Yesterday, I had the honor of randomly running into a former co-worker that I'd lost contact with. It's been six or seven years since we last spoke. He was responsible for hiring me as a software engineer at Northrop Grumman after I finished college roughly 10 years ago.
But he's not just a former co-worker. I consider him a mentor.
He's THE most brilliant software developer that I've had the privilege to work with over the course of my career. (Those who know me have heard me brag about his talent on more than one occasion.) But that's not why he stands out to me personally.
What's most notable is the fact that he always treated me with patience, kindness and respect when I was a kid fresh out of college.
He stepped in to identify tasks for me to work on; they were challenging, but they nurtured my growth, and he was always available to help guide me. He never displayed frustration towards me as I was coming up to speed. When I had a question, he was more than willing to take the time to walk over to my desk to explain something to me. If he didn't know the answer, we'd work together to figure out it.
But here's the thing: I never formally asked him to be my mentor; he never agreed to officially mentor me. It's not something we ever discussed.
Rather, he served as a role model to this kid. He was someone I looked up to. He represented someone in my profession that I aspired to be like, and that feeling has stayed with me all these years later.
Good Mentors Are Hard to Find
Believe me, I know how difficult it is to find a good mentor or role model. It's most ideal to have a mentor whom you have direct access to, but don't discount other options if identifying a mentor proves challenging.
Every professional field has public heroes, pioneers, and teachers. It may be difficult to contact them directly, but you can still gain access to their knowledge through interviews, podcasts, training videos, conference talks, articles, or books that they've published.
Here's a very short list of software engineers and architects that I've either never met, or met only once, yet I still consider mentors and role models:
- Katrina Owen
- Martin Fowler
- Kimberly Bryant
- Jim Weirich (Jim is deceased, but he leaves a rich legacy behind.)
- Sandi Metz
- Jeff Casimir
I've spent countless hours reading and watching material that they've produced.
Believe It or Not, You’re A Role Model Too
I'd bet that my former co-worker never knew that I considered him a role model. He just set about doing the work that he's great at doing, probably never giving it much thought.
We may never know or fully understand the impact that we have on those around us, but trust and believe that people are watching, and someone — even if they never tell us— will appreciate us taking the time to show them the ropes, being patient with them, treating them with dignity, teaching them something, and being a strong model for professional behavior.
Let's keep that in the back of our mind as we go about our daily routine.