by Rick West

Why one mentor just isn’t enough

A mentor can give career guidance and help with learning. They can teach you how to solve problems, network, and the list goes on.

I’m lucky enough to work under and be mentored by a senior developer with 20 years of experience. This is awesome. And it’s incredible how much I’ve improved as a developer since working with him.

But, as I’ve become more proficient and have started consuming more content. I’m beginning to see that there is always more than one way to approach a problem. There are many ways, other than his way.

This got me thinking back to my previous life as a plumber. I left school and started from the bottom. I learned my craft, gained experience and became an expert at that discipline.

Moving into software development, I’m starting that whole process again — from the bottom!

I’m fortunate, because having that previous experience has helped me understand what it takes to learn and become proficient in a skill.

I know how to learn.

I have been able to identify several parallels between my old and new careers. And I’m sure these parallels will extend into pretty much any career. Because of my past experience, I have a different perspective on having a mentor.

In construction, you start out as an apprentice. You may have some foundational knowledge from college, but in general you are learning your trade from a more experienced “mentor.” This is a fantastic method of learning that has proved to work time and time again.

During an apprenticeship, you get to learn foundational skills from an experienced boss or co-worker in a hands-on position. As soon as you start working, the progress you make is unbelievable. You improve at a phenomenal rate.

However, what you are learning is one person’s “way.”

At this point in your career, you don’t have a clear concept of what’s good, bad, right or wrong. You’re not necessarily being shown the best way.

As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat!

When I left my first job as an apprentice plumber, I moved on and started working with someone else. Someone else with a totally different approach to solving certain problems.

Better ways? Sometimes!

But different for sure. I learned a different way of thinking about a problem, a different way to approach a solution. I learned and improved.

Throughout a 10-year plumbing and heating career, I had the pleasure of working with several exceptionally skilled colleagues. I took something from each of them and blended the best bits together to find the right way for me. This enabled me to become the best plumber that I could be. You could even say that I became a better plumber than my more experienced mentors.

Its easy to believe that your way is best and there is no need to improve or explore other options. For some people this is fine. But this attitude can stop you from reaching your full potential.

Being the type of person I am, I’m always eager to learn and improve. Being “as good” as my mentor would be amazing. But my personality makes me want to be better.

But to be better I need to learn from other people too. Otherwise, I’ll just become a clone of him. I’ve still got so much to learn from him. But I’m also keen to explore other ways to learn and approach things.

This advice transcends into any career or any subject that you might be learning. Learn from as many people as you can and seek new input and improvement all the time.

An experienced and trusted adviser

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t always need an in-person mentor, and it doesn’t always have to be a one-on-one mentor/mentee relationship.

Say, for example, you’re learning web development. Read books by different authors and follow tutorials by different instructors. Listen to different podcasts. Go to meet-ups and conferences. Anyone with more experience who shares content and knowledge is your mentor — whether they know it or not!

Always assume that there is a better way to do something. Explore different options, and find a way that suits you and your way of thinking the best.

Pick the best qualities from each source of learning.

Treat your skill set like your fantasy football dream team. Cherry pick the best people for the best positions!

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