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Cory Dorfner
Cory Dorfner

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Finding Your First Mentor

Welcome back to my Switching Career Paths series where I share a little bit of my journey from a Quality Systems Manager to a Software Engineer! If you've been following me weekly, I apologize for my mini-hiatus as I've been in the middle of a large transition in my life. Also, if you have not yet read the prior posts in the series, I would highly recommend starting on my You're Hired! post. There, you will find a brief introduction to myself and my background before I made the decision to change my life for the better! In this week's post, I would like to talk about mentors. Primarily how they can help you through your own journey, ways to find one, and topics to discuss after doing so. So let's dive in!


Table of Contents:

  1. What is a Mentor
  2. Benefits Of A Mentor
  3. How To Find One
  4. What To Discuss

What is a Mentor

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
    -Oprah Winfrey

Some of you may be wondering right now, what exactly is a mentor? The term is thrown around a lot but not always explained. For example, you may be thinking that a mentor is strictly meant to occur within your company, where a senior employee works with you closely to help coach and guide you through the beginning of your journey with the company. Others may be thinking it is someone in your same field that you form a close bond with and share details about your life goals and upcoming events or tasks that you may need support and guidance on. Still yet, some of you may be thinking that a mentor is someone outside of your company and field all together that acts more as a coach to help you deal with frustrating moments in your life. Would you be surprised if I told you that a mentor can actually be all three of those things and more?

Surprised Gopher Gif

Furthermore, the number of mentors you have in your life at any given time is not limited to just one but as many as you need to help further your career and advance towards your goals. That's right! You could and should have more than one mentor! In fact, you might have multiple right now without even realizing it. A mentor-mentee relationship doesn't need to have an official title and can be anyone that helps provide you with leadership and coaching, whether that be your boss, a coworker, or a friend. As long as you approach the relationship with an open mind, willing to accept both positive and negative feedback to learn and grow from, you should consider that as mentoring.

The same goes for the other way around as well. Any time you are providing advice to someone for them to improve, you are mentoring them, so it is important that you always structure your advice in a way that someone can learn from. When providing positive feedback, be sure to provide the situation or task they were working on, the action they took to successfully complete it, and the result that came about from all their hard work. If you are providing negative feedback, be sure to make it constructive by also providing an alternate action they could have taken to achieve better results for next time.

Now that we all have a better understanding of what mentoring is all about, let's get into the benefits of having a mentor.


Benefits Of a Mentor

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
    -Isaac Newton

The benefits of having a mentor are never-ending and will always fluctuate based on the type of mentor you are looking for and the relationship that you build with that individual. A mentor could be someone with similar experiences to your own that can walk you through those difficult personal and/or professional times. They could also be someone with a different socio-economic status, nationality, gender identity, and/or culture background to provide a different perspective in your approach to problems. A mentor could also just be another like-minded individual in the same path of life as you to talk to and bounce ideas off of. No matter who you choose to be your mentor, there are numerous benefits that can come from this relationship when there is open and clear communication between the two of you. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Develop leadership and management qualities through learning by example from your mentor
  • Support with staying on track and focusing on your studies to increase knowledge in your field -Improve your communication, personal, and professional skills
  • Increase your social, professional, and academic confidence and motivation through positive feedback, encouragement, and support
  • Collaboration and inclusiveness with another individual in your field or workplace
  • Become more empowered to make decisions after discussing with your mentor and fine-tuning how you approach problems
  • Develop strategies for dealing with both personal, professional, and academic issues
  • Identify goals and establish a path to successfully complete them
  • Learn from a more senior employee in your company to gain priceless understanding into the next stage of your career
  • Meet new contacts from your mentor and broaden your professional network

Ultimately, the most valuable benefit of finding a mentor and developing a strong, professional relationship with them is the fact that they will hold you accountable with your goals and cheer you on as you put in the time and effort to achieve them. Through this kind of a mentor-mentee relationship, you will find it much easier to succeed at work and in life, increasing your chances of getting a raise, promotion, higher consulatancy fees for your work, or whatever your goals may be. So, let's talk now on how one goes about finding a mentor.

How To Find One

“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.”
    -J Loren Norris

The task of finding a mentor for yourself might seem daunting. Where do you go to even start looking for one? When you do find someone you would like to be your mentor, how do you go about approaching that individual? Is it better to look for a free mentorship program or one where you pay an individual and/or organization? How would you handle the rejection if someone says no? These are all valid questions and ones that you may have to deal with or already have. I'm here to tell you that this doesn't have to be a complicated or scary process and hopefully after answering these questions, I will have helped simplify the process even slightly.

