Power of mentors

Melchor Tatlonghari

Don’t dismiss the idea of having a mentor until you’ve tried it. I used to be skeptical and couldn’t see the value of having one. I thought, “Why do I need a mentor when there are so many online resources available for learning?” It wasn’t until someone invested in my growth without expecting anything in return, simply because they saw potential in me, that I truly understood the value of having a mentor. I realized the true impact and benefits of having a mentor on my journey.

Be Wary of Blanket Advice

I was watching a YouTube video about finances, and their advice was to be careful about taking advice from videos. It was an oxymoron. They then started explaining why this was the case. The people talking in these videos come from their perspectives and journey. So, advice coming from someone living in New York in his mid-thirties may not be applicable for, say, a more elderly person living in Asia. The power of compounding holds for the most part, but if you’re already retired, it’s a different ball game. A single mother of two, for example, would have completely different priorities compared to someone who graduated from an Ivy League school and is just starting their career.

When advice is given, it’s usually a reflection of themselves. Something they wish they’d done sooner or something they feel someone with a similar background to them should do at their stage in life. Nobody gives advice that covers all types of perspectives; there’s just too many.

This is exactly the same for software engineering, or any other profession for that matter. Someone giving advice to tell you to learn the new tech, try out different cloud environments, or change companies every two years, is not aware of your personal circumstances. If I were living in a country where there isn’t much demand for software engineers, I wouldn’t be taking advice from people living in Silicon Valley. The discrepancy is far too large to follow blanket advice.

This is where a personal mentor comes into play. When you have a personal connection with someone who’s gone through the same hoops and shares similar circumstances, you can rely on their advice. Especially if you and your mentor have a good personal relationship; they won’t give advice that would lead you astray based on your goals and aspirations. Even then, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every person’s career; it’s more tailor-made for you rather than the bigger blanket advice people give without having any notion of who you are.

Why Make the Same Mistakes That Have Already Been Done?
There are countless paths to choose from at any given moment. Even not making a decision is a path with its own set of rewards or consequences down the road.

One of the most valuable insights I gained from my mentor was seeing the path she took and how things turned out for her. Of course, everyone’s journey is unique, but seeing her experiences provided me with some guidance and expectations. For example, if you studied software engineering at MIT and pursued certain job opportunities, you can have an idea of where that path may lead (key word is may). If you primarily worked on legacy systems or neglected self-improvement, you can also anticipate how that might shape your career. My mentor had an illustrious career, made all the right moves, and met interesting people along the way. This gave me an insight into what steps I should take now to achieve similar success.

You Don’t Have Infinite Time to Explore Every Path

Time is our most valuable resource; we all have the same 24 hours in a day regardless of our level of success. Time is an equalizer; it cannot be bought or expanded. As a software engineer alone, there are numerous paths to choose from. You can specialize as a frontend engineer, backend engineer, full-stack engineer, software architect, enterprise engineer, cloud engineer, ops engineer, QA specialist — the list goes on. This concept applies to individuals in different industries as well. There is so much to do in life that it’s practically impossible to pursue every opportunity, even if you have the desire and resources to do so.

This is where mentors come in. The more mentors you have, the more insights you gain from different perspectives. Do you truly desire to be a CTO or CEO? By observing their lifestyles and experiences, you can determine if this aligns with your aspirations. It’s easy to aspire to be something from an outsider’s perspective, but understanding what it truly takes requires insider information. Mentors provide this guidance and offer a glimpse into the life you aspire to have.
Fear of Being Judged
Accountability is another key value that mentoring provides. If you’ve ever had a tutor or gym trainer, you know what I’m talking about. Mentors typically expect regular check-ins every month or two. The pressure of speaking with someone you admire and having nothing substantial to report is powerful.

How powerful? A study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) revealed that a significant percentage of individuals fear public speaking more than death. Take a moment to let that sink in. The fear of public speaking stems from the fear of being judged by others or peers. When it comes to your mentor, coming up empty-handed is akin to public speaking — it’s unsettling. Once you establish that mentor-mentee relationship and realize this person is dedicating their valuable time to guide and support you, providing updates on your progress becomes motivating. Personally, I earned three certifications in one year solely because I wanted something substantial to share with my mentor. While I did it for myself, there was undoubtedly pressure to show up for my mentor.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Was Right
In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” he discusses how the brain operates when encountering someone with a different skill set than our own. If we interact with someone far superior to us in our current state, we may lose motivation because we believe we can never catch up to them (imagine conversing with Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk). On the other hand, if we engage with someone who is a complete novice in our field, we may become complacent or bored during the conversation. The sweet spot lies in interacting with someone just outside our reach. This pushes us to work harder and step out of our comfort zones to reach that next level.

This is where mentors come into play and why it is crucial to have a mentor who is within your reach. I have assisted numerous engineers in progressing from junior roles to senior positions and leadership roles. Simultaneously, my mentor has also helped me elevate my skills.

The reality is that not just anyone can be your mentor; they must occupy that sweet spot for mentorship to truly bear fruit. I cannot mentor someone just beginning their coding journey when I have over ten years of experience. Similarly, Jeff Bezos cannot mentor me due to the vast difference in levels of expertise. Finding the right mentor in today’s disconnected world is an art in itself.

Don’t Lose Hope and Remain Open
If you’ve been following along, you now see the value of having mentors. However, you also realize that finding a good mentor isn’t easy. It requires vulnerability and putting yourself out there, acknowledging that you need help.

The good news is that there are various types of mentors available.
Juniors can also be mentors; sometimes, those starting off may be more driven than those who have already achieved success. This type of relationship is not as formal as a traditional mentor-mentee dynamic, but it doesn’t discount the fact that you can learn from individuals at a junior level.

Peers can also serve as mentors. I cannot emphasize enough how much I’ve learned from working closely with colleagues with similar skill sets. Understanding their paths and the lessons they have learned along their journeys can be just as invaluable as having a senior mentor.

It’s important to maintain a growth mindset and possess the humility to acknowledge that someone else knows something you don’t, even if you consider yourself an expert in your field.

Closing Words
The power of a mentor cannot be overstated. They provide guidance, insights, and accountability that can significantly impact your personal and professional growth. While it may not always be easy to find the right mentor, they are out there if you are open to seeking them out.

Remember that mentors are not static figures in your life. As you progress on your journey or as their own paths evolve, your mentors may change too. Embrace this fluidity and be open to new opportunities for mentorship.

Finding the right mentor may require vulnerability and openness. It’s important to acknowledge that you need help and actively seek out mentors from various backgrounds, including juniors and peers.
So don’t lose hope in finding a mentor who can support and guide you on your journey. Be open-minded, embrace vulnerability, and remember that having a mentor is a powerful tool for personal and professional development.