Pay it forward to build your brand & establish your expertise

Neha Jain
Neha Jain
May 24 · 4 min read
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Success is a function of knowledge and your network. There are many ways to acquire knowledge but unlike mentorship don’t optimize for building personal connections. In this post, I highlight how to find/create mentorship opportunities to sharpen technical abilities and build a personal brand and solid network in the process.

While we all have heard “Pay it forward” several million times by now, not all of us really understand how to put it in practice.

Photo by Jo Chou, at LinkedIn + NextPlay speed mentoring event

Success is a function of knowledge and your network.

Imagine you are at Grace Hopper Conference or any other conference for that matter. Consider the following exercise: When you go back to your hotel today, take a moment before going to your room to find someone (ideally in person) who didn’t attend a talk that you liked the most. Start a conversation with them and try one or all of the following:

  1. Summarize what you learned in a talk or session.
  2. Why did you choose to attend “that talk” instead of many others that were happening at that time?
  3. What are the key lessons that you are going to apply in the future?

Congratulations! You have established yourself as an expert on this topic for this person. Trust me, when this person thinks about this topic, they will think of you. They might even reach out to you to pick your brain or get your advice. This is the start of your journey of giving back to the community.

Sure, there are people who you look up to and are your role models, but there are many others who will want to trade positions with you. For instance, while you are attending one of the largest congregations of technical women on this planet, there are many others who are not. These girls and women long to be here but they are limited by awareness or resources. They would be excited to learn about your experience at GHC and speak to you for advice on how they can attend it in the future. Similarly, there are many such opportunities that we take for granted but are things that some others would find extremely useful.

When you are starting out, having a goal of connecting with just one person and really helping them in achieving their success can be very satisfying.

The critical thing when mentoring anyone is to meet the other person where they are, listen and ask thoughtful questions. This new challenge could provide you a larger purpose in life and make a meaningful difference in someone’s life at the same time.

In this age of the internet, finding someone who is in need of mentorship is not rocket science. A quick google search will reveal many groups, non-profits, hacker academies and meetups where women and people from underrepresented backgrounds hangout and seek to learn from someone ahead of them. Several options exist like finding an open-source meetup, lean-in circle or society of women engineers or a sorority near you.

It might seem like a very daunting task to find a topic of mentorship or a mentee who could really benefit from your experience. Start with choosing a topic, one that excites you or one that you have always wanted to master but keep on procrastinating; then find networking events via google/facebook search or organic findings; finally, go out there to attend these events and network mindfully.

Last but definitely not the least, learn the art of blogging — publishing content (short-form tweets and long-form articles) and media (pictures and videos) that captures your unique experience and voice. Through blogs, both your own and guest articles published on established channels like linux.com, InfoWorld, etc you will be able to build your brand and soon you will find yourself choosing between several mentorship opportunities.

In Summary

A good way to learn something is to teach it to someone.

Don’t assume that since you are early in your career or don’t have any professional experience, you don’t have anything to offer. There are many who will benefit from hearing your experiences of how you landed a job or how you chose subjects in college.

A good way to learn something is to teach it to someone. In the process not only do you grow your knowledge, but you also establish yourself as an expert for at least this one person.

Through paying it forward, you earn it back via building an active network and getting exposed to many new and exciting avenues that lead to personal and professional growth.

Anyone can start to give back to the community, you don’t need to wait to become an executive before starting down the mentorship path. We all need each other’s support and mentorship to flourish.

Photo by Jo Chou at LinkedIn + NextPlay Speed Mentoring event

Disclaimer: This story has been repurposed from my proposal to mentorship circle GHC 2019 where it wasn’t accepted. Part of this proposal and story is also featured in my LinkedIn post.

Neha Jain

Written by

Neha Jain

I dream of a world where our nature and earth's nature are in harmony.

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