10 minutes. Be mindful of when you can help, and then do it.
I enjoy business, product, data, psychology, tech and people. Awhile back, I reached out to an alumnus for career advice. He’s a busy individual, a co founder of a SaaS company. He replied with a lengthy email. There were follow-up questions, his opinions, and assumptions, and insights from his experience.
We never had a phone call. Or met in person. But that email exchange had an impact.
Time is not equal
Time is not equal. I estimate that it took him about an hour to write that email. But at the same time, it easily saved me a few weeks worth of mine.
Think about when you’re debugging a problem. You’ve been at it for longer than you’d like to admit. So you ask for help.
It’s the same with mentorship.
Leverage async/sync communication
There are weeks when I have less time. So I leverage asynchronous forms of communication, like email, message boards, etc.
When I have more time, I am more than happy to hop on a phone call, video chat or meet in person. Stay flexible and adaptable.
How you can share
Mentor can be both formal and informal.
Up to you
Sometime you mentor people without even knowing it and vice-versa
I’m not saying to go out and find a mentee, and schedule every Wednesday at 6pm for the next 8 weeks. You can if you want. But you don’t have to. It doesn’t have to be a formal commitment, just take it one conversation at a time.
Maybe you like to write blog posts, make videos, stream, or speak at events. Those are all good.
In fact, it doesn’t have to be about your job either. It can be about your hobbies and other interests.
It’s about taking the time to answer a question and leaving the door open for a future conversation and relationship. It's about helping.
To learn about different ways to mentor, read the Mentorship Guide.
Mentorship can take place in your organization, your local community, even online.
Here’s the mentorship onion. It can happen anywhere.
self > team > department > org > industry | outside | physical/digital
I go to them
One of the best $10 I ever spent was on business cards. They just have my email. So when I meet someone, I hand one out, and encouraging them to contact me if there’s anything I can help with. Or we exchange contact information that moment.
This is inspired from when I was told, sometimes people want to reach out but feel uncomfortable/shy or don’t want to inconvenience anybody. Or they may not even know whom to reach out to.
We can be the ones to take the first step and initiative.
- schools (via emails and speaking to career counselors)
- meetups/conferences/hackathons/intern events
- organizations (Tech Jobs Tour, Code2040)
They come to me
Similarly, others may not know whom to reach out to.
You can be like a lighthouse, signaling to others, ‘Hey, I’m here, feel free to reach out.’
- posting a welcoming message that you can be contacted (with what type of info to ask)
- it can be on your LinkedIn summary, Twitter pinned tweet/bio, or your personal site/blog
For those of you with large followings, there are ways to manage with filters/email alias.
Mentorship is a communal effort
Mentorship is a communal effort. I have certain opinions and ideas. As do you, and that's great! Together, we're stronger.
The goal is to collect and organize:
- best practices
- things to consider
- caveats, edge cases
- and more
In doing, we can empower mentors and mentees, from those just starting out, to the experienced. We help make mentorship accessible to all.
I highly encourage you to read, share, and contribute to the Mentorship Guide.
Please see the contributing guidelines. Feel free to make a pull request. If it's your first, we're happy to help.
For a quicker experience, you can also fill out a form (no coding involved). Whichever is more convenient for you.
We're like clay
We are like clay. Being molded by other people, our environment and experiences. Let’s say someone wants to become a plane.
When its your turn, help add one of the wings. Don’t make them a boat. We have different destinations/end goals. Help them accomplish theirs.
Let’s create a culture/community in which this is commonplace. Helping one another become better versions of ourselves, accomplish our goals, fulfill our dreams, and make an impact.
Thank you to all mentors, mentees, and those who don't consider them neither, but I believe are.
Images from Freepik, Unsplash, and Pexels (thank you for the great resources)!
What about from a mentee's perspective?
I acknowledge that mentorship is a two way street, there’s a responsibility on the mentee as well. The Mentorship Guide provides more information.
What about sponsorship?
Sponsorship is equally important. We're working on that as well. See the guide and please help contribute!
Learn about strategies, resources, advice, and community support at the Mentorship Guide.
Anyone can be a mentor, share what you can, when you can, how you can.
The more mentorship we have, the more inclusive, collaborative, and innovative our community becomes.
If you're already mentoring, encourage a friend to get started as well and help guide them.