Participating in mentorship programs correlates with higher-than-average pay for many developers, according to StackOverflow’s 2016 Developer Survey.
Respondents to that survey said that mentoring helped them overcome challenges such as inefficient development processes or unrealistic expectations from managers.
However, one-on-one mentoring arranged by employers is not enough to meet the rising demand for guidance, support and advice, especially in a rapidly changing industry like tech. “It’s getting harder to find people to mentor junior professionals, given the dissolution of hierarchical organizational structures,” noted Nigel Dessau, an experienced technology executive and founder of The 3 Minute Mentor. “Fortunately, we’re seeing the evolution of new models that are designed to meet the diverse needs and circumstances of participants.”
Here’s an overview of today’s flexible mentoring models. They can be used separately or in tandem to advance your tech career.
For those who need a broader perspective and expanded network to drive their career forward, the good news is that the traditional mentoring model has morphed.
Many tech pros are looking beyond their own companies for one-on-one relationships, aided by sites such as Everwise, which uses an algorithm to pair mentors and protégés, according to Luis Velasquez, a leadership coach and co-founder of Velas Consulting.
External relationships are often tightly focused on a single issue such as achieving work-life balance or workforce diversity, while internal relationships tend to focus on knowledge transfer, Velasquez noted. “Today, mentees may have different mentors for different needs, and the relationship is whatever it needs to be… The mentor could serve as an advocate, sounding board, advisor or coach for as long as needed.”
With Millennials overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the workplace, this peer-mentoring model built around role reversal is gaining traction. Here’s how it works.
Younger tech pros volunteer to share state-of-the-art technical expertise with more established colleagues. In exchange, the newbies receive an elevated profile and visibility as well as institutional know-how, leadership insights, career advice and networking contacts.
There’s just one catch: Egos can get in the way.
“Reverse mentoring recognizes that both parties have knowledge gaps and can learn from each other,” Velasquez noted. “The participants must have mutual respect and a good relationship, so this model requires a more personal approach to matching.”
The notion that many heads are better than one is behind the rise of group mentoring, where four to six self-directed mentees assemble each month to share knowledge, develop skills and learn from each other about a specific topic or technology.
“This is a viable option in the tech field, where it can be difficult to find experts in emerging technologies or specialties,” Dessau said.
A facilitator leads the discussion and asks questions, serving as a sounding board and keeping things moving. Some groups also choose an outside facilitator based on the topic they are exploring during a particular session.
If participating in an organized mentoring program seems too time-consuming and rigid, why not ask for specific advice on an ad-hoc basis? Assemble a list of go-to resources who are knowledgeable in key areas such as running an effective scrum, stakeholder relations, or selling ideas to upper management. See if they’re willing to give you guidance every now and then. Of course, you’ll have to return the favor, but having a personal panel of trusted advisors can be invaluable.
Speed mentoring is another variation on the micro-mentoring format. Mentees sign up for short, one-on-one sessions with experts and industry leaders at tech conferences or other events. Here’s an example from last year’s Lean Startup Conference, and one from an OpenStack Summit. You simply register, and organizers match you with a mentor based on topics that interest you.
The days of having just one mentor throughout your career are over. You’ll need multiple mentors and different perspectives to help you achieve a long and productive career in tech.