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How to become a mentee; No matter what stage of your career you are in

I met with my front end mentor today and, already, garnered some valuable tips and support contact for questions and guidance going forward. While I already have a plan put together from a previous conversation with some other UX/front end folks (which he was a part of), we baked out a self-driving plan.

My goals started mostly as a study path toward changing the direction of my career, yet again. I have done front end work in the past. Quite a bit of it circa SharePoint branding and early 2000’s web development for internal tool development. I also understand BEM, SaaS and Atomic Design and, as an architect, had my teams implement and adopt various tools and practices including those and ReactJS. But, and I realize, this does not mean that my work was the best that it could have been. Hence the reason why I reached out and was lucky enough to have someone answer the call.

So, my plan. As a backend developer and avid dirtbag hiker, I am going to use a set of Government API’s to put together a data model that provides information on camping and hiking sites across the country. That’s the easy part. The challenging part for me is putting a user interface together that gives that data meaning in a way that meets a user’s needs. Mainly mine. What are those? Well, two really. Education and nabbing some high demand sites in 2020 to use while off work and off-grid.

Today I walked away with several spot-on suggestions which I plan to start becoming familiar with. Gatsby and Figma. He’s also promised to suss out possible opportunities for me to observe real-world development conversations in the UX arena that will provide further context and exposure to how those practices work out in real-world scenarios. While, realistically, as a backend guy heavy in .Net/Cloud/ and system architecture, I’m a junior in the front end arena, that’s exactly the point of creating stretch goals for oneself and where mentoring provides a huge amount of value.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What value is that? Well, we’ve all heard about quarterly or annual goals at this point, right? Heck, we’ve been doing goals all our professional lives! Well, some of mine have a longer tail. But yeah, one of mine was to circle back to an old boss of mine who said if I did SharePoint work for her that I would “never be a front-end developer.” My goal is to prove her wrong and get back to doing something that I fully believe gives the products we build actual value. User interfaces. An art and science on its own.

“Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”

Brené Brown

So how do I engage my mentor to help me achieve this goal?

  1. Start by realizing every one of us needs help and all it takes is the formulation of the question and suppressing our egos and fears of being judged.
  2. Then reach out to folks in that discipline or area that you want to explore.
  3. Physically write out your goal and place this on a 3, 6 and 12-month timeline.
  4. Try to find a person who is willing to give you some 1:1 time who is a senior or above practitioner – most importantly, go to them with a plan.
  5. Schedule a meeting with them where you bring the plan that you are going to be responsible for implementing.
    1. This could be working on an internal project while you are on the bench or something you work on outside of billable hours because you are passionate about it or just something you work on while engaged with a client with a team – everybody’s availability will be different, there is no one size fits all here.
  6. Take away various points and opportunities from that meeting and then act upon them while documenting your path for not just yourself but your boss and colleagues as well – sharing is one of the greatest things you can do for others.
  7. Touch base with your mentor with calibration questions with a non-disruptive cadence, don’t expect your mentor to do the work for you, this is your show, the mentor is being gracious enough with her/his time – treat it like a valuable resource.
  8. Learn.
  9. Make mistakes.
  10. Learn.
  11. Make more mistakes.
  12. Keep learning.
  13. Build upon the knowledge you are amassing and improve steadily.

It’s just that simple.

The hardest part of the mentor/mentee thing is taking a realistic view of your strengths and weaknesses and, creating a 3, 6 and 12-month plan, and then executing in such a way that you can measure progress over time with the benefit of occasional guidance and honest feedback.

I hope this helps anyone struggling with how to approach finding a mentor for one’s career.

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