Note to self: Seek active mentorship
In this post, I write about seeking
active mentorship. This is one of the pieces of advice I would give to my younger self. Seeking constant mentorship throughout my career, especially while starting out, proved wonders.
What exactly does
active mentorship mean?
Quoting Wikipedia below:
Mentorship is the influence, guidance, or direction given by a mentor. In an organizational setting, a mentor influences the personal and professional growth of a mentee.
Active mentorship is where one seeks mentorship week-in, week-out throughout their learning path.
But, what if someone does not belong to an organizational setting? Example: A fresher seeking out opportunities, someone in the middle of a job hop, or a student who is trying to get their first job.
How and from whom shall these people seek mentorship? In this post, I write some pointers from personal experience which might be helpful to such folks in seeking active mentorship.
1. Try to avoid asking people if they would actively mentor you
Most often than not, people would not be comfortable giving a long-term commitment to actively mentoring someone. Also, it sounds like a lot of work, so most folks in the industry refrain from taking such heavy commitments at the expense of personal time.
Instead, ask pointed questions and seek answers, and then ask better questions again. Answering a simple question like
What course would you suggest a beginner in Computer Vision? does not seem like a lot of work, and can be answered in under 2-5 minutes.
Take the course up, and then come back with a better question later. Example:
I have done the course which you recommended. What project would you recommend that I work on, related to the course?. This is again a simple question and can be answered in under 6-10 minutes.
On noticing closely, neither the mentor nor the mentee has committed to mentorship, but there is active mentorship.
2. Online tech forums are a great place to get active mentorship
Asking questions back-and-forth works both with a single mentor as well as multiple mentors. Online forums are a great example of a
multiple mentor setup. For example, this is how a good iterative mentorship looks like in a tech forum (take Kaggle for example):
Mentee: Hello. I am stuck at ~60% accuracy for this problem and I used Logistic regression. Can someone please help me with how to increase my metrics?
User1: Hi. This problem looks like a good fit for a tree-like classification. So, experiment with a decision tree to start with.
Mentee: Thank you. I have achieved ~76% accuracy with your suggestion 😊 Is there a way to further improve my metrics?
User2: Try ensembling learning on the trees, i.e. experiment with a random forest
Mentee: Thanks a ton 😊
In the above dialogue exchange in a forum, there can be multiple users who keep answering the questions. Yet, there is iterative learning happening here. The mentee is seeking active mentorship from multiple users on a single problem statement or learning path, without explicitly requesting a commitment from any of those users.
Having said that, I see some posts where people volunteer to mentor folks in need. So, try to latch on to those opportunities. Getting constantly mentored is like long-term investing. It pays very good dividends with time.
Never be afraid to ask "stupid questions". What might sound stupid to you, might be a completely valid question to your mentor.
Try to ask iterative questions. Mentors shall be more than happy to help you if you worked on their previous advice and are seeking advice on the next steps. However, it is alright if you are stuck somewhere, and are seeking help for the same. Even experienced engineers also get stuck at trivial problems every day 😅