I’ve always loved technology - since the first 486 computer my parents got me, to the days when I discovered Visual Basic 6 with its revolutionary ability to build graphical user interfaces by just dragging the mouse around. I was fortunate enough that my parents were able to afford the tools that planted the seed of “Maybe I can be an engineer?” in my mind. Once I moved to the United States, I was, once again, fortunate enough that I got connected early with people that helped propel my career where it is today - from online community leaders to industry professionals. It’s reasonable to say that without their help I would not be in my current position.
As time went on, I asked myself - what can I do to give back? The answer was somewhat tangential to what I experienced - I can help individuals that would otherwise not have access to a professional network or resources to get started or move up. This is especially critical for underrepresented communities - the STEM field is notorious for having a large representation disparity. The breakdown put together by NSF highlights just how bad the problem in science and engineering is.
I thought I would start small - with an option to mentor those who are interested. A total open-door policy - if you see my request, reach out.
I’ve received close to one hundred requests, both on Twitter and email. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a start - I hope I can help some people better understand the industry and point them to opportunities they might not have otherwise known about.
We, individuals in tech, are in positions where we can deliver a lot of impact at scale. Being a mentor is one of the many steps we can take to direct said impact to improving the access to opportunities. It’s not as complicated as you might think.
Here is the way I see this working for myself (you can tweak this for your own approach).
- Offer a slice of your time to connect with individuals from various communities that might otherwise not have the exposure to industry professionals or extensive resources.
- Engage over the agreed upon channel on: education, career paths, resources, roadblocks and building a network. I am explicitly steering away from code help - mentorship in my situation is not a code review/homework resolution opportunity (one can use Stack Overflow or dev.to for that - communities specifically tailored for the task).
- Connect mentees with individuals in the industry (as long as both parties agree) that are specializing in areas in which the mentee is interested in.
- Connect mentees with available job opportunities that you might be aware of, or recommend resources for those.
The time allocations are up to you, of course - these vary depending on your preferences and workload. I am starting by dedicating a couple of hours during the weekend to answer questions and answer emails from interested parties.
I would encourage every person in tech to become a mentor. We can and should be part of the solution to bring up more individuals from underrepresented groups into the field.