A first post of the year 2015 and it took me awhile to finish this one up. I actually had a few different ideas on how to start blogging this year, for a while I considered continuing with a new Tools of the Trade Series post, but then I found a topic from my backlog that seemed like a perfect fit, mentoring. And why it’s perfect? First of all this topic has sat as a draft on my writing list for a while now and secondly, some time back I was enjoying a pleasant evening with one of my old mentors that gave me some new insights on the subject.
It seems that I had an excellent timing for this post, I just found out that Paul Randal is looking for a group of six people to be mentored by him! So ladies and gents, if you’re looking to be mentored by a true SQL Server master go here to learn how to apply to become one of his mentees. I know I will! Just note that there’s a time limit, he’ll make his choices by 15th of February.
About this old mentor of mine then, he is now retired, been so for a couple of years already, but we meet occasionally to catch up and to reminisce about the good old days. Over the course of this particular evening we talked about what thoughts he had when I joined the company and his team, when we started working together and eventually on how we became friends. While I already held him in great respect, the evening was an eye-opening experience on how valuable his mentoring had been to me.
Personal experience and about finding a mentor
I like to think that I have been very lucky when it comes to finding mentors. Very early on my career I found not just one, but two great mentors, who both had a huge influence on my career and on my personal life. Both of them taught me a lot about the company I work for, about our customers and about technology. They also taught me a great deal about myself and about what kind of person I am and they also recognized my strengths and what I needed to get better at. While I learned different things from both there was one thing that they had in common. They both taught me to seek challenges and to constantly work on improving myself, in fact it was their recommendations that carried most weight when I considered going (and eventually went) back to studying to get myself a degree.
“Find yourself a mentor”, it’s an easy advice to give but actually finding a good mentor can be a challenging task. Personally I’ve never used the official channels, such as the mentoring programs many companies, organizations and schools (mine included) have, but I’d recommend taking a look at these options if they are available. The other way, finding a mentor from the same team, company or any other community you’re part of takes bit more work. Both options have their benefits. With official channels you’re bound to find willing mentors, while finding one with similar interests might offer a more rewarding relationship.
Also don’t get too hang up on labeling the mentor/mentee relationship as such. At the beginning I didn’t consider these two mentors as much as helpful co-workers. They sort of grew into that role later when we got to know each other bit better.
What makes a good mentor?
What are the qualities of a good mentor then? While there are definitely many traits and abilities that I’d attach to a good mentor there’s one that I consider extremely important, ability to make people feel themselves comfortable. Mentoring isn’t just learning new skills from someone, in the end it’s interaction between two or more people. If you feel uncomfortable with someone, it’s very likely not going to be very rewarding mentor/mentee relationship.
As for the other qualities, I’d certainly consider it a requisite that this other person has something to offer to your. This can however be a variety of things, anything from technical to non-technical skills to insights on how the organizations or the customers operate. Or they might teach you to appreciate fine Scottish single malts! A good mentor doesn’t force his personal views and agendas on you but rather he should listen and offer opinions for you to consider.
Finally there’s one more quality in a good mentor that I’d watch out for. They don’t just teach others, they also learn.