As a front-end engineer working at Dataiku, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a mentorship program offered to CapitalG portfolio companies. I was assigned a mentor (a senior engineer from Google) who I met with once a month for six months, first one-on-one and then with a small group of other mentees.
Despite having worked in my field for several years now, I have always been curious about having a mentor and how (s)he can help me think further about the future of my engineering career. Although I would already consider my manager at Dataiku a mentor given our open and very constructive discussions together, my Google mentor offered a unique perspective and guidance that I may not have had otherwise. This is why I am now a strong proponent of having a mentor at least once during one’s career.
In this blog, I'm going to share key learnings from my mentorship experience and things I wish I had known before that I can now apply to my engineering job at Dataiku — hopefully they will be helpful for other engineers (or, generally speaking, anyone considering a mentorship related to their unique role!).
Defining What You Are Looking for Is Key
The very first thing my mentor encouraged me to do was to clearly define what I wanted to take away from our work together. This may sound obvious, but as someone who tends to not always think long term, I only had a vague notion of what I wanted to achieve. Saying my goals aloud and why helped me realize what some of my mid-term career aspirations really were.
This helped my mentor provide explicit feedback and action items that would help me work toward achieving my goals. It also pushed me to engage with my manager in more frequent conversations about my growth and career at Dataiku. Some great work has been done by our engineering leaders to show what growth opportunities are available to us, whether we want to focus on growing our technical expertise or empowering others and it was very useful to tie it to my own expectations. Being clear on your objectives makes it easier for everyone to know how to help you, and having support is key to growth.
Half of Learning Is Listening to Others and Sharing Experiences
After the one-on-one meeting with my mentor, the rest of the meetings were group-based. Although the mentor was there to help facilitate the discussion and provide excellent feedback based on her many years of managing teams at Google, it was great being able to openly share our own personal experiences and even offer advice to one another. When one mentee would bring up a problem they were having, the mentor would give suggestions based on her experience, but also ask the rest of the mentees to provide their own input as well. During one discussion about time management, for example, we each offered different strategies to improve productivity while adapting to working from home.
Dataiku has a strong learning culture that is very much based on similar principles: people are continuously encouraged to share what they know with others, in both informal and formal forums. Hearing other perspectives from people in similar roles is critical, and therefore I am convinced that this group mentoring format made the experience even better than it would have been in an individual setup.
The Other Half of Learning Is Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone (Without Pushing Too Hard)
At the end of each session, our mentor gave us explicit action items to finish before the next session. What I appreciated the most from this was that I was often tasked with something I would not normally do myself. My mentor asked me to start having discussions with people on other teams to further understand the product and also to start fixing bugs in parts of the code I knew the least.
Dataiku’s product architecture is quite complex, feature rich, and uses and connects with a wide range of technologies, such as Spark, Kubernetes, and Hadoop, so being able to step out of my comfort zone to work on features I knew little about was an eye-opening experience.
However, I think it’s also important to listen to yourself and know your own limitations. I did these items one at time, and despite not completing all the tasks assigned, I still managed to learn a lot and I plan on working on finishing these items now that the program is over.
I am grateful that I was able to experience such a tailored program for engineers. My mentor’s experience was inspiring and her advice coupled with the group discussions were an excellent starting point for being in the driver’s seat of my career. If you ever get an opportunity to follow such a program, I would encourage you to take it and, if not, maybe start small by reusing some of the advice from my coach. No matter your career stage, exploring unknown parts of your company's code sounds like an easy way to start.