I joined the tech industry over 13 years ago without any formal training or education. While my path was atypical and not something I’d planned, I have been able to grow and excel beyond what I thought was possible. It’s easy for me to outline how I was able to achieve success. From my first job as a manual QA tester to my current role at Modus Create doing all the things, I have been extremely lucky to have people invest in me and mentor me.
Mentoring can be formal or informal. For me, the organic mentoring relationships I’ve found have been the most prosperous. Having the self-awareness to realize you can grow is as key as having the aptitude to take the information others provide you and process it. Personally, the best mentoring and coaching has come as direct feedback, advice, and criticism, in fight or flight situations. It has made me uncomfortable, frustrated, and upset. It also drove me to make changes to improve. Most people don’t criticize because they want to upset you; they offer criticism because they know you can do and be better. Consider it a challenge, not a personal attack.
A mentor does not need to be your boss or someone in a direct leadership role. The best mentors I’ve found are those that I admire from a professional standpoint and learn from. They also have to be willing to teach, work alongside me, and be open to hearing ideas from me as well. It requires the mentor and mentee to have a mutual respect for one another. Both people need to be able to be honest and know they are within a safety zone. Like any relationship, it cannot be one-sided.
To date, I’ve found great mentorship from a variety of people in my network. Another female leader in technology, product, and remote work, who also happens to be my best friend :), was the first person to take me under her wing and see the potential. I’ve also had great leaders and bosses from within my current company, Modus Create, and others from previous companies I’ve worked for. These people all have something in common—they have decided I am worth investing in. By pure coincidence, they are all very direct and not afraid to challenge me (ENTJ for those Myers Briggs fans—while I am a comfortable ENFP.) I’ve learned that those are the people I learn from and work best with because they have no issue pushing me.
Because I have grown so much by having great mentors, it also made me cognizant that I can give back and be a mentor to others. While I would never claim to be an expert in mentorship, I do believe sharing information, praise, opportunities, and criticism helps people grow and improve. This isn’t always easy. For me, providing criticism is barely easier than receiving it. In my opinion, the key is in the delivery. How can you turn the situation into a coaching moment for the mentee? Telling someone their approach sucked is not helpful. Explaining why it did not accomplish the desired results is what is needed. No one sets out on a task trying to fail. We have to always assume positive intent.
Finding a mentor can be hard. Some tips to help:
- Find someone internal or external to your organization that you look up to. Reach out and see if they are willing to work with you. I’ve seen this work in many ways… from a simple weekly one-on-one to bounce ideas off of each other to formal training and shadowing. Figure out what works for you! It may be different depending on who you are working with.
- If your manager or boss is willing to teach and mentor you, take them up on it! Not only is it a great opportunity to learn more about the workings of your company, it also gives your manager visibility into your day to day challenges. The accountability is huge! It will drive you to be better. But be prepared to have higher expectations set and remember that excuses won’t go far. Be results and solution oriented.
- Determine if your employer has a formalized mentorship program. Sometimes, these can be very helpful to at least meet new people that can open your eyes to see the bigger picture.
Whether you call it mentoring, coaching, idea sharing, or something else, the key is finding the right people that push and drive you to be the BEST you. Most successful leaders in any company have a list of mentors from throughout their careers. Success is not built in a vacuum for anyone. In an industry like technology, where things change as fast as we master them, find your tribe and hold on tight. And be sure to pay it forward to those that come after you!
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