The Value of Mentorship: The Mentor

 

Author: Mark Tudman, Principal Engineer, San Jose

 

Prior to joining Jabil, I worked for 26 years as a Field Engineer at an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) robotics company. This phase of my career was extremely challenging yet rewarding. It provided me the opportunity to travel throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, South America and Asia.

After college, I was ill-prepared for the job expected of me. I was sent on the road to begin field work after receiving two months of educational training and a few hands-on projects. No one taught me how to plan travel and communicate at diverse facilities. I was placed into situations in high-volume manufacturing facilities with broken machines and angry managers yelling. I had to learn and adjust quickly to the current situation.

Being in that high-pressure environment, however, did provide some positive experiences: I learned that collaboration was key. Working with diverse people at a variety of sites, it was inevitable that we learn to solve problems together. Since my job was to troubleshoot and fix a variety of issues, I had to learn problem solving and root cause analysis skills. Some of these problems were related to machines, others were related to people. In addition, I also had to learn to explain things since invariably I would be asked, “How did you fix it?” This helped me develop a knack for providing guidance and helping others learn, which has transferred over to how I mentor.

Becoming a Mentor

After my experiences of simply being ‘thrown into the work’ after college, I swore to myself that if anyone wanted to learn something, then I would take the time to show them all I knew. I continue to learn and yes, I still ask a lot of questions. The one thing I have changed is my approach to teaching from merely answering questions to teaching them how to learn. Advocating for the trial-and-error method, I try to instill a mentality of ‘figuring it out’ – trying something new, not being afraid of mistakes and learning from the times you didn’t succeed.

It’s about putting yourself in the mentees’ shoes: you have to think about what they’re going through, what questions you had at that stage of life and what would help them the most. Based on my own struggles, and from what students today have demonstrated, there is a need to help them through decisions beyond education or career-related questions. Some of my mentees need help building their professional confidence, especially regarding work-related interactions with other employees and customers. Many don’t have experience working with cross-functional teams or with coworkers ranging from fellow interns to managers and directors.

Finding a Mentee

Three years ago, our department began a partnership with San Jose State University, and I was one of three engineers picked to mentor a team of students on their senior projects. My situation is probably different than other mentors because I was assigned mentees rather than organically allowing a mentorship-relationship to occur. I accepted this as an opportunity to share my knowledge and help students during a formative age of their growth.

You can tell pretty quickly which mentees are serious about the opportunity – like Meha Gupta, these are the students with personality, curiosity, passion and persistence, which all play a part in building a successful learning experience. Having curiosity creates a collaborative environment where you learn from them, too. In the end, this is what helped me the most in my career: stepping out of my comfort-zone to tackle new problems and being open to working with a variety of people to solve issues together. That’s really all a mentorship program is: collaboration and cross-learning.

Tips for Mentees and Mentors

For mentees, it’s important to have courage and ask questions. You can be scared but ask anyway. Don’t stop learning. Write things down, taking note of what your mentors share because it’s hard to fully absorb all the information the first time around. Plus, your notes might spur new questions and continue the wheel of learning. I recommend you go deeper in your research beyond the first Google search result and adapt a continual spirit of curiosity to all your work.

For the mentors out there, whether you had a mentor yourself or not, you can do it. Always put yourselves in your mentee’s shoes. It takes a lot of patience and extra work to help guide someone through their education and career path, but the rewards are there. It’s worth every single minute of sleep you might lose to help someone succeed.

The biggest benefit for me as a mentor is hearing from these mentees later and getting updates on how the project you helped them with eventually allowed them to get a job after college. These students are using the mentoring program to find new opportunities and have the confidence to take calculated risks. They become powerful in making their own career and life decisions. They are no longer doing what someone told them to do; they are making decisions for themselves based on new experiences.

 

Watch the Learning to Fly documentary on Blue Sky’s partnership with San Jose State University to learn more!

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