“Always take notes, and research your potential mentor thoughtfully and thoroughly. If they say yes, your first priority is to ask thoughtful questions!” – Martha Girdler, Uber software engineer & Hackbright Academy mentorBy Angie Chang (Director of Growth, Hackbright Academy)
We asked our Mentors at Hackbright Academy for their thoughts and advice on finding mentors for software engineers. Here’s what 8 of them had to say:
Uber software engineer Martha Girdler on “politely and unobtrusively” asking for mentorship:
“I received an introduction to Kate Matsudaira from my boss when I worked at Cheezburger Network. My advice: If you don’t have someone who can personally make an introduction, don’t be afraid to politely and unobtrusively email someone you admire in your field and ask for mentorship. It’s best to ask for a small amount of their time (a phone call once every few months, a few emails here and there). Always take notes, and research your potential mentor thoughtfully and thoroughly. If they say yes, your first priority is to ask thoughtful questions!” – Martha Girdler
Pinterest engineer Dave Dash on asking for help and not being flaky about it:
“If you are just trying to learn something that someone else knows, just ask them to sit down with you. Most engineers love sharing things and showing you how cool something is. For example, I know a little bit of Go (golang), but not a lot, so I went to someone who’s been playing with Go a lot and asked him to hand hold me as I build a feature. That’s not mentorship, but it might be a useful skill. Don’t be weird about it. Having people show you how to do thing is normal. Like if someone shows you how to do a headstand or a somersault, or those crazy pushups where you clap. Don’t be flaky. Set up a meeting, clear your schedule, don’t worry about your deadlines, and learn.” – Dave Dash
Box DevOps engineer Benjamin VanEvery on seeking the right situations for mentorship:
“I’ve *thought* about looking for a mentor, but I believe that, with the exception of very unique situations, mentors find you and not the other way around. So, what does this mean for the mentor-seeking grasshopper? It means to seek out *situations* where qualified mentors abound: established, innovative companies; colleges or academies; volunteer projects; extended family; or internships. With the exception of internships, each of these situations offer a similar quality: the individuals involved are involved because they have a vested interest in the improvement of some humanitarian pursuit.” – Benjamin VanEvery
Google security engineer Chris Palmer on finding mentors among co-workers:
“My mentors were my friends at first, and then my coworkers when I was able to get engineering jobs. It was crucial to my development that I found jobs at places where there were good mentors among my coworkers! That is almost the sole definition of a good job: one with good mentors. I try to return the favor.” – Chris Palmer
Couchsurfing senior iOS developer Gemma Barlow on making “office hours” work:
“Whenever you transfer to a new role, keep in mind people you’ve worked with – sometimes these people make great mentors a little while after the fact. In the last few years, I have started to reach out and ask advice of people in areas I need to push myself further in. Open Office Hours (Ohours
) is a great way to find someone you’d like to ask specific questions of.” – Gemma Barlow
Framed Data CEO Thomson Nguyen on emailing for help:
“I emailed people I respected and followed on Twitter — men and women – brilliant engineers and communicators in very senior roles at startups and companies. I found them through Hacker News or blog posts friends send me. At first, I panicked because I didn’t think I’d have anything to offer, and that I’d be wasting their time, but surprisingly a lot of people were very helpful in their replies! A few even wanted to meet and hear about my questions and problems in developing and data science. Some of my mentors that I meet once a month have come from this process, and I’m glad I did it!” – Thomson Nguyen
Medium CTO Don Neufeld on maintaining a successful mentee/mentor relationship:
“The single most important thing for a student / mentor relationship to succeed is that the student must demonstrate in a concrete way to the mentor that they are retaining and using what the mentor is sharing. In my experience, less than 25% of students do this at all, and less than 10% do it well.” – Don Neufeld
O’Reilly author Tom Croucher on *not* being intimidated:
“When I was a computer science student, I was fortunate to be too dumb to be intimidated by the people who wrote the CompSci books I read. For some reason, I wrote to a lot of prominent people in their fields with questions that I now cringe to think about. I distinctly remember informing Bruce Schneier that I thought I had invented a new efficient method of encryption only to have him tear down my ideas in very short order. The funny thing was though, he did it very graciously, very nicely and was encouraging. If you have a hero – if someone inspires you – you should talk to them. You might be surprised how much they are willing to help, and how much they learn from you, and your ‘dumb’ questions.” – Tom Croucher
What have you learned about mentorship?
Got advice for Mentees and/or Mentors? What would you tell your younger self?
Share your advice in the comments below – thanks!