Probably once or more every week, I stand back and say, "Whoa. I work at Microsoft."
For a lot of you, that’s not a big deal or anything. For me, it’s incredibly exciting. I have one of the best, most challenging and rewarding jobs out there (most at MS will say the same thing, though). I think one of the most influential components of this success formula was the abundance of mentors throughout my career.
I have had several people ask me about my experiences being mentored as I grew (and continue to grow) in my career, and more importantly, how to come across such individuals.
First of all, in general, a mentor is someone who:
- Has more experience than you in your field
- Knows how to motivate you
- Can provide insight into how to be more effective at your job
- And a whole bunch of other stuff.
The big question, though, is "How do I get a mentor?"
A simple question on the subject, posed to a search engine, yielded some great results.
- BrazenCareerist writes: "The easiest way to create allies is to build a reputation as an overachiever."
- At FastCompany.com: Mack Tilling, a 36-year-old CEO, states: "Mentors help you see things in a way that you might not have thought about." (warning, popups)
- About.com (How To Get A Mentor, And Getting One To Choose You): With links to great resources.
My mentorship story
Personally, when I started in development at age 15, I was by myself, but I had a great mentor in my older brother who encouraged me to choose computing as a career path. This is sort of like "entry level" mentorship.
When my startup really took off at age 17, and I started writing more, I found mentors in the editors at SAMS, asp101.net, and even at the clients I was building stuff for! (This kind of mentorship is easy to find when you are young… this is "I’ll take you under my wing" mentorship).
When I entered the corporate world at 18, I actually started in QA/Testing. I eventually gravitated toward the developers, because a) I was better at it, b) I hated testing, and c) the devs were just cooler people. I finally got up the courage to go over there and say "Hey, you know, you don’t need to use Macromedia Generator for this, it’ll save you $3,000 in licensing." They listened. And from that moment I had about five good mentors that I still keep in touch with today. This is "Wow, you have potential" mentorship. I maintained many of such mentors throughout my consulting career.
Today, at Microsoft, I have mentors everywhere. The level of involvement varies, but everyone I meet knows about something that is useful. The key is finding out what people are really good at and are passionate about and making an impact that way. I do have an official, assigned mentor who also happens to be incredible at his job, but mentors are everywhere.
So how did you go about getting mentors?
This is the easy question. Actions speak louder than words. I think there is something natural in us all that causes us to gravitate toward those who we can put our faith in. Plus, it feels really good to mentor somebody, but as a mentor it’s not very rewarding when your mentee is a slacker or a very low performer.
Likewise, as a mentee, you don’t want to be mentored by someone who is about to get fired.
So, tying in with the PERCEPTION theme that many of you have heard at my career talks in Florida and Alabama, do the best work you can do, ask questions and be open. Mentors will naturally find you. They may not even work at your school or at your company!
So, keep an eye out. Anytime you build a good relationship with someone who has a little more experience (there can be quite a bit of variance in experience), there is a mentoring possibility there, even if it’s not official! Even a short phone call or going out for lunch to talk about work counts as mentoring.
I have had mentors from the peer level all the way up to C-level executives. All can provide different perspectives, and having a diverse outlook on business is a great way to start your career.
I definitely want to thank Jason Bentley, Max Friz, Mikael Livingston, Jeff J. Hayward, Steve Cranford, B. Keith Brock, Gary Farris, Carlos Lescay, Dave Cooper, Matt Smith, Brent Lintz, Leigh Sperberg, Chris Harper, Gus Weber, PhilipDA and anyone else who’s been directly involved with mentoring me over the years. Your contributions are so incredibly valuable!