We’re really enjoying our journey to get to know our MAM community. In our latest interview we caught up with another of our mentors, Steve Giles to find out what he thinks makes a great mentee.
Steve has been VP Engineering at Topia (formally MOVE Guides) for the last 5 years, and has 16
years’ experience in IT; he’s done everything from Junior Developer to TL and even DBA, Devops coaching and for his sins a stint in pre-sales…
Steve gave us the lowdown on his views of the programme, some great career advice and told us how to get the most from your mentor.
Why did you become a mentor?
Timing. It got to that point in my career when I was asked to do it I said why not. I’ve been a spectator for a while, soaking up anything and everything people could tell me. I’ve had some great mentors over that time and it was important to me to be able to give back.
What benefits have you taken from being a mentor?
I think it’s self-reflection. Being able to go back in time and put yourself in the shoes of your mentee.
What do you wish other people knew about the Meet a Mentor Programme?
Firstly, I just wish more people knew about it full stop. I think it’s a great programme and has great potential.
Other than that, I’d just like people to know they need to get as many thoughts and opinions as possible. Making your way in your career is hard and there isn’t one way to do it. Everyone can and should help. Careers are not a competition. Sure, you may be up against someone you know in a job interview someday, but that’s not a bad thing. Everyone has their own skills, achievements and personalities. Often people you have contacted over the years help you out in weird and wonderful ways either through technical support, career opportunities or just simply by giving a different opinion.
How many people have you mentored so far and what have they been trying to achieve?
I think about 5. It’s a pretty good split of technical advice, career progression and advice about managing your boss. The hardest thing I found when first being promoted into a leadership role like a Tech Lead, is that you haven’t had to manage upwards yet, barring potentially an estimate here or there on when a piece of development is going to be ready by.
What, in your opinion, makes a great mentee?
I think it’s having a clear question and knowing where you want to go with it. I don’t mind if you contact me every day, or once a month, but you need to know what you want to achieve, or at least be able to describe enough about the situation you’re in so that I can coach you to get to a goal.
What have your best mentees had in common?
Drive. They know where they want to go. It could be a career goal or just wanting to learn a skill, but they’ve thought about it. Even after speaking to them the first time, we may discuss why they want to head for this and they may change their mind or tweak their goal, but they all start with something.
Have you had any mentees that you feel have benefited more than others, if so, why?
I think it comes down to circumstances. Some are in a hard place right now. It could be an
architectural decision or dealing with their boss and managing upwards for the first time. Being able to get someone to bounce a few ideas off and vent or raise issues with, without feeling judged or fearing that someone will find out.
Have you had any mentees that haven’t maximised the opportunity? If so, any thoughts on why this is?
Loads. I tend to say yes to everyone and only some stick. I think some people go into it with the thought that they should be doing something like this, but don’t have the clear goal and drive in mind. Sometimes it’s just fit. We forget people are PEOPLE. Different personalities, styles and views. Sometimes you just won’t click and that’s fine. There’s no need to force it, and there’s plenty of good mentors in the group.
Who, in your view, is responsible for driving the relationship?
The mentee. Mentors are not mind readers, and even the good ones need to have time with the person to ask questions and understand their opinions etc. before being able to help them. If the mentee isn’t that interested and doesn’t want to get to a goal, then the catch-ups don’t get scheduled and when they do it can be hard to get good verbose answers from them.
What’s the best question a mentee has ever asked you?
This is tricky, but given I do a lot of mentoring of people who are new to management I would have to say it’s “What do I do if I disagree with my boss?”
What’s the best method, in your opinion, for catching up with a mentor/ mentee? i.e. phone, slack, face to face?
I love face to face. I like to just sit back and ask a few questions in the first meeting and let the mentee get everything out. You can learn a lot from listening and observing body language. Having said that I travel a lot, so I do some on Skype as well.
What prep would you advise a mentee to do before reaching out to a mentor?
Try to choose the right one for you. Everyone is different, we all have had different careers, different experiences and knowledge about different tech. Treat it like Tinder!
Would you recommend a mentee does preparation before asking you something, or just asks a silly question?
No. Often the best ideas come from the silly questions. The great thing about having a mentor that’s nothing to do with your company is that you don’t have to be afraid. We aren’t going to judge, so fire away!
What has been your proudest moment to date as a mentor?
Simple really, just having a thank you when I coached someone through building a team. It’s one of the hardest things to do when you do it for the first time, but once you have the first few hires under your belt, it’s plain sailing.
Do you have any top tips for people looking to build a career in your field?
Never stop learning and asking questions and don’t stop looking for the right role. It’s very easy to take rejection personally, but often it isn’t the case. There are so many companies out there, each with their own culture. Finding a good fit can take time – and you should take your time, you’re going to be there every day!
What are the essential skills to build a successful career in your industry?
I would say the very first skill is problem solving. You have to want to solve a problem and then break it down and be able to solve it. With this in mind it’s easy to learn the tech stuff after. Then aside from pure tech skills you have to have people skills. You can’t sit on your own in a corner and programme. Most of the fun is everyone getting around a white board and coming up with a solution. Know as much as you can about yourself and your personality, then look how you can work with others as effectively as possible.
What would you say to someone who is unsure about signing up to be mentored?
GO FOR IT! What do you have to lose? There are no stupid questions. Evolution is based on
experience handed down through generations, you can’t get anywhere on your own. Ask for help and be gracious.
If this has inspired you (how couldn’t it?!) and you’d like to get involved with the programme, please visit our website here.