I recently had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about Role Models and Mentors for Women in Tech at the first WiTWA Tech Exchange for 2018. In preparation for the event, I thought a lot about my own role models and mentors, the people who supported me, and the impact that it had on my career.
In the early days, and sometimes even now I find some of my colleagues would talk down to me, take away my opportunities to make decisions or problem solve and would automatically assume that everything I did would be terrible (until I had proven otherwise). People like this do not make good mentors or role models and can negatively impact you from the start.
I consider myself lucky to have met Glen, my first technical mentor. I joined his team as a project manager but would regularly help out on the front-end work, especially as I came to realise how much I loathed project management.
Glen was an incredible mentor, he never talked down to me, he would ask questions, provide feedback, and never make me feel stupid. He encouraged me to become a front-end developer, he supported me the entire time we worked together especially when I went to our boss to ask to change roles. If I hadn't met Glen I would probably still be project managing and hating my life.
From then on I was on my own and struggling. I didn't have enough information to truly improve myself and while the internet helped, I needed more. So I started a meetup group called Fenders.
My expectations of what a meetup group was were way off base. I did not fully realise the effort that it would require and how much of my life it would consume, but at the end of the day, it was because of Fenders that I gained a whole new network people to be inspired by.
You might not always have a mentor but you can have multiple, diverse role models. They don't have to be someone older, more experienced, or even doing the same role as you. You don't need a Mr Miyagi, you just need someone who inspires something in you. There is always the opportunity to learn from the people around you.
Less experienced developers often approach problems in entirely unique ways, they don’t have the baggage that comes with x years experience. Beginners are typically filled with enthusiasm and joy at things that you have long forgotten, this passion re-ignites and remind me of why I love what I do.
On the other hand networks like Twitter allow me to see and hear about normal people doing amazing things all over the world, and for me, that is remarkable. Your role models shouldn't just be made up of people who look and act like you. Find people who are different to you, live somewhere else, have a different history, and different experiences. From them, you will gain new perspectives and a greater understanding of the world.
If you are finding it hard to find a mentor or a role model look around at the people you already know. The truth is you probably have amazing people all around you who are more than willing to support you. They could be someone in your community or someone you see every day at work. They won’t always have all the answers, they won’t always know the right thing to say, but they will be there to listen, give advice and help you where they can.
Don’t discount the people around you just because they don't seem "important" enough. Your mentors and role models don't have to be put up on a pedestal to provide value.
If you take the time to think about it, you might already have mentors or role models in your life. I didn’t fully appreciate my first mentor, in fact, I didn’t even realise she was a mentor until I properly looked back. On reflection, it turns out that I owe a lot of who I am and what I’ve accomplished to the advice and guidance she gave me.
I started my first professional job while I was still studying at uni and had the pleasure of working with an amazing woman. Amanda taught me that it was okay to have my own morals and values and that if my employer wanted me to violate those I could say no. She taught me that it was okay to stand up for myself, to value my work, to ask for pay rises, to stand my ground, to share my opinions, to listen, to learn from others, to push for the things that I wanted. Most of all she taught me that it was okay to be myself, that I could be me AND be respected at the same time. I didn’t have to waste energy being someone I wasn’t to fit into someone else's mould.
I owe a lot to Amanda, and I didn’t even realise it. I didn’t understand at the time that all these things I learnt from working with her day to day would be vital to making my way through the tech industry and through the politics that often exists in businesses and life. If I had known, and taken the time to properly appreciate Amanda as my role model and mentor I think I could have done a lot more with the advice she gave.
In a way, Amanda taught me one more thing, and that is if you are in a position to support someone or to help their voice be heard, do it. Despite what people might think it’s not a competition, many people can be successful and amazing at the same time.
Don’t put yourself or others on a pedestal, you can always learn something from someone else. Believing in yourself is great, having goals and wanting to accomplish things is fantastic, but don't do it at the expense of someone else. Reflect on your strengths, know your weaknesses and find people who can help you be a better person.
Be aware of your communities, networks and the people already in your life. Reach out to people, help others where you can and raise them up.
Remember that no one succeeds completely on their own. It might not always be a person directly in your life who helps you. Maybe you got your first job at a junior dev meetup (that someone had to organise), maybe you created a cool project because of talk you watched at a conference (that someone spent time writing and someone spent time organising), maybe, you solved a huge problem by reading an article someone on the other side of the world wrote and shared after facing the same issue.
Be grateful, thank the people who help you and where you can pay it forward.