I have been working professionally as a software engineer for over 7 years now and I have loved every minute of it. Despite being happy and content, a year ago something happened that changed the entire trajectory of my career and my sense of purpose in this industry. I became a mentor. It was not planned and it was terrifying, but it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made. Let me take you back a year and tell you exactly what happened.
It was August 2018 and I had been working as a software engineer for almost 6 years at that point. Work and life were going great. I had recently been given the coveted senior engineer title and was finally starting to feel secure in my role as a software engineer. Then one day I got an email from a colleague of mine that threw me for a loop. (Names replaced)
"Hey Molly -
Kristen is a brilliant engineer at EvilCorp who had another career before switching to dev work. She’s been looking for mentorship from someone along her path but her current city is a small world in software.
I hope you two have a productive chat :)"
My reaction 👇
You want me to mentor someone? Now I have taught a lot of junior devs over the years, but strictly on a professional, here is how you write code level. I never found myself in a position to give anything besides black and white technical advice. I panicked, and immediately wanted to reply you’ve got the wrong girl! Luckily, I didn’t. Instead, I did what my mom taught me to do and slept on it.
The next day after a therapeutic run I talked myself into trying to help. The girl wanted advice on navigating the software industry as a woman, which sure, I am also a woman, but that didn't make me feel at all like I was qualified to give someone else advice on the topic. But since I agreed to help, I took the commitment very seriously. I talked to colleagues of mine and took a hard look at what helped me be successful. After getting lots of great feedback from coworkers, I replied to my new mentee with the advice.
I had no idea if any of the advice would help, but the least I could do was try. Much to my surprise, it did help, a lot! The next monthly chat I had with my mentee she was a different person. She had applied the advice I had given her and it had paid off. This is when the shift began to happen for me. Seeing my advice help one person was so incredibly rewarding that I thought maybe others would find what I have to say useful as well.
My relationship with my mentee continued to grow and during that time I decided to get more involved in Twitter. I had recently dusted off an old Twitter account to use to promote my first ever conference talk. Then it suddenly dawned on me, maybe I could use my Twitter account for more than just promoting my conference talk. Maybe I could use Twitter to share with others the kind of advice I gave my mentee. With the help of my mentee, who was basically a Twitter expert compared to me, I figured out who to follow and really got my Twitter account off the ground.
After entering the Twitterverse I stumbled upon other engineers who seemed to have the same goal I did, using the internet to help and encourage fellow software engineers. A lot of these Twitter users were also using a site called dev.to, so I checked it out. It seemed like a really solid and nice community. Around the same time, I also checked out Medium but was overwhelmed with it and all of the options and hurdles that came along with getting set up and going. DEV seemed like a place I could publish a post and get 👀's quickly so I went with it and started publishing blog posts.
I started out with simple technical posts that were inspired by my conference talk. These were so well received that I kept going, writing posts on everything from soft career skills to hard technical skills. Once again the responses I got were invigorating and made me want to keep sharing more and more so I could help as many people as possible.
Since starting that first mentoring relationship my mentee has grown tremendously personally and with her career. I mean, the girl is absolutely crushing it! But you know who else has grown just as much personally and professionally? ME!
I have grown a solid base of Twitter followers, published over 50 blog posts, been on 4 podcasts, done multiple career interviews, given 5 conference talks, and personally mentored developers from all over the world. While I was the driving force behind all of these things, I credit a lot of my ambition and motivation for doing them to my mentee and our mentoring relationship.
Becoming a mentor taught me that I have something valuable to say and that what I have to say has the power to help others. Prior to being a mentor, I was only teaching technical skills to the developers I worked with. It never occurred to me that I could teach others beyond my coworkers or that I had things to offer besides just black and white technical advice. Mentoring opened up eyes to see that thanks to the internet and technology, reaching out to others all over the world and teaching them can often be as easy as teaching someone who is sitting right next to you.
I would never have the confidence I have today if it wasn't for my mentee. Having her look up to me pushed me to be better myself. I imagine it is probably similar to when you have kids. You don't want to let them down and you want to set a good example so it pushes you to be not only better professionally, but also personally.
Throughout this past year, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I have the capacity to be empathetic despite my often hard exterior. I learned that I genuinely care about those around me and hate to see people struggle. I learned that because I am so fulfilled in my job, the most satisfying experience throughout all of this mentoring for me has been helping others find that same satisfaction in their own careers.
Through mentoring I have discovered the incredible plethora of online resources that exist for developers. These resources give everyone the chance to make connections with people from all over the world. They provide many newcomers to the industry that support I only dreamed about when I was starting. Some of these resources are:
- Twitter - Sure I knew about it before, but I never considered it as a platform to help others
- Career Karma
While mentoring had a large impact on my career ambitions and completely changed the way I approach interacting with fellow devs online, your experience doesn't have to be that drastic. Mentoring showed me that I have something to offer and in turn, I choose to try and find ways that I could share that with the most people possible. If you are not the kind of person who likes interacting with a lot of people, that is fine! No matter how shy or introverted you are, I bet you have something to say that could help someone else. Even just words of encouragement will go a lot further than you think. I have found that most mentees just need someone in their corner telling them they can do it.
I firmly believe we are all in this technology rat race together and the more we help each other the better it will be for everyone. The next time a coworker, friend or acquaintance reaches out seeking advice or mentorship keep an open mind and consider it. Could you spare an hour a month? Could you spare 15 min to respond to an email? I believe becoming a mentor in any capacity will benefit you in more ways then you can imagine which is why I wholeheartedly encourage EVERYONE to try it out!