Next year will be 30 years since I got my first IT job. I was 17 years old and IT was my second choice of career, almost forced on me due to my first choice suddenly becoming out of reach. Aged 16 I was single minded about a career in the RNZAF when the unexpected happened. I was having breakfast with my Dad, when without warning my life flipped upside down. I remember eating a piece of toast, falling and then waking up with an ambulance paramedic standing over me. Dad was shaking and said, “I thought we’d lost you”. You see, we lived in the country, a long way from help. Epilepsy was something I would come to learn a lot about over the coming months.
Flying was no-longer an option, driving and swimming were also off the list of activities I could do. I had to find something else and software developer was one of the few options that had any appeal. I headed off to Polytech and learnt the programme. I was the youngest student in the course but managed to pass with pretty good marks, not the best and not the worst.
The course finished and I found myself without a job to go to. Dad put me to work on the farm, milking cows and doing other chores around the farm. A few weeks later I got a call out of the blue asking if I could come into town for an interview, my lecturer at Polytech had put my name forward to a company looking for a junior developer.
In a complete panic, I threw on a shirt and tie and Mum drove me into town (one hours drive) to the interview. I’d been in such a rush, I left my CV at home and had absolutely no idea how to present myself in an interview. Guess what!? I got the job! It turns out I was second on the list and the guy who was a shoe in for the job got asked a question that I answered better. What was it? Something along the lines of “what have you been doing since Polytech finished?”, my competitor was pretty proud of the fact that he hadn’t done much other than work on his tan. My answer was about working on the farm and practicing the things I’d learnt at Polytech using an Amstrad XT PC I had saved for while working for Dad.
What happened next was simply amazing. I had a great boss who took a chisel to me and chipped away at the rough edges I had from a life on the farm and gave me the skills to work in a corporate environment. He gave me challenges, supported my decisions and gave honest feedback (boy did I need that!).
Roll on nearly 30 years to today I heard a great talk from students pitching how we should approach them about being a mentor or offering a job. I really couldn’t help but think it was backward, shouldn’t I be the one getting the pitch, as the owner of a tech company? At first this entire concept didn’t sit well with me? Why would I approach a young person to be there mentor rather than the other way around?
After some thinking about this, it hit me. Someone had done this for me all those years ago. Someone who knew me and had much more faith in my abilities than I did, went to the trouble of putting my name forward for a job. That was the foot in the door, the rest was up to me.
What do our young people need from us to get a foot up in their career? Simple, the same thing we needed but delivered in a slightly different way. What do we need as a mentor? To know our time isn’t being wasted and the person we are supporting will put their best effort.
Here a few things you can assist a young person with:
- How to greet people when going to an interview
- Give honest feedback without being unkind
- Provide an environment where they can make mistakes (safely)
- Give opportunities to develop skill
In my experience, being a mentor has as many benefits to me as it does to the person being mentored. Helping someone develop a career is incredibly satisfying and gives you the opportunity to get a better understand of how another generation interacts with the world.