"Delivering uncommon results in software culture"

Software Mentoring: A Special Case?

I've been very lucky to have had some great mentors in my life – and didn't know it at the time. That's the funny thing about mentors – they're measured by the historical influence they had on you – the things you remember, repeat and recount years later.

They're not actually teaching you about a particular topic per se, they're teaching you a love for a particular topic and you may not know it at the time. 

A mentor is not a role model. People are fallible in their personal lives, and like politicians, we're wont to dismiss their influence by their behavior. But that's not how mentoring works. A mentor shares a common bond on a topic – a shared belief in what that topic means to you both – a common bond in an idea greater than you both. 

We tend to look at software mentoring as a special case of mentoring, but I don't think it is. If you can recount the fabric of a conversation years later – minus the technology – then that individual spoke to you in a language (a meta-language if you will) about contexts both bigger than the topic and the two of you. 

I've been fortunate to have had both musical and business mentors and even one who was both. I didn't particularly like him at the time, but years later I've come to acknowledge his important influence in shaping my own approaches. Others I relished at the time and couldn't get enough of their input – usually on topics completely outside our common daily routines. 

So it begs the question… Should a mentor – if they are to have lasting influence – actually limit discourse to the topic at hand? Or should they be trying to teach you something else?

About the Author
I’ve had the good fortune to travel and work internationally. I’ve also had the good fortune to have grown up in New Zealand and have lived the American “immigrant experience” for more than half of my life. I’ve also had an unorthodox musical journey that led me to and kept me in Kansas City. Music, IT and travel became partners along the way helping me appreciate multiple worldviews and the concepts of cross-disciplinary approaches to life and work. My non-conventional experiences reflect my meanderings about this interesting occupational field. The beauty of having been in IT for 30 years is that our solutions become predictably cyclic while our problems remain the same. Culture is a topic I’m rather obsessive about. I firmly believe that it will help to usher in a renaissance in American business – oddly enough in the hands of IT.

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