Writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” The right mentor (especially in the tech field), can be a game-changer for your professional growth. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out, considering a career change, or have 20 years of work experience — the guidance of a mentor is a powerful tool.

Read on to learn what a tech mentor brings to the table, what to look for in one, and how to find the right one for you.

What a tech mentor can do for you

Having a professional mentor is valuable for many reasons, both personal and professional. In the tech field, a mentor can provide the intellectual and emotional support you need to point yourself in the right direction. They can also help you make lifelong professional connections and figure out how to achieve specific goals and milestones.

For instance, they can guide in:

  • Choosing the kind of programming you want to specialize in
  • Deciding which kinds of positions to apply for
  • Choosing the programming courses you need to take to further your career
  • Building your first application
  • Determining how to bring your app to market

A tech mentor can also help you sort out some of the more personal decisions you’ll have to make, such as:

  • How much time to invest in personal or experimental projects
  • Whether to accept a promotion that pays more but involves less intriguing work
  • How to balance your tech career with your personal or family obligations
  • Whether to relocate for a new position or not

The benefits of having a tech mentor

One thing a tech mentor can help you with is gaining the clarity you need to feel comfortable in your career. Mentors can answer questions you may feel uneasy asking a colleague or friend, and they can give you the kind of advice others may hold back. Here are some of the personal and professional benefits you can expect with a tech mentor.

Greater confidence

We’ve all dealt with uncertainty in our professional careers. And even though this is totally normal, a tech mentor can talk through these issues with you and help you brainstorm solutions. They can answer questions about navigating office politics, pursuing the best field for someone with your skillset, or critical mistakes that could hinder your progress.

A tech mentor’s perspective can erase the doubts that come with unanswered questions, giving you a sense of confidence in your decisions and direction. You’ll also get the confidence you need to take risks as a mentor can play the role of both a coach and a teammate.

You can make better professional decisions

People often think about what they’d tell themselves if they could zip back in time 5 or 10 years. In a way, with a tech mentor, you can.

A mentor is someone similar to you — just with a few more years of experience. They can outline their challenges and the decisions they made, making it easier for you to replicate their successes and avoid their mistakes. In other words, you’ll make better professional decisions with their guidance.

You learn how to balance your work and personal life

In the tech field, there’s no end to the ways you can advance your career — even when you’re at home or on the weekends. There’s always coding to practice, apps to develop, solutions to engineer, and research to do. A tech mentor can help you decide when to turn off your professional self and devote time and energy to your family and friends.

What to look for in a tech mentor

Just because someone is a good teacher or a successful professional doesn’t mean they’re going to be the right mentor for you. At the same time, someone who’s super cool and relatable may not be the best option, either.

To choose the best mentor, look for all of the following qualities:

  • A good listener. They should be willing to invest time in listening — not just talking — to you. When you share something, they should react to it instead of just matching it with something they’ve accomplished or experienced.
  • Approachable and available. Some of the most approachable people can be good friends but ineffective mentors. And some otherwise great mentors may not have the time to help you. When you bring up the idea of a mentor-mentee relationship, pay attention to how they respond. If it feels like you’d be burdening them or they’d be uncomfortable, you probably want to continue your search.
  • Industry and position. It’s a good idea to choose a mentor who’s in your industry and in a position you’d like to have in the near future. If you’re a Junior Software Engineer, you could choose a Senior Software Engineer. But be careful not to shoot too high — such as the CEO of a company — because their advice may not apply directly to your next few career steps.

How to find a tech mentor

When searching for a tech mentor, there are plenty of places to look. Here are some options:

  • Tech groups and communities
  • Hackathons
  • People at your job with whom you share personal interests
  • Social media tech groups
  • Professional networking events
  • Older family members in your field

Professional mentorships can give you insight and guidance to exciting new steps in your professional journey. It can lead to a promotion, a new job, or better work-life balance. And, while they eventually come to an end, the right mentor-mentee relationship can make a lasting impact. Also, don’t forget that one day soon, you may find someone reaching out to you for mentorship. Good luck!

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