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The Importance of Finding a Career Mentor

What is a Mentor?

Mentor (noun): an experienced and trusted adviser. "He was her friend and mentor until his death in 1915." Similar: adviser, guide, confidant, confidante, counselor, consultant

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A mentor is someone who can be approached for advice. Some are informal like parents or friends. Others are more official through work. Regardless of their title, a good mentor is someone who can help you move forward.

However, mentors are not for everyone. This is completely fine. There is no right or wrong path when it comes to advancing your career. Keep in mind that mentees have just as much responsibility as a mentor when participating in some form of mentorship.

I have had a few mentors since my early years of being a developer. It wasn’t until the last few months that I got assigned a formal mentor. It’s been a great experience for me in both scenarios.

There are many highlights that I want to share with you. These are some of the main reasons why I advocate for mentoring programs for career development.

1. Coding Skills

Developers thrive by being exposed to all types of coding styles. I especially learn more when someone can review my code and provide feedback on improvements. There’s only so much you can learn from reading code or documentation.

My mentors have provided their thoughts on different approaches to coding. One advice that has stuck out to me is the need for comments. Time can be saved by writing useful comments for future development even if you’re the only coder. They’re meant to explain the code versus having to take time to translate the lines into your native language. A mentor’s time is valuable. The less time they need translating, the more time they can provide a good review of your code.

I knew that comments were important but it wasn’t until it was emphasized from someone that I respected that their value solidified in my mind.

Some mentors are able to let you shadow them during their work day (mentees should also feel comfortable requesting this). If you have this opportunity, take it. You will be getting a first hand experience of how another developer reviews a task and implements it.

I recently learned from a mentor that technical design documentation is crucial when preparing to add a major feature. It’s important to centralize the data and propose the best solution for the team along with your reasonings.

This is something that was never mentioned in any of my college courses.

2. Work Culture

Your mentor will have more experience with the company. Listen carefully to their time there. They can point you in the right direction when it comes to work related issues or concerns. For example, you will want to know how to officially request time off. If the mentor doesn’t know, they should be offering to help.

Mentors are also great for connections. You may want to learn a new technology but your mentor may not be familiar with it. They might be able to recommend another developer.

Let’s not forget that they have experience working in teams. This is a necessary skill to grasp as soon as possible. There may be times when you work with someone with a personality that doesn’t mingle well with yours. Your mentor may have worked with that same person or someone similar. They can surely provide advice on how to interact with this person.

3. Confidence Boost

I can’t tell you enough how much it’s helped me be more confident as a developer when hearing my mentors voice their same concerns.

I’m still considered new in the world of developers with almost 3 years of work experience. There are times that I experience imposter syndrome. I couldn’t believe my ears when a senior developer said that he still gets that same feeling. This was coming from a man who is highly respected in our community and has led multiple projects over his entire career. If someone like him feels the same, I honestly shouldn’t worry about it. It’s simply a feeling that everyone experiences. This syndrome doesn’t make me or you any less of a developer.

It also helps to hear a mentor say that you’re doing great. It not only makes you feel better hearing it from someone you respect in the field, but it also gives you an insight that you are making good decisions.

I was told that my compassion for newer developers is an excellent attribute to have. This was so important for me to hear from a mentor because one of my goals is to become a good mentor.

Appraisals are great confidence boosters in any career role. It’s like getting a gold star in elementary school.

Moving On

Unfortunately, there are some people that are not meant to be mentors. If you happen to find yourself as a mentee in this situation, you need to move on.

Find someone who you can safely share your concerns with. This may be the human resources department. They will probably give you suggestions on how to improve the situation before completely removing the mentor. Be open to their suggestions, especially if there is a chance of salvaging.

However, there are times that you may have to push back. Don’t let this discourage you, though! This mentor was just not suited for you or maybe they really weren’t ready to be a mentor. This also applies for mentees. Mentors have the right to end the mentorship due to mentee participation.

A mentoring relationship succeeds when both parties have their hearts in it, just as any relationship.

Final Thoughts

Mentors are practically anchors at the end of the day. They’re amazing people that remind us that we can one day be in their shoes: formally or informally.

They are there for you! Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Send them a message! Make meetings! Take charge if needed! Mentors signed up to be available to you. It saddens me greatly to hear mentees get discouraged with their careers because their mentors refuse to do the program they signed up for.

I recently became an official mentor for the apprenticeship program at This Dot. I want my mentee to feel comfortable talking to me. I truly believe that a mentor should be available and provide feedback and encouragement.

Tweet me with your mentorship experiences! Are you in any? Planning to? Scared and need a push?