I'm a mentor.
I never thought I would be, and it's not something I ever aspired to be at any stage of my life.
But here I am. Mentoring in 2020.
And not just to one person, but two people. And just this year. As in, literally in the last couple of months, I have taken on mentoring 2 people.
They're both Software Developers. Which is funny because I am not a developer.
But one thing I do know, is DevOps, Cloud Engineering and plenty of what goes on in Dev teams for big corporates because.. well because I help build the infrastructure devs work on, and help companies advance into the future of distributed systems in the cloud.
But this isn't about DevOps or Cloud, or my mentees. I'm not here to expose their journey (not yet anyway :D), but my own.
I've never had a mentor.
Never had the courage to seek out and ask someone to mentor me, and guide me on a path I wanted to go down. And this, I think, has been a huge missed opportunity in my career. I can probably trace it back to my relationships as a youngster with people who I expected would help & guide me. And being let down there I think lead me to just be self-sufficient.
But that outlook has meant I've missed out on what I believe to be an 'X' factor in leveling up in my career.
Because when you think about it, who better to help you get where you want to go; become the person or profession you're trying to be, than someone who is already there and has walked the path?
I've witnessed the result of mentoring first hand in my younger brother doing an apprenticeship at a tattoo studio in 3 Kings for 4 years with the owner of the shop. The shop owner had been in the game 20 years, and while he has some unorthodox teaching methods, my brother emerged well-versed and vetted in not only the skills & techniques of his mentor, but in his knowledge of the tattoo world, culture and business.
My brother now has his own tattoo studio in Avondale and has been going strong for 5 years.
A mentor has a lifetimes worth of experience and hard-earned lessons at their disposal. That's not something any "joe random" can just access on-demand. Sure, we find plenty of peoples knowledge and experiences in books, but the unspoken communication when talking with and hearing from the source itself, often times tweaked to deliver the message or sentiment specifically to you- I don't think there's anything like that 1 to 1 connection to impart knowledge & wisdom.
An Engineer friend of mine who got me my first contracting gig is someone I call my "unofficial" mentor ("unofficial" cos he doesn't know it, I just always ask him questions about tech & career haha). And that's because he is such a wealth of knowledge of Engineering and contracting experience that he would be someone I would contact to get his take on a contract, a rate, a company or new technology. And like a good friend, and "unofficial mentor", he unselfishly imparts his knowledge and helps me level up.
And I see it now, so clearly, with my mentees. During our weekly sessions, we just talk about stuff that's common knowledge to me, things I do every day with Developers in the companies that I work for. And these obvious everyday things to me, are new insights and lessons that are "light bulb" for my mentees!
It's things they've maybe heard of but never understood, or were too scared to ask about. My knowledge from experience working in 4-5 different companies is an eye-opener for them as they're in their first or second roles of their careers. I have to keep renewing in my mind the perspective that I've been working in tech almost 20 years, and things will (obviously) look very different from where they're sitting!
They now have someone who's been in the game a little while, who's been "around the block", fought some battles and lived to bring back those lessons. Someone who they can talk to and learn from. They don't have to make the same mistakes that I made in my career- or at least if they wanted to go the same route, they could go in with a lot more insight than I did. They still have to do the work, but they have someone in their corner who has been there before.
I was apprehensive initially when I was asked by my first mentee to mentor her. I had never mentored anyone, let alone a Software Developer (I mean, yes- I've definitely helped a lot of devs learn DevOps and Cloud/Container tech, but I wasn't responsible for them getting it or not :D) and I didn't want to let her down.
But realising these feelings had more to do with my ego, I accepted that our weekly sessions weren't about me being some super knowledgable tech guru, but about me imparting what I know to someone who was asking for that knowledge. And seeing that while I don't know everything there is to know in tech, that I know enough to help out the next person coming through and that if I had any responsiblilty in this business, it was to pass on what I know.