Get a mentor, both business and technical

Mentors can help navigate the professional as well as the technical side of an IT career

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I’m having trouble deciding how to best move forward with my career. What should I do?

Thanks for your email. I often get emails asking questions such as:
1. I like to program, should I learn Java?
2. I just graduated college with a degree in Computer Systems; do you think I should become a Business Analyst?
3. There aren’t that many computer related jobs where I live, should I move?

These questions are very important and potentially life-changing. When people ask me for this type of advice, I’m somewhat afraid to answer. Don’t get me wrong, these are very worthwhile things to consider. The reason is questions of this type are not one-size fits all. The same answer may be perfect for one person and very destructive to another.

You are correct to seek this advice, but questions of this type are best answered by someone who knows you personally. He/she should know:
• The work environment where you live
• Your professional aspirations
• Your skills and abilities
• Your personal wants and needs

In short, it would be of great value to you to find a mentor that you trust, respect, and has your best interest in mind and in heart. I would even go one step further and suggest you have two mentors; one that is business oriented and can help you navigate your professional career and one that is technically oriented and can help you select and learn new technologies.

Regarding a business oriented mentor, if this person should be within your company, he/she can help:
• Accelerate your upward professional movement within the company
• Protect you from bad internal company politics
• Provide insights into the company’s executive thinking
• Be a provider of information and resources for your projects

If this person is within your industry, but at a different company, they can’t help you get promoted at the company where you work, but he/she can give you great advice, introduce you to important professional connections, and potentially offer you a future job at the company where he/she works.

Lastly, if your business-oriented mentor is not within your industry, he/she can still potentially:
• Give you great career advice
• Widen your perspective beyond your current industry
• Introduce you to important business contacts
• Act as a role model

A technical mentor plays a very different, but an equally important role. This type of person can:
• Help you gain a deeper understanding of the technologies you currently work with
• Introduce you to fast growing and professionally marketable new technologies
• Help you steer clear of technologies on the decline that could reduce your marketability and slow your career growth
• Introduce you to other technologists with the goal of expanding your technical network

When talking about a mentor, a common question is always asked “Where do I find one?” Sometimes you get lucky and the mentor finds you. For example, it could be a family member or close family friend that takes an interest in you. Alternatively, you may remind someone of what they were like earlier in their career. Most people, however, are not that lucky and must reach out to those they know and respect. This person could be an old boss, a professor you had in college, a senior executive with your company that is impressed with your work, or other similar type acquaintance.

The thing to remember about having a mentor is that no relationship is a one-way street. If a person, out of the goodness of his/her heart is willing to be your mentor, then treat this person with respect. Mentors don’t (or shouldn’t) expect anything in return, just a thank you and to truly value their advice. What I have learned over the years and I suggest the same to you, is to thank your mentors by paying it forward. That is to say, as your mentors were willing to share their advice, insights, and contacts with you, pay it forward by doing the same for others.

I’ll end this week’s column with a quote by Father James Keller “A candle never loses its light when it lights another candle.”

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at
eric@ManagerMechanics.com
or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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