How do I find a mentor?
October 12, 2018 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I am a 35 year old person transitioning careers from the service industry into tech. I am a little over halfway through this process. I have been charting this journey alone so far, but am approaching a couple different breakpoints and believe that a mentor would be very helpful. Details inside.

The goal: a high paying tech sector job that is 100% remote with no timezone restriction.

The starting place: 33-year-old GM of a busy Philadelphia restaurant. Decent background in HTML and CSS, shallow background in real actual coding. Can hack together small stuff for specific projects. Quick learning early adopter nerdy person.

The strategy: Quit my job at the restaurant. Get a job at the University of Pennsylvania (free tuition benefits). Earn advanced Ivy League degree in tech while building project portfolio and gaining work experience. Obtain job.

Current status: Got the job in fall of 2016. Approaching senior year of BA program (I had some transfer credits from 2002), majoring in Cognitive Science: Computation and Cognition. At the end of the Spring 2019 semester, will be applying to submatriculate into the Masters in Computers and Information Tech (MCIT) program in the school of engineering.

Timeline: Currently on-track to graduate with the BA and masters in Spring of 2021.

I work full-time at Penn and attend classes full-time, so I am extremely busy. Still, I strongly feel I would benefit from having a mentor as the difficulty curve will be increasing significantly once the masters level work starts. The thing is, I am 35 years old and not rich and am taking undergraduate classes at an Ivy. This means I stand out like a sore thumb. It also means that I've not gotten much traction using the traditional routes for guidance / mentorship here. I'm just not a priority - and I get that.

As usual, I turned to the internet to find a community of folks that are on the same path. Unfortunately, I've come up short. There's a pretty quiet subreddit, a handful of dusty blogs. I can't find much at all.

How do I identify someone that would be a good mentor (and has the time / inclination) either in my city or online? Are there online communities of adult learners, especially those re-skilling into tech, of which I am unaware? Assuming I find someone that looks like they would be a good mentor, how do I initiate contact and put my best foot forward?

note: I've intentionally left "tech" as a vague placeholder for my targeted industry for many reasons, but in general think data science / machine learning area. Possibly software development. Not engineering or hardware. Keeping my options open right now as I'm targeting the job market in 2021 and that's just one of the many areas I could use a mentor's advice on.

additional note: I've been coming up so short that I've broadened the scope to just be "mentor for adult college student" but if I could fish my wish, I'd add on layers of specificity like:
- domain specific knowledge regarding re-skilling into tech
- doing so using formal education as a strategy
- from a not-rich, service industry starting place
- targeting 100% remote work
- queer and socialist friendly
posted by lazaruslong to Education (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
i'm gonna send you some memail now.. i'm commenting here so i don't put off doing it because i really don't want to forget. get ready.. memail incoming. tl;dr hello fellow traveler, I am in a similar boat and I too have noticed that quiet subreddit and perhaps some of those same dusty blogs.. and it seems there ought to be more for non traditional students..
posted by elgee at 11:18 AM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

A couple things which stand out to me as a career hopper and this may not be you so take all with a grain of salt....

I don’t think you are going to find what you are looking for. Even orgs that have mentorship programs often fall way short of their ideals. Your stated goal is a grand one and the number of people who have charted that path and are open to mentoring will be very few to none. What I think you need to cultivate is a network. You need to look for groups that are career or skillset peers or seniors and find people with drive and motivation to know. You also need to talk to as many senior people as possible. And you should be interested in how they got where they are because they aren’t going to be able to tell you how to go where you want to go. But by sharing their story and their advice you can apply it to your own life as you see fit. You might also need to go a more traditional route for a time while you develop a network, learn and hone skills and suck up information and training. Meet people where they are at and don’t expect them to come to where you are.

Also, do you really need an Ivy League Masters? If you are not going into debt and it will truly be a career maker then it sounds like a potentially good use of your time. But I’d want to shop that question around during your search for good folks to add to your network.
posted by amanda at 11:35 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think that you’ll have better luck finding many people willing to give you a little bit of time than one person willing to give you a lot. Willing to be one of the many; MeMail me.
posted by Kwine at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

The goal: a high paying tech sector job that is 100% remote with no timezone restriction.

I think you should understand that this is like trying to capture a live unicorn; it may exist out there somewhere, but it's gonna be really, really difficult to get.

I work remotely full time and manage a team of remote engineers and we're all on slack 9-5 EST, Monday - Friday. I don't know of any organization that allows you to be completely remote and have no time zone restrictions. Also, and I don't want to seem like I'm being overly negative, it's very difficult to effectively mentor someone remotely. This is something that I think even a lot of people who act as mentors struggle with (I know I do). It's one thing if you can sit face to face with someone everyday at the office, it's a whole different thing if you're remote. If you're a self-driven person and you have a passion to dig into things and don't get frustrated when you run into some roadblocks, you may have some have some luck with online mentoring if you can find a mentor.

