There are plenty of people in IT who would love to be mentors, and even more who would welcome the chance to be proteges. Sometimes, it just takes a little effort to bring them together.
Although I’ve been handing out career advice for years (both officially and, shall we say, in an unsolicited capacity), there are many times when I have to use a phrase that most advice columnists hate to utter: “I don’t know.”
As a technology journalist who has bounded around in the career world, from dot-com roller coaster to self-employment and back to office life, I do have some insight on a variety of topics, like getting clients, interviewing, and gauging current tech fields. But sometimes, questions come in that I simply can’t answer, like, “What’s happening in the Pittsburgh IT scene?” or “How will hiring managers view my resume?” For those inquiries, I recommend that the correspondent ask someone else. More accurately, I suggest that they develop a relationship with one or two someone elses that can last through their careers.
While this might sound like I’m passing the buck, what I’m actually highlighting is the importance of mentors. Remember mentorships? Usually they started back in college, when you were green and nervous, and a more experienced technology professor took you under her wing. From there, you might have gained another mentor during an internship or a first job. Basically, it made you feel like someone was watching your career trajectory and making sure that it was progressing correctly.
It seems that mentorships aren’t as prevalent these days, with so many candidates jostling for a single position, and IT directors more concerned with keeping their departments afloat than fostering a younger colleague. But, in my opinion, that’s only a matter of perception rather than reality. I think there are plenty of people in IT who would love to be mentors, and even more who would welcome the chance to be proteges. Sometimes, it just takes a little effort to bring them together.
If you’re trying to navigate the rocky shoals of IT, why not take a break from tweaking your Monster.com resume, and spend some time finding an older, wiser tutor in the ways of tech? Some organizations, like Norex, give less experienced members the opportunity to connect with more established members. An organization that specifically arranges these meetings (in cyberspace or elsewhere) shows dedication to members, and is well worth the annual fees.
Also valuable are regional and state associations that hold regular meetings, and have deep databases listing member expertise. If you don’t see a mentorship program specifically mentioned, that doesn’t mean that service isn’t offered-sometimes, it’s as easy as calling with a mentor-geared query, such as, “I want to find a local IT person who would be willing to talk about the opportunities in the Pittsburgh tech scene.” Every time I’ve contacted regional associations while working on an article, they’ve proven to be rife with resources that weren’t listed on their Web site, and chock full of eager professionals willing to help.
Another avenue is your own company. If you’re in a large organization, chances are that there’s a mentorship program in the books, even if it’s dormant or underused. A few calls to HR to express interest could spark the creation of such a program if it doesn’t exist. If you’re the experienced expert, starting such a program and spearheading it will forever endear you to your greener colleagues.
If you’re a small-business owner, you’re in an even better position to find aid. The Service Corps of Retired Executives >www.score.org< has been mentioned in this column before, and for good reason: I love these people. It's a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs with free one-to-one business counseling, and its volunteers are highly experienced in the corporate world.
Let’s face it: Informational interviews are OK, but they’re limited. They boost understanding of a company, or a field. But there’s a clumsiness to them, since an IT director usually wonders if you’re not-so-secretly angling for a job. Also, by the time both individuals get comfortable with each other, time’s up. Establishing an ongoing mentor relationship brings a level of depth that most people wish informational interviews had. So, if you’ve got questions, go ahead and send them to me. But don’t be surprised if I tell you to go ask someone else. Don’t worry, it’s for your own good.