The Power of Mentoring: Sheffield Digital's Mentoring Scheme and Mina

17th January 2022
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Mina Sheffield Digital Mentoring SchemeDan alongside mentor Mina CTO Andy Gunn

Giving back to the tech community is something I feel really passionate about, and when I saw Sheffield Digital were looking for volunteers for their mentoring scheme it was a no brainer for me to sign up as a mentor. I’ve always thought knowledge gained through experience is such a precious resource that should be shared with other individuals who have a similar goal. 

Back when I was a student, I completed a computing course at university and was fortunate enough to do a placement year which gave me the virtual skills to start my career. However, this isn’t the only way to break into the tech scene, nor is it necessarily the best one. The internet is littered with valuable resources and a lot of these are free or incredibly cheaper than university fees. My goal as a mentor therefore, is to simply offer my support to someone who is trying to make sense of this vast landscape and hopefully steer them away from any pitfalls along the way.

Connecting with my mentee

I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with Dan. He’s already put so much effort into developing his skills using free online courses which have given him a decent head start to be able to pursue a career in Tech. 

When we first met, he was considering completing a bootcamp to develop his skills even further and gain an accredited “qualification”. I was in disbelief that he was about to spend a significant amount of money on something I felt wasn’t of value given he’d done such a great job on his own. My advice has been to continue with the self learning but tailor it to what I know employers are looking for. 

This proves my point about the internet being such an important learning tool – it just takes a little bit of effort to extract the right information. I also believe that any employer will recognise qualities such as organisation, motivation, and determination for hitting a series of milestones with minimal help and intervention.

The process

I meet with Dan once a month to discuss progress, plan the next batch of work, and provide guidance where necessary. Everything aligns to a roadmap that culminates towards the end of 2022 – this is when Dan will be ready to transition into a junior developer role. 

Dan has been extremely receptive to my guidance. I’ve been clear to him that he needs to form his own opinions – all I can do is provide mine as a benchmark. I simply think “what would I like to know if I was in his shoes?”. There are so many choices regarding tech stack that it can be overwhelming and Dan was definitely suffering from analysis paralysis before we met. We’ve since discussed the pros and cons of each potential so Dan can make an educated decision moving forward.

Ensuring my team members have a similar opportunity

As one of the Co-Founder at Mina, I’d like to ensure all of our team members have a similar opportunity to become a mentor or mentee, by giving them the time to fully commit.

The benefits aren’t purely felt by the mentee – the mentor will grow in so many ways that are impossible to articulate. 

It’s been great meeting someone who is so passionate about breaking into the tech industry. I’m genuinely excited about the journey ahead for Dan and can’t wait to see the job offers roll in and for him to land his dream role! 

I hope he’s gained a lifelong relationship with me – I’ll do whatever I can to help him throughout his career and I’d love to see him repay the favour to someone else further down the line. 

I’d like to thank Sheffield Digital for connecting mentees with mentors and would love to commit to at least one mentee every year so I’m hopeful the scheme continues to be a success. 

And if you’re reading this thinking “I could benefit from some form of mentoring”, get in touch. I’ll do whatever I can on a personal level to help. 

Mentee point of view:

Changing careers is not easy, it can be scary and confusing, especially when done on your own.

Following my passion for technology, I decided to transition from a career in healthcare to tech. My initial thought was to enrol onto a university course, it seems like the natural path these days, but when I looked into what was available, the value just wasn’t there and I realised that when it comes to tech there’s an incredible amount of information on the internet, for free and all universities do is provide structure. 

After a few months of doing various on-line courses, building my own projects and learning from every resource I could get my hands on, a thought occurred to me, I needed help. I got to a point where “I didn’t know what I didn’t know”. 

While looking for meet-up groups and any form of support I could get, I found Sheffield Digital and their mentoring scheme and decided to join. I didn’t really know what to expect at that time, all I wanted was to have a chat with someone more experienced and get some advice about my next steps and how the industry sees self-taught developers or how to approach looking for junior positions. 

What happened next surpassed my expectations. 

Initial chat with my mentor 

Andy blew me away, we talked for about an hour and within that time he shared a staggering amount of information and dispelled all my doubts and misconceptions about breaking into the tech industry.

I can’t stress enough how much that short conversation boosted my confidence. Andy has years of experience and knowledge, hearing “I’m on the right track” from him meant a lot to me and it was exactly what I needed to keep learning. His input was already invaluable and that was just the beginning.  

During our initial meeting, I mentioned to Andy I had been thinking about joining a bootcamp, just to gain a “recognised qualification” which I thought would help me get my first job as a developer. These particular courses are expensive and take a lot of time to complete, but to me at that time it seemed worth it.

After looking at my projects and courses already completed, Andy made me realise there would be very little value for me in starting one of those courses and I should continue learning on my own. Without Andy’s guidance I would’ve spent a considerable amount of money and time completing a course which wouldn’t help me to reach my goal but only wasted my time. 

How does it work though? 

Andy helped me set a clear goal and provided a realistic time frame for completing it.

Based on what I already know and where I’d like to get with my career, we came up with an idea for a project which is going to challenge me as a developer and be a proof of my competence. At every step, Andy explained which route I could take and where it could lead me to in the future but never made any decisions for me. 

At every step of the process trust, honesty and communication is key. For me it means I need to be clear about where I am on the roadmap, what’s already done and what I struggle with. It also means any feedback Andy is willing to share must be taken by me in good faith and welcomed. I think it’s the best way of learning – a hands on approach under direction given by a mentor. 

During our monthly meetings we summarise what’s already done, discuss next steps on the list and set goals for the next meeting. What I enjoy most about working with Andy is that there is no hand holding. He provides clear guidance and advice but never tells me how to do things. It’s up to me to figure it out, make mistakes and learn from them, but if I’m stuck he’s always there to help.

It’s a perfect mix of self learning and structure.

Mentoring is incredibly valuable. 

Value of mentorship cannot be overstated, it’s a brilliant process which  benefits both parties.

For mentors it’s a way to solidify their knowledge and experience, mentees get to learn under their mentors guidance. It’s a two way relationship which I think should be explored more and adapted wider. We all have something to teach and there’s always something we can learn from someone more experienced. 

As for me I’m hoping to join Sheffield Digital’s mentoring scheme as soon as I get a few years of experience under my belt. Not because I feel obligated to, but because Andy and his wonderful team at Mina have set a benchmark for me. I’ve been welcomed into this industry with open arms by incredible and supportive people and it’s my ambition to give back exactly the same or more if I can.” Dan Kuc, aspiring software developer.