What I Learned as a Mentor During Holiday Office Hours

This past holiday season, Dustin Senos set into motion the awesome Holiday Office Hours (or as I called it to myself, HOH). HOH encouraged tech professionals mentor others during slower weeks in December. I signed up to mentor as soon as I heard about it and set aside a bunch of 30-minute time slots to meet people either in-person or over video chat. My schedule filled up at a furious rate. I was a little freaked out, but I got amped and started hosting my first office hours.

Meeting with new people is best over coffee and a snack.

I mentor designers and entrepreneurs on the regs, but this experience felt novel. I’ll attempt to articulate how by sharing the new things I learned.

  1. Sometimes the best help you can give is to just be there. As someone who seldom views work through lenses of gender or ethnicity, I was seriously thrown by the role these attributes play in mentorship. A few of my HOH mentees expressed how challenging it is to gain access to instantly-relatable tech role models. I hadn’t even realized that the original cast of the HOH mentor list was all-male, and grew to feature only 15 females of a total 60 mentors. One mentee thanked me for simply making myself available to her so that she can start to visualize a future for herself in the workplace. It floored me that I could help someone just by being around.
  2. Your early experience pretty much doesn’t apply to today’s newbies. I’m not really old, but I’m totally internet-old. Whenever I’m asked how I got my start in mobile and web, I instinctively start tossing canisters of Pringles into my time machine for the trip ahead. Thanks to HOH, I’ve realized that needs to stop. The context in which I got my start has almost nothing to do with today’s context. It’s downright terrifying for young women to hear my tales of being one of three females in a team of 40 engineers, being told by my boss that having a baby should be my next career step, and being excluded from promotion decisions made in strip clubs after hours. Things have thankfully improved since the “I remember when” days. Going forward, when mentees ask how I got my start, I’ll highlight more timeless attributes that helped me push through, like persistence, humility & resourcefulness.
  3. If mentees arrive unprepared, call it out. Don’t let your mentee leave feeling unfulfilled after wandering aimlessly through seat-of-their-pants questions. The best lesson an unprepared mentee can learn is how to help themselves better in the future by preparing goals and questions for future sessions. Sensitive mentors might opt to avoid this friction and say nothing, which can do more harm than good.
  4. Get ready to be amazed. A couple mentees I advised left me with a wonderful feeling that young designers and developers are going to change this industry for the better. There is some incredible drive and talent out there. They aren’t sitting in the wings waiting to make an impact — they’re out there doing it today, before they even land their first job. The more I talk to the next generation, the more excited I get for my own future where I’ll get to work with (or for) them. Yay!
  5. Putting yourself out on social media can be a selfless act? As someone who retired from most social channels for encouraging a vanity-driven life, I’m still wrapping my head around this. Young and aspiring professionals want experienced pros to be accessible on social media. It is a way of giving back, apparently. I’m still not sure how to prioritize being active on social media when I’m in back-to-back offline meetings, but I’m going to make a conscious effort now that I’ve realized I can have a social presence that’s more about sharing and giving.

It’s cool to look back on the last two weeks of 2016 and know I accomplished something meaningful for myself and others. I look forward to participating again in this program, now rebranded Out of Office Hours.