Finding a mentor in tech roles is hard, especially if you aren’t aware of the networks and communities in your area. If you happen to be in a minority, it can be even more difficult.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about Role Models and Mentors for Women in Tech at the first WiTWA Tech Exchange for 2018. In preparation for the event, I thought a lot about my own role models and mentors, the people who supported me, and the impact that it had on my career.
In the early days, and sometimes even now I find some of my colleagues talk down to me, take away my opportunities to make decisions or problem solve and automatically assume that I don’t know what I’m doing(until I prove otherwise). People like this do not make good mentors or role models and can negatively impact you from the start.
I consider myself lucky to have met Glen, my first (and only) technical mentor. I joined his team as a project manager but would regularly help out on the front-end work, especially as I came to realise how much I loathed project management.
Glen was an incredible mentor, he never talked down to me. Instead he would ask questions, provide feedback and the support I needed to solve problems on my own. More importantly he never made me feel stupid. It was Glen who encouraged me to become a front-end developer, he supported me the entire time we worked together. If I hadn’t worked with Glen at this point in my professional life I would probably still be project managing and hating my life.
After Glen I was on my own and struggling. I didn’t have enough information to truly improve myself and while the internet helped, I needed more. So I started a Meetup group called Fenders.
My expectations of what a meetup group was were way off base. I did not fully realise the effort that it would require and how much of my life it would consume, but at the end of the day, it was because of Fenders that I gained a whole new network people to be inspired by.
You might not always have a mentor but you can have multiple, diverse role models.
They don’t have to be someone older, more experienced, or even doing the same role as you. You don’t need a Mr. Miyagi, you just need someone who inspires something in you. There is always the opportunity to learn from the people around you.
Don’t discount younger or less experienced people. A less experienced person often approaches problems in entirely unique ways, they don’t have the baggage that comes with x years of experience. Beginners are typically filled with enthusiasm and joy at things that you have long forgotten, this passion re-ignites and can remind you of why you love what you do.
Networks like Twitter allow me to see and hear about normal people doing amazing things all over the world, and for me, that is remarkable.
Your role models shouldn’t just be made up of people who look and act like you.
Find people who are different to you, live somewhere else, have a different history, and different experiences. From them, you will gain new perspectives and a greater understanding of the world.
If you are finding it hard to find a mentor or a role model, look around at the people you already know. The truth is you probably have amazing people all around you who are more than willing to support you. They could be someone in your community or someone you see every day at work. They won’t always have all the answers, they won’t always know the right thing to say, but they will be there to listen, give advice and help you where they can (as long as you are open to it).
Most importantly, don’t discount the people around you just because they don’t seem “important” enough. It’s so easy to put someone up on a pedestal, especially if they are somewhere on the other side of the world. The truth is that those people are just like you, they need help and support as well, they struggled with the same things. It’s you who are making them out to be something incredible, don’t project your expectations onto them. Your mentors and role models don’t have to be people up on a pedestal to provide value.
If you take the time to think about it, you might already have mentors or role models in your life. I didn’t fully appreciate my first mentor, in fact, I didn’t even realise she was a mentor until I properly looked back. On reflection, it turns out that I owe a lot of who I am and what I’ve accomplished to the advice and guidance she gave me.
I started my first professional job while I was still studying at uni and had the pleasure of working with an amazing woman. Amanda taught me that it was okay to have my own morals and values and that if my employer wanted me to violate those I could say no. She taught me that it was okay to stand up for myself, to value my work, to ask for pay rises, to stand my ground, to share my opinions, to listen, to learn from others, to push for the things that I wanted. Most of all she taught me that it was okay to be myself, that I could be me AND be respected at the same time. I didn’t have to waste energy being someone I wasn’t to fit into someone else’s mould.
I owe a lot to Amanda, and I didn’t even realise it. I didn’t understand at the time that all these things I learnt from working with her day to day would be vital to making my way through the tech industry and through the politics that often exist in businesses and life. If I had known, and taken the time to properly appreciate Amanda as my role model and mentor I think I could have done a lot more with the advice she gave.
If you are in a position to support someone or to help their voice be heard, do it. Reach out to people, help others where you can and raise them up. Despite what people might think, it’s not a competition, many people can be successful and amazing at the same time. If you learn from someone else, are inspired by their ideas or use their work, credit and promote them. The support, recognition and promotion that you give someone else contributes to the overall success of our industry.
Don’t put yourself or others on a pedestal, you can always learn something from someone else. Believing in yourself is great, having goals and wanting to accomplish things is fantastic, but don’t do it at the expense of someone else. Any success you achieve at the expense of another person is not success at all. Reflect on your strengths, try to understand your weaknesses, be open to feedback and find people who can help you be a better person.
Be aware of your communities, networks and the people already in your life.
Remember that no one succeeds completely on their own. It might not always be a person directly in your life who helps you. Maybe you got your first job at a meetup (that someone had to organise), maybe you created a cool project because of a talk you watched at a conference (that someone spent time writing and someone else spent time organising), maybe you solved a huge problem by reading an article someone on the other side of the world wrote and shared after facing the same issue. We are not alone, we have the support of a vast, diverse and creative community, so contribute to that and help move the web forward.
Be grateful, thank the people who help you, and where you can pay it forward.
Originally posted on The Pastry Box (this version has some modifications and additions)