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5 Ways Mentors Can Help Your Engineering Career

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.”

Featured photo credit: Stokpic.com via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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