Monday, May 28, 2012

Get Yourself a Mentor

I have talked to lots of people in Corporate IT shops, and a lot of the concerns people voice are similar.  Times are tough, they're trapped in cost centers, asked to do more with less, don't get the training they way, and so on.  Last time I reminded people that they are in charge of their future.

Note, I'm not advocating that people leave their jobs right now, but I am advocating something that the TechCrunch article points out, that there is no corporate loyalty towards employees.  How old are you right now?  20's?  30's?  40's?  If so, you've still got quite a long while to go before retirement.  What's the likelihood you're going to retire from your current employer?  Pretty close to zero if you're in a tech job and planning to stay in a tech job.  New technology, changing market conditions, need for cheaper, less experienced workers will all work against you.

This time, I want to call out one specific thing you can do to help yourself beyond what I was suggesting earlier.

Find yourself a mentor.

I've been very lucky in my career to have had lots of individuals I can look up to and ask candid questions of without fear for my continued employment, and I urge you to find someone similar in your life.  You need somewhere you can speak freely about job advancement, skills that really matter,

Here are a couple suggestions of where you might look

  • Talk to your boss.  Just like we don't choose our parents, we rarely get to choose our "organizational parents and ancestors".  You sometimes get to have some comment in your boss or grandboss, but rarely.  And because they're not interviewing with you, you frequently end up with someone who wouldn't be your first choice to work with.  But don't write them off.  They may be a great resource, especially if they're an honest and good manager.  Ask them their back story.  If they came from your position in another company, ask them what it took for them to get there.
  • Look in your business units.  It's great to forge a relationship with someone who's not in IT that is in a position above yours in the org chart, but not in your organizational ancestry.  That kind of relationship has some side benefits beyond just being able to ask for career growth advice.  This kind of cross-departmental relationship is often very healthy in an otherwise siloed business.
  • Look to supervisors from old companies.  They know who you are.  They know your skills, probably better than you.  They might be able to suggest career choices that you might find interesting based on other folks who have been through their ranks.  Sometimes the fact that you no longer work for them allows them to talk about your possibilities and capabilities more freely.
  • Look to colleagues from old companies.  We're all in different places in our lives at different times.  That colleague that was a peer in a previous company might have had a little more time and motivation and pushed up a level or changed jobs while you were at a gig where your job or skills weren't highest priority in your life.  Talk to them about what they did, what they've done since. Talk to them about what they found most beneficial in their quest to massage their careers.
  • Look to your heroes in the industry.  Ask what they look for in a colleague.  Ask what they think is most relevant.  With lots of folks on twitter these days, people you look up to are just a few clicks away.  Better yet, if you want to work like those people, offer to work with those people.  On an open source project that they've started, for example.  Or better yet, try to get employed at the same place they are.  
I guess that last one is pretty near and dear to my heart.  I do believe that when you're working in Corporate IT, maybe not feeling appreciated, maybe not feeling connected to your industry, you should at least enjoy the people around you.  Frequently it's the time with them that make it all worthwhile.  Find a place that has people that thinks the way you want to   

We do have openings where I work, for example.  If you like what I have to say, you might consider sending me a message.  We have great openings now for .NET developers and analysts in the west Chicago burbs.  You can contact me via the info at  If nothing else, I love having the conversation.

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