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5 Ways Mentors Can Help Your Engineering Career

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5 Ways Mentors Can Help Your Engineering Career

Mentoring seems to be an under appreciated practice in the business world. But for busy professionals, there’s much to gain by having a coach at your side. You can improve your technical proficiency and get sound advice on human relations and development of soft skills.

This article discusses the benefits of having a mentor at work.

The key benefits of mentorship

It’s both tactically and strategically important to have a mentor before you begin a crucial project or key phase of your career. It can be intimidating to be thrown into “sink or swim” waters without any support. Consider that if you work for a company where cutthroat peers are swinging sharp elbows, you may not get the timely help you need when an emergency suddenly beckons for your quick-fix, troubleshooting talent.

There are a couple of short-term benefits of having a mentor and these can add a ton of value if you work in a technical profession such as engineering, database administration and software development, to name a few.

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1. Become better at your job

An experienced coach helps you to reduce the time it takes to solve a technical problem. In short, mentorship is an effective way of boosting your performance. For example, you can learn shortcuts when designing a webpage; get tips on searching a database; or understand better ways of creating a mobile app.

“Good mentors won’t, and shouldn’t, solve everything for you, but having a tested veteran at your side lets you do your job faster and more effectively,” says Weiting Liu, CEO of Codementor, in an interview with LifeHack. “The extra time you gain can be spent learning something new (such as leadership skills) or getting a professional certification. Young engineers and programmers should sidestep being stuck on a technical problem that otherwise could have — and should have — been solved in minutes, not hours,” says Liu, whose firm provides “code mentors” to engineers and programmers.

2. Know what you need to know

Mentorship is also a great feedback loop — so long as there’s mutual trust and candor. To improve your skills, it’d be prudent to ask your mentor what he thinks of your strengths and weaknesses.

Companies are hiring candidates across a global labor pool, therefore, technical workers are facing more competition than ever. Don’t rest on your laurels and avoid thinking too highly of your contributions. In the United States, software developers earn close to $50 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When getting billed at this rate, most clients will expect to work with highly-capable professionals who can deliver milestones at faster turnarounds.

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“Mentoring gives young developers the opportunity to improve their managerial and other ‘soft’ skills. Also, mentoring can transform engineers into great communicators and future leaders of the organization,” says Liu.

Global competition has pushed clients to demand more out of engineers, software developers and web programmers. To get a competitive edge, you’ll need to constantly adapt and learn. By staying abreast of emerging trends, you can hone the competencies that you’ll need.

Aside from gaining technical proficiency, there are long-term benefits of having a mentor.

3. Get a fresh perspective

Technical disciplines such as engineering, software programming and web development are youth-dominated professions. A 2015 survey by Stack Overflow finds that nearly half of developers have five years of experience or less.

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A good mentor will offer honest feedback of your actual performance. You want an unbiased individual to act as a side mirror and cover your blind spots. After earning a comfortable living, recent grads often fall into the trap of being arrogant. But as legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Inflated egos have torpedoed young careers almost as much as incompetency has. Consider that many clients and coworkers won’t tolerate having to put up with difficult personalities. An experienced mentor — who perhaps has gone down the same road — can temper a bad attitude and save you from a pink slip.

4. Read between the lines of office politics and personal motivations

When you work for a company, there can be hidden power structures and secret agendas. Not having been employed long enough in your organization, you’d be walking through political landmines you may not realize exists.

Here are a few examples.

A marketing executive, though lower on the organizational chart, may hold the true reins of power — because unknown to everyone else, he or she is a significant shareholder of the company. Or an internal rivalry may cause your proposal to get sabotaged at a big meeting. In another example, a project manager, who plans to quit her job, may not cooperate with your requests.

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Career progression involves not just the science of performance but also the art of human relations. Find an experienced mentor who knows the ins and outs of how your firm really works. Because success goes beyond having technical proficiency — it also requires cooperation with others.

5. Gain credibility through association

George Washington famously said to “Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation.” There’s an aspect of social engineering with mentorship: You can improve your credibility by associating with a strong ally.

When colleagues know you’re getting sound advice, they’ll be inclined to treat you more seriously. Finally, a good mentor can open doors for you — by introducing you to influential people; by alerting you to job opportunities; and by vouching for you when you’re considered for promotion.

“When you start your career, you may not know what’s to be expected or you may have unknowingly developed bad habits,” says Liu. “Having an experienced mentor can make sure you start your career the right way by showing you the ropes on how to achieve the highest standards in the industry.”

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Featured photo credit: Stokpic.com via stokpic.com

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