Alan Ritchson Relieved Gif

First things first though, where should you go to find a mentor? With the advent of thought leadership and the explosion of different social media platforms out there for people to share their thoughts and ideas, potential mentors are everywhere you look. Below is a listing of just a few:

Free:

  • If you are currently hired, your current company is the best place to start
  • Coding Coach is a another great place to start if you are currently a consultant, freelancer, or unemployed and is in fact where I found my first non-company mentor
  • CS Career Hub is a nice resource of mentors for those just starting out on their journey
  • Hangops is primarily for the devops community
  • Rands Leadership Slack is where you can find great mentors for engineering leadership
  • CTO Craft Community is another great resource for engineering leadership
  • Mentoring Club: Software Engineer Mentors is a sleek mentorship program for software engineers and engineering managers
  • Mentors in Tech provides mentors for community college students in the US who want to break into the tech industry
  • Meet a Mentor is a free slack community matching up with mentors in the UK tech community

Paid:

  • Coding Career Community is a Discord community led by Shawn Swyx Wang through a one-off payment as the Community package
  • Code Mentor is a paid mentorship tailored for software developers, where most of the revenue goes to the mentor, minus a small service fee
  • Mentor Cruise provides mentorship from senior engineers and engineering managers, where the company takes a 20% cut from the rates you pay

As you can see, there are numerous resources for you to utilize in the search for your ideal mentor. You can even reach out to people through Twitter and LinkedIn, University Alumni groups, or find people at meetups and local events that you can ask to grab a cup of coffee with and form a relationship. There are mentors all around you and many of them would be more than happy to help build your professional career alongside you.

What To Discuss

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”
    -John Crosby

If you're anything like me, you know how difficult it can be to reach out to a complete stranger and start up a conversation, let alone build a mentor/mentee relationship. So how do you go about even starting the conversation? I have found that the best approach is being open and honest about the following:

  • who you are
  • where you have been in your professional career/studies
  • where you would like to be
  • your current plan to reach that goal
  • how you will contribute to the mentor/mentee relationship.

If you've been following along with my Switching Career Path series, you should already have the answers to most of these topics. If you have not been able to read them yet, I would highly encourage you to do so as the content could be very helpful during this process.

Cat with glasses reading from laptop

The main topic I have not covered yet is how you can contribute to the mentor/mentee relationship. This one is actually quite simple though. A mentor takes on this responsibility, not only to help out other individuals grow and develop as a professional, but to also grow and develop themselves as leaders. Being a mentor is a great opportunity to learn more about themselves as a leader and hone their skills in coaching. They want to know that you will bring value to that process by being someone who is willing to learn from others, willing receive honest feedback, and provide honest feedback of their own to the mentor. By conveying this information to them, any good leader would love to be your mentor and those that don't are not mentors you would want to have.

After finding someone that is open to be your mentor, then comes the exciting part of sharing your goals and ambitions with them. The topics you both can discuss are as wide as your dreams are. Feel free to discuss your progress towards your goals, your frustrations and/or difficulties in some work you are facing, your achievements, or anything else you feel comfortable discussing. Just be sure to keep it all within a professional manner, which means no discussing of that crazy party you went to last weekend or your political views, unless of course you both have established a comfort level with topics of that nature. A relationship with a mentor is all about being open with your life and career to receive open and honest feedback from them on your progress and next steps. Don't be afraid to share anything and everything with them, as they are there to help you grow and develop as an individual.

Chris Farley and Rodney Dangerfield supporting your development


A mentor can be a truly wonderful individual to have by your side as your work through this crazy thing called life. The benefits of having a mentor are never-ending and the amount of people out there who are willing to be a mentor to your are vast. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start finding that right individual to be a mentor to you and help you reach that next big milestone in your life!

If you enjoyed the post, be sure to follow me here and on social media too so that you don't miss the rest of my Switching Career Paths series, where I share some tips and insights into how I changed up my life for the better and how you can too! The links to my social media accounts can be found on the contact page of my personal website. Please feel free to share any of your own experiences with switching up your career path, general questions and comments, or even other topics you would like me to write about in the comments below. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!👋

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