I think it would be a better use of your time to network, especially if you can network within UPenn, to try and find someone who'd be willing to mentor you that way.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 12:06 PM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Go to some meetups in your area of interest and talk to people at those meetups.

I don't know anything about this group but the talks seem interesting and it's the kind of thing I'm talking about: DataPhilly.

I don't know whether that's the right group for you - if not, keep looking! Yes, there will be lots of cishet white guys there, but it won't be all cishet white guys, and even the cishet white guys might come from a more diverse set of socioeconomic backgrounds than your Ivy-undergrad classmates (and at least they won't all be 20 years old). Like amanda and Kwine say, you'll more likely find a lot of people who can give you a little help than one person who will shepherd you through the process. And meetups can be a great way to meet such people (especially since, having worked in the service industry, you are probably much better at being personable and outgoing than the average person at these kinds of events). Plus the people you will meet are often the kinds of people who can connect you with cool open-source projects and or real-life jobs.

I would actually not worry too much about the 100% remote thing right now, because it's going to be very hard to find a good 100% remote job as your *first* job in the field, but it will get easier and easier the more experience you have. In fact, if working remote is a really big priority for you I'd say forget about the masters and spend a year or two working an in-person job with an organization with a good reputation for onboarding and mentoring*. Your academic program is teaching you a ton about computer science, but it might be more immediately useful to you to learn about working on a tech team in a non-academic, non-service organization.

Oh, and finally: you say, "It also means that I've not gotten much traction using the traditional routes for guidance / mentorship here. I'm just not a priority - and I get that." - Is this attitude actually serving you well? You are just as entitled to guidance/mentorship as your classmates are, and you might even get more out of it than a lot of them because you actually have some life experience and context for it. You may have to go after it, and you probably have less time to spend on that kind of stuff than your traditional-undergrad classmates, but seriously, a lot of these kids are getting that guidance and mentorship because they expect it and feel entitled to it (and they or their parents whine about it and demand it and ask to talk to a manager the chair/dean/development office when they don't get it). Consider being a squeakier wheel!

* most orgs can't supply the level of support you will need as a beginner remotely. Some orgs are great at mentoring/supporting newcomers to the field, some orgs are great at organizing remote work - very few are good at both. If you can find a great place to work remotely right out of school, awesome, but I wouldn't count on it.
posted by mskyle at 12:08 PM on October 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm a job changer into tech. I would be in really bad shape if I had a remote job, and I expect that to be the case for at least another year. I absolutely need the face to face time with my colleagues. Pair programming is a real and valuable thing.

Please find the meetups near you and get to them. Often there is pizza. Make it a point to have a conversation with as many people as possible, and especially the speaker. Get cards, ask permission to connect on LinkedIn. Follow up with thoughtful questions. This is how you will find your mentor.

Do not be averse to your mentor being younger than you are. Also do not be surprised if neither you nor your mentor ever says "Hey, let's have a mentee relationship!" It might just...happen. And that's ok.

Feel free to message me if you have any questions about my experience so far.
posted by bilabial at 12:35 PM on October 12, 2018

Thanks for the replies and messages, folks. I haven't had a chance to get back to everyone yet, but I will this weekend.

One request: this question is specifically asking for advice on finding a mentor or a community of folks going through this process. Please do not ignore that question and instead direct me to stop going to school / go to a different school / get a different type of job / etc. I appreciate the well-meaning nature of these replies, but they are off-topic. Thanks!
posted by lazaruslong at 3:27 PM on October 12, 2018

My friend started Code Buddies -- it's not filtered on anything except 'people who are trying to learn to code', but you might be able to find companionship, if not a mentor, there.

Another on-topic answer that meanders through off-topic advice:

My experience with people using formal education as a strategy is usually Chinese / Indian / Russian students in US masters programs, there to re-credential at maybe age 30. i.e. no one here knows what the hell Beijing Normal University is, but they know what CMU is.

They're also there to tap the school's rich pool of recruiters / career services. This is the time of year where the free food and resume review workshops flow freely, right? Show up to those.

Why? I know you're looking for a remote-only situation, but I think the best way there is via an internship at an established company (which you will get by attending these recruiting events and dropping your resume at people), getting a mentor there, maybe doing a year or two at a large company, and using that credential as a springboard into a smaller company that is permissive of remote work.
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:55 PM on October 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Network via conferences, meetups, and groups like Code Newbie. From what I hear, Barcamp Philly is welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:06 AM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for the really great replies, there's some awesome stuff in here. I appreciate your time and wisdom.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:37 AM on October 22, 2018

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