March 17, 2000
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column on your computer, iPod or other audio player **
Today's children have grown up with computers much
like my generation grew up with television. They don't know of a time
before there were affordable personal computers. This easy access to computers
leads a lot of kids today into thinking about computer careers. Even though
they have grown up with computers, though, many of them are still looking
for people to help them navigate the confusing world of computer careers.
This is where we can all help.
The word mentor is an old one. The little dictionary on my desk tells
me that it has its origins in The Iliad, where Mentor was a friend of
Odysseus. The word is defined as a wise advisor, teacher or coach. You
can be all this and more to someone who needs assistance in starting or
advancing their computer career.
I really prefer the "coaching" definition. Mentors are the older,
experienced coaches always waiting on the sidelines to offer encouragement
and advice. When young people are just getting started in a new career
it can really help to have someone in their corner who can answer those
questions that always arise. Mentors can be a friendly face; someone who
is on your side when everyone else seems to be against you. Too often
new computer workers feel adrift as they make their way. They feel they
need more information, whether technical or personal, and they don't always
know where to get it.
As a mentor you can offer a host of information. You can help people design
their resume or prepare for interviews. You can help them find job listings
that match their skills. You can also help them build their computing
skills so they can apply for more varied positions. I like to believe
we are all teachers, regardless of our chosen professions. We will be
living in the world that young people create and it is in our best interest
to give them the tools they need to survive and thrive.
We all have something to offer. Regardless of where we have worked or
what we have done we have experience that can be very useful to those
just getting started. I see the need for computer career mentors almost
every day. I constantly get messages from people asking for advice about
a wide range of computer career topics. I help those that I can when my
experience matches their needs. Unfortunately, I often get questions about
programming and programming careers that I can't really answer. I try
to direct these people to others, but often have to give them more general
guidelines about finding a mentor through their parents, teachers or co-workers.
Do it for yourself
While it does take a little effort, I highly recommend you offer yourself
as a mentor wherever and whenever you can. Perhaps there are children
at your child's school who want to talk about computer careers. Perhaps
your church has a mentoring program. You don't really need an organization,
though. Often, just letting people know you are interested in helping
is enough. Helping others is a great way to feel better about ourselves.
Even if you feel you aren't making a big difference in your work, mentoring
can help you to feel that you are making a difference in the world.
While this column allows me to help people I am always looking for others
I can assist. If you can't mentor everyone who comes to you please feel
free to direct him or her to this column and its associated discussion
mailing list. <http://www.welchwrite.com/career/>
Together we can build a mentoring network that gives us all a chance to
reach out and help those around us. The power of the Internet can help
us have an effect far beyond our geographical area. Using email and the
Web we can offer our experience to anyone, no matter where they might
Finally, there is one last benefit you can gain from mentoring. You might
find that you are developing your own source for future employees. Article
after article in newspapers and magazines decry the lack of technical
talent. Mentoring is one way to insure that you always have a talented
pool of people from which to choose. There are few reasons not to mentor
young people when it can so greatly benefit everyone involved.