A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators —
No successful person in tech – or in any other industry – would be where they are without the love and support of their network.
A network can comprise many different people. Aside from your family and friends, your network can be your coworkers, mentors, sponsors, professors, teachers, coaches, counselors, and loved ones – essentially anyone you look to for knowledge or advice.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING YOUR NETWORK
Your network will become increasingly important as you progress in your career. While getting high grades and marks in class is wonderful (and encouraged) and doing well at a job or internship is great, those things alone are unlikely to get you job opportunities or promotions. Numerous surveys and studies have indicated that people have found their current jobs through networking efforts. Many jobs aren’t even advertised because they are filled either through referrals or from internal applicants. Coupling this with the fact that applicant-tracking systems weed out many job applications and resumes before they even cross a recruiter’s desk, the case to use networking to find your job becomes more compelling.
Your network isn’t just for getting leads for jobs, though. Your network can give you concrete advice about the type of skills you should be building, what schools or academic programs are worth attending, what events may be of interest – the possibilities (and opportunities) are endless.
Perhaps more importantly, your network is there for you during times of success – and difficulty. The path to becoming a technical professional and advancing your career can be challenging. Being able to lean on your network during those times helps you stay positive and focused on your goals.
WHERE TO NETWORK
Networking doesn’t have to solely take place face-to-face. There are plenty of avenues where you can do this online. That said, you’ll want to employ a mix of different networking venues and platforms.
• If you are in school, your career services office may host networking sessions. In addition, classes, school clubs, and organizations provide a solid means for you to meet new people.
• Tech incubators and accelerators – business that often provide financial resources and shared workspaces to start-up technology companies – often host a variety of events that have networking sessions in their agenda.
• Conferences, seminars, and similar events, allow you the opportunity to not only get a deep dive in a subject area, but the opportunity meet with professionals, educators, students, representatives from tech companies, and many others.
• Meetup.com allows people to form informal groups around topics of hobbies – many Meetups are tech-focused, and there are several, more socially minded groups that you can take part in as well.
• Many professional organizations, as part of their member benefits, host networking events throughout the year.
• Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, can be used to meet and reach out to people to potentially network with.
• Many organizations use Slack, the collaboration and messaging tool, to better communicate with others internally. But many organizations hos public Slack channels that anyone can join.
MENTORING: Blueprints for a Beneficial Mentoring Relationship
Mentoring requires a tremendous amount of effort and energy, from both the mentor and the mentee. When considering entering a mentoring relationship with someone, whether formal or informal, you spend some time reflecting on where you are, where you’d like to be, and whether you can commit to a mentoring relationship at this time.
Also consider whether your potential mentor has the ability, time, attitude, and skills to effectively mentor you.
Here are some questions you should ask as a potential mentee:
• Why do you believe that you need a mentor now?
• Do you have the time to devote to this relationship
• Are you self-motivated?
• Are you willing to be challenged?
• Can you respect your mentor’s time and resources?
• How do you prefer to communicate?
When looking for potential mentors, consider the following:
• Why do they enjoy mentoring, or why are they interested in mentoring?
• Are they available and committed?
• Can they offer constructive feedback?
• Do they hold you accountable?
• Can you trust them?
• Are they forgiving?
• Does this person have authority over you?
YOU’VE FOUND A MENTOR – NOW WHAT?
By this point, you may have formally agreed to a mentoring relationship with one (or more) people. To begin to build a great relationship with them, it is important tat you both get to know each other and lay the foundation for the work you’ll do together.
• Have a low-pressure "meet and greet", if possible.
• Thank your mentor for their time, as often as you can.
• Provide feedback.
LISTEN, THIS ISN’T WORKING OUT
Sometimes mentoring relationships get off to a great start, and the potential for a strong, lifelong relationship is possible. You have great chemistry, you understand each other’s communication styles, and you respect each other. That’s great!
Sometimes, however, some mentoring relationships are not meant to be. Your personalities conflict, you don’t like their feedback style, they’re unavailable, etc. Sometimes you may outgrow the relationships, meaning that you did get valuable insights and experiences when your relationship started, but now that’s no longer true. All of this is okay and normal.
Before ending a mentoring relationship, examine your reasoning for doing so. I believe that people think that mentors should be their friends first and have an instant rapport or chemistry. While I think that it’s great if a mentor is a friend, a mentor isn’t necessarily supposed to be your friend. Above all else, a mentor’s primary concern should be helping you to grow and get better, even at the risk of not being considered a friend by the mentee.
When choosing to end a mentoring relationship, lean more on objective criteria (facts) versus subjective (emotions). If the relationship is truly not necessary to be successful, like being respectful to you, then ending the relationship may be a good move. If it’s because the mentor isn’t outgoing, you may want to examine this further.
Whether in a formal or informal program, here are some tips to approach ending the relationship:
• Be direct, be honest, and be respectful.
• Thank them for their time.
• Reflect positively on the experience.
YOU NEED A SPONSOR, NOT A MENTOR
For some women, while they have a mentor or no shortage of mentors around them, they feel like they are "stuck". They are not making the career progression they’d like to be making, or they are having difficult being recognized for their skills and contributions. Mentors can be helpful in giving advice to fix this, but in these instances, a sponsor may be needed.
I consider sponsorship and mentorship as 2 very different things. A mentor can provide advice and general guidance. A sponsor can provide those things as well but can be seen more as your career champion. Sponsors publicly advocate on your behalf in and outside of the organization. They also have the authority to either create opportunities for your o heavily influence others to consider your for projects and opportunities.
Another key difference between mentors and sponsors is the amount of reputational risk they take on when advocating for you. A mentor may point you in the direction of where to find opportunities, but when a sponsor advocates for you, they are staking their reputation on the belief that you will excel in a specific opportunity. If you end up not performing to expectations, the sponsor’s reputation may be at risk.
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About the Author: Susanne Tedrick is a technical specialist for a leading Fortune 50 technology company. Fiercely committed to increasing participation of women and people of color in STEM e3ducational and professional opportunities, she is a career mentor for the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) Initiative, and a volunteer workshop technical assistant for Black Girls Code, a non-profit that empowers girls of color to develop in-demand IT skills and prepare to advance careers in tech. For more information, please visit https://www.wiley; and for more information about the book, please visit https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Women+of+Color+in+Tech%3A+A+Blueprint+for+Inspiring+and+Mentoring+the+Next+Generation+of+Technology+Innovators-p-9781119633495
This article contains excerpts from Susanne Tedrick’s book Women of Color in Tech.