image courtesy of indianceo.in
I have always valued the act of mentoring and believed it has an important role in business, particularly in the business of technology. Recently I was listening to a business podcast on the subject and it inspired me to write about it. I have always used mentors and I currently have three in my life; in addition, I also am a mentor. (see https://twoearsonemouth.net/2017/10/05/i-found-giving-back-can-provide-you-more) Mentoring is not binary, I believe you can and should be both a teacher and a student in this process. I also believe that a common practice can be developed across all of IT that will benefit the industry and its customers.
I remember the impact of my first business mentor. Early in my sales career, I was insecure and concerned that I didn’t know everything about the technical product I was selling. When I told my boss and mentor about how I felt he responded with the simple affirmation, “you know much more about the technology than your prospect does.” It reassured me, and it has helped me throughout my career as I have had similar insecurities. I think this anecdote is relevant to the act of mentorship, you don’t have to be an expert, just know something of what you teach. However, mentoring is business is more than teaching about technology. It needs to be a defined process that the student understands from the beginning. It should include not only instruction on technology but additionally information of the culture and the politics of the organization where they work. Instructions on how to act and work within the bureaucracy and processes of the company are vital. This type of information can’t be taught in school and eliminates hours of wasted time for the new employee to figure out these details for themselves.
Many believe that a large part of today’s IT careers is a trade rather than a science, not requiring a college education. IT jobs often depend on certifications (certs) that are developed and maintained primarily by the largest IT vendors like Microsoft and Cisco. These certs are developed around new and developing technologies, ignoring some of the more fundamental technologies. Many newcomers to the technology workforce want careers in software development, creating applications such as those that run on their smartphones. IT infrastructure, my focus of expertise, and a far less sexy technology is still required to support these applications. Infrastructure is an example of a technology that may be best passed down through mentorship.
If an (IT) community-based mentorship program can be developed in technology, it could eliminate the challenges of the large vendors running the IT education process. Ideally, a system could be developed such as was utilized for centuries, the concept of a master and an apprentice. Masters, or experts in a trade, were paid to pass their knowledge on to the younger apprentice. For this process to succeed it needs to be started and supported by the hiring companies within IT. Established employees should be compensated for mentoring and expected to teach new employees the many aspects of their job. As these programs become more widespread, an education process for the trade of IT can be developed and maintained where it should be, the IT community.
Mentorship is an art that has been looked over because of today’s requirements and expectations of a college education. I believe mentoring has tremendous benefits and will produce a better and more rounded education for new entrants to the field of IT.