How to Find a Great Mentor in the Technology Industry
The following is written by Careers in Code’s career coach, Laura Thorne.
Mentors can provide invaluable guidance to future coding professionals. Being a mentee can provide professional opportunities and be a personally rewarding experience. Having the support of a mentor to give you insider industry advice will put you miles ahead of others during your job search or as you acclimate to a new company.
However, finding a mentor in the technology field may be challenging. After all, engineering minds are notoriously not the most people-oriented. But this is all the more reason why having a mentor in technology is so helpful. A mentor can facilitate your networking efforts and help nurture relationships at your company or in your industry.
Here’s the invisible plus. When you land your first role as a junior whatever, you will need help and you will not always be comfortable going to your boss or a coworker to answer every one of your questions or walk you through a challenge. Being able to rely on existing or past mentors will be invaluable to your early career success.
How to find mentors:
How someone finds a mentor varies per person; some find their mentors through formal organizations while others build those relationships organically.
Here are some ways to find mentors:
- The Careers in Code bootcamp has mentors that have years of experience in the industry!
- Network on LinkedIn! This is especially effective if you are new to a company. Find people outside of your team on LinkedIn with similar roles who can guide you as you learn the ropes at your new job.
- Attend hackathons! (If you’re a university student, check out CuseHacks’s upcoming 2022 Hackathon.)
- Join local technology interest groups.
- In Syracuse there are active Slack channels called Hack Upstate and Syracuse.io. Get in there and introduce yourself.
It’s important to remember when looking for a member at networking events, tech groups, etc., it does not always have to be a formal relationship. Oftentimes, a mentee might meet with their mentor once a month to get coffee and ask for advice or they might connect as time allows. The tacit mentor/mentee relationship often will grow into a friendship over the years, but if it doesn’t that’s ok too.
How to find a mentor online:
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated. First things first. If you have a bare-bones LinkedIn profile (no picture, no About section, outdated experience), people are going to be a lot less responsive. Before you start reaching out to others, jazz up your LinkedIn and make sure your Experience and Contact Information sections are updated.
Do your research. If you’re going through all this effort of finding a mentor, you’re going to want to make sure their career path aligns with yours. What type of role are they in (product manager, web developer, IT professional, etc.)? What industry are they in (healthcare, fintech, cybersecurity, etc.)? What type of company do they work for (start-up, unicorn, big corporation, etc.)?
Find a link. On LinkedIn, someone is far more likely to connect with you if you share something in common, such as having mutual connections, being alums of the same university, or being in an online group together. This way, you feel like less of a stranger to the person you are looking to connect with and more like someone within their network.
Draft a message. You can draft a message through email, LinkedIn, or even a less formal platform like Instagram depending on how you know this person. Here’s what to say in a networking message:
- Say hello!
- Tell them how you know them/found them. For instance, “[This person] referred me to you,” or “I saw that we were both in [this] LinkedIn group.” It can even be as little as “I saw that we were both technology professionals based in Syracuse.”
- Explain why you are reaching out. You don’t have to say that you’re specifically looking for a “mentor.” Instead, you can say that you’re looking for advice on getting started in the industry.
- Don’t come on too strong. Give them an opportunity to back out if they’re not interested in meeting with you. You can say something like, “If you know someone else who might be able to help me, please let me know!”
Absolutely do NOT say something like “Hi! I’m looking for a job at [company] and I saw that you work there! Can you help me get a role?” Asking for a job out the gate is off-putting and likely will not be received well.
What to talk about with a mentor:
Here are some ideas about what you can ask your mentor when you do meet with them:
- What is your career path like? Hearing about someone’s career path, especially if they switched into tech later in their career, can be really helpful to get an idea of how people in coding careers typically get jobs and move up the ladder.
- What is going on in your career currently? Obviously, mentors have their own career goals and struggles. Showing genuine interest in what is currently happening in your mentor’s career is an important part of fostering the relationship. And hey, you might even have some advice for them!
- What was the biggest mistake you made in your career? Listen, and then learn how to avoid that mistake.
- What do you wish you knew before going into this industry? You can ask a variation of this question that is more specific to you, like “What do you wish you knew before going into UI design?” or “What do you wish you knew before working at a start-up?” Although you might not like the answer, this question will help you get a better idea of the lesser-known aspects of a role/industry/company.
- How did you develop this skill? If your mentor is an expert in a certain part of your field that you’re interested in, learn how they got there.
Pay it forward
Don’t forget that your mentor was once in your shoes, and they likely had a mentor too. And your mentor’s mentor had a mentor. And your mentor’s mentor’s mentor… well, you get the point.
Once you establish yourself at your company or in your industry, it’s important to support others who are struggling to come up in their tech careers. Beyond that, being a mentor is incredibly fulfilling; there’s no better feeling than seeing your mentee flourish!
Laura Thorne is the Career Coach with Hack Upstate’s Careers in Code program. Careers in Code is a bootcamp for women and minorities. To learn more, go to careersincode.org.