If you follow our blogs you’ll know we’ve been getting to know members of the Meet a Mentor community through our series of Spotlight interviews. Whilst it’s fantastic to hear how much our group does for the mentees, we want to take things a step further, and understand, from the perspective of a mentor, what makes a great mentee? How can our mentees make the most of this opportunity? Is there a magic formula? Or are there some broad some hints and tips we can share?
With all this in mind we caught up with one of our long-standing mentors, Liliana Ziolek. Liliana is a software engineer with over 10 years’ Java experience, primarily in the big data space. She’s spent most of her career in financial institutions, and at the moment is just about to embark on the next step of her journey – becoming a CTO of a company she’s co-founding.
– What attracted you to become a mentor?
The idea of giving back to community. During my career I’ve come across people who helped me, even if it wasn’t any kind of formal mentor-mentee relationship. I try to pay this forward.
– What has been your proudest moment to date as a mentor?
When my mentee got accepted to talk at a conference (although I wasn’t directly involved in this). I even joked that we should swap places, with me becoming the mentee now, as I’ve not spoken at a conference yet!
– Broadly, in your experience, what makes a great mentee?
For me, it’s clarity at the very beginning of the relationship around what they’re hoping to get from me in practical terms; for example, would they like to meet, or chat online, or on Skype. Is it a one-off conversation, or something they’d like to work on with me for longer period? If it’s a longer time, how frequently do they think they’ll need me. Is it on ad-hoc basis, or would they like to have a scheduled time? Do they have any specific goal in mind? Are they looking for information or advice?
I think people may sometimes feel that expressing their needs may sound demanding – but for me personally, I would love to hear it explicitly. Without it, after I talk to someone and they thank me, I am never quite sure if they got all they wanted, or are they disappointed? Are they hoping for more but don’t feel comfortable asking? So overall, I’d say get comfortable asking for time from the mentor and be clear what about what you’d like – remembering that after all, the mentor can always say no if you ask for too much!
Several of my mentees have been rather short-lived. They seemed to be looking for an answer on one topic (e.g. know a bit more about contracting; salary negotiation and career progression; or tips about getting more technical). It might be a coincidence, but the longer lasting mentor relationships I had were with mentees that I met in person. I’m not sure if that’s a result of a F2F meeting, or if the F2F meeting was a sign that these mentees were more dedicated or, more aware of what they wanted.
I’m a big believer in direct communication, so phone (or Skype or something similar) seems to work well, but I also really enjoy meeting my mentees in person. I’ll usually chat a little on the slack channel, but once I see myself typing a lot, I’ll suggest some form of call
– Is there an issue with the shorter-lived mentees around a lack of prep? Or perhaps understanding who is responsible for driving the relationship?
My gut feeling is that it’s not necessarily lack of prep – I suspect it has more to do with personality, and not wanting to impose, trying to take as little time as possible, and not feeling comfortable asking.
Or maybe, sometimes people just have a fairly specific question they want to get an opinion on, and don’t really have a proper mentor relationship in mind?
– What would you say to someone who is unsure about signing up to be mentored?
It depends why they are unsure. It may sound controversial, but I actually don’t think that everybody has to have a mentor at every stage of their career; if someone is unsure because they don’t feel like they need it at the moment but feel that “everybody else is doing it so I should too”, I wouldn’t try to convince them. Maybe it’s just not the right time.
On the other hand, if they are unsure because they are shy, because they don’t want to “waste somebody’s time”, or whatever other reasons there are – but they do feel they need help, they absolutely should sign up. Being a mentor, especially in a programme like MaM and not at work place, is a completely optional activity – if someone signs up as a mentor it’s because they want to help.
– What are the essential skills to build a successful career in your industry and how does being mentored help you to build these?
I think one of the most important things is to never stop learning. Not just technology and frameworks- but also from broader perspective, different skills become useful at different stages of you career. For me MaM allows you to work on and learn some of the “softer” skills.
– What are your top tips for your mentees?
My mentees are primarily ladies, and some of common themes that come up would be:
* be bold, ask for what you want; whether it’s a promotion, a pay rise, a move to another project, attending a conference – even if it feels uncomfortable. Remember, if you don’t ask you almost certainly won’t get it (people are not great with reading minds…), and the worst thing that can happen if you ask is that someone may say “no, sorry”.
* be mindful of what you want to do – not what you’re being pushed to do. I’ve seen many female developers pushed into management and less technical roles. There is nothing wrong with these roles if that’s what someone wants – but that’s not always the case. If you want to stay hands-on technical, push back when you feel you’re being carried away from it.
* if you feel that your job/role isn’t suitable for you anymore, whatever the reason might be, don’t let your feelings get in the way of doing what’s good for you and your career. You may feel guilty about resigning, especially if you have good relationship with your team or manager, but you shouldn’t. Be respectful, be honest, be helpful and do your best whilst there – but ultimately, if you see a better opportunity, go for it!
If you’d like to get involved with the programme, and find yourself a great experienced mentor like Liliana, please visit our website @ meetamentor.co.uk