Mentorship Matters: Finding and Becoming an Effective Mentor in Your Tech Career

Career Advice
Two people talking at a desk
Two people talking at a desk
minute read

As you grow in your own tech career, evaluate where you are along the path—and extend a helping hand to those who are earlier along in their career than you.

With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day behind us (and Grandparent’s Day not too far off), this is a good time of year to consider the act of mentoring. Whether you’ve found wise helpers at home, at school, among friends, in church, or at work, the value of a guide to help you navigate career moments is hard to overstate. And in tech, it’s even more important to have strong work-based relationships along the journey which function as trusted resources in an industry that undergoes rapid, constant changes.

Check out these helpful tips to building strong mentor-mentee connections that allow you to give back to fellow tech professionals, even as you continue to grow in your own tech role.

Define your goals and strengths

Being a mentor can take many forms, and no two mentorship relationships are exactly alike. To get the most out of the experience, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions. What would you like to achieve through coaching someone? What areas are you an expert at? What skills and knowledge would you like to share? Are there any areas you prefer to say no to? As you get clear on your goals and strengths, you’ll have a better sense of what type of protégé would align with you—so you can say yes when it’s the right fit.

Expect to learn as well as teach

Mentors are helpful at every stage of your career. Even if you are not new in your tech role, you can certainly still benefit from having one—and even better, you can also serve as one to younger or more entry-level members of your team. That’s one of the joys of mid-to-senior-level careers in tech—you get to teach others what you know, inspire them, and be inspired, all of which make you more effective on the job and appealing to the company you serve.

Be available and set expectations

As a guide, you will be connecting with someone who likely will want to check in on a regular basis as they grow and learn and find their footing in the tech industry. It’s important to be available so you can offer input. That doesn’t mean you have to be constantly on-call, however. Good boundaries help everyone stay balanced. Set expectations by discussing when and how you’d like to be available. Look for a mutually comfortable approach so that you and your mentee are both benefiting from the relationship without feeling like it’s either too much or too little contact and bandwidth.

Listen and invite questions and concerns

Often, people who are newer on the career path can feel pressure to look like experts. But the term entry-level is a reminder that they’ve essentially just walked in the door not too long ago, career-wise, and they are still getting their bearings. Break through the fear of embarrassment or the unknown by showing them you are open to what’s on their mind. Ask open-ended questions. Invite them to share what they’d like to achieve through being coached. Lead with curiosity rather than assumptions or judgments, so it’s easier for them to be authentic.

Offer guidance, but don’t take over

If you’re familiar with the precepts of Montessori education, then you might recognize this principle: “Let the student lead.” A great instructor leads the student toward learning, while encouraging self-direction. In other words, resist the temptation to micromanage or take control of what gets done and how it gets done. As much as possible, offer help and then let your coachee test their approach and make some discoveries. This is how learning takes place.

(Of course, since we’re talking tech here—if you see they’re going to do something that will disrupt coding and break the software, we’re not saying you shouldn’t step in. The idea is to let them practice, until they make perfect.)

Support their career growth

You may find yourself advising someone on your own team or at your company, only to realize the next step of their professional journey may take them elsewhere. This can be a hard moment to embrace, but ultimately the role of a teacher means wanting the best for the person you’re helping. If their tech skills would develop better in another firm or through a sabbatical to go back to earn a degree, be willing to support their decision to make that step. Likewise, you may have to encourage them to be open to change when new opportunities present themselves.

Keep growing by having your own mentor

All of these gifts you’re offering to others can also be benefits you seek from people who have been in the tech industry longer than you, or who hold a position you’d one day like to fill. Even as you offer what you’ve learned as a mid-to-senior-level tech professional to those who are entry-to-mid, you can still continue to glean wisdom and guidance from experts around you. Get specific about what you’d like to receive from a mentor, and then identify those in your company and your extended network who might be a fit. Reach out, set up some casual chats, and put yourself out there until you connect with someone who can provide valuable input into your life and your career.

Champion formal mentoring programs

Finally, consider adding long-term value to your workplace or tech industry professional organizations by starting, supporting, or building on coaching programs. Casual mentorships are great, and some empowering synergies can happen when we let the universe bring us into contact with others. But planning and creating formal opportunities for guidance are valuable too, inviting mid-level and senior-level tech pros to be more mindful of paying it forward, and creating smoother paths for entry-level people to grow. It’s a great way to open doors for greater diversity, inclusion, and equity across all groups in the tech field—and you can be a part of it!

Summing It Up

As you grow in your own tech career, evaluate where you are along the path—and extend a helping hand to those who are earlier along in their career than you. The experience of guiding others to be more successful in their tech roles is a fulfilling one, and it can be as productive for you as for the person you’re helping. Mentorship is a vital leadership skill that you can develop as you look to level up to a higher position, all while adding value to others too.

And remember, if you’re currently looking for that next position to build on your mid-level or senior-level tech career, inTulsa is here to help you find the right next role. Check out our Talent Network to see our lasting career listings.