When individuals think about having mentors in their professional lives, they might typically think about career development mentors. But other types of mentors can be equally important. In engineering, having a technical mentor who can share technical expertise is critical to career success and advancement.
Engineering technology can evolve rapidly, and both parties in a technical mentorship can benefit: The seasoned engineer (the mentor) has an opportunity to give back to the profession and stay up to date on technical aspects of the job, while the beginning engineer (the mentee) can learn from a skilled professional.
A 2019 CNBC study found that 91% of workers surveyed who had a mentor were satisfied with their jobs. That statistic is important for individuals who pursue a Master of Engineering Management to consider as they move into leadership roles and become responsible for advancing the expertise of new engineers.
What Is a Technical Mentor?
Unlike career development or coaching mentors, technical mentors focus on enhancing mentees’ technical expertise. Technical mentors help mentees expand their technical knowledge in a variety of ways, such as:
- Leading by example in problem-solving, prioritizing, and decision-making
- Explaining to mentees the thought process they use when resolving technical issues
- Discussing technical tools and methodologies with mentees
- Working with mentees to perform walkthroughs of items such as application code or technical instructions
- Inviting mentees to meetings with clients to understand how client needs fit into technical projects
Technical mentors should work with their mentees to help them identify technical goals and knowledge gaps. Sometimes technical mentors may assign new mentees noncritical tasks to gauge their knowledge. Some technical mentors also prepare technical guidebooks that cover the basics of the technologies the mentees will be using.
Of course, one of the most important responsibilities of a technical mentor is simply being a resource to answer mentees’ questions. But teaching mentees where they can go to find the answers to their questions is just as important.
5 Tips for Effective Technical Mentoring
The five tips outlined below can help strengthen technical mentorship and improve the chances for mentees’ career success.
1. Develop an Effective Communication Strategy
Establishing ground rules for communicating — on matters such as frequency of meetings, preferences for electronic communication, or informal drop-ins — helps the mentee understand the communication strategy and feel more comfortable in the mentoring relationship.
Technical mentors also need to be conscious of the technical terms and jargon they use and ensure that mentees understand the meaning of their words. Actively listening during discussions also can help technical mentors understand mentees’ concerns and respond appropriately.
2. Establish a Level of Trust
Successful mentoring relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust. Technical mentors should avoid any tendency to micromanage their mentees. Treating mentees with respect, giving them responsibility, and allowing them to work independently help to establish trust.
The primary purpose of technical mentoring is for the mentee to learn, and periodically reinforcing that concept with mentees also helps to build trust. When technical mentors openly encourage mentees to approach them about any topic, they can diminish the awkwardness that mentees may feel about the mentoring relationship.
3. Give Mentees Space to Make Their Own Decisions
Mentees need to think for themselves, and good technical mentors guide their mentees to make decisions based on their own judgment.
While allowing mentees to make their own decisions may be more time-consuming initially, it enables mentees to develop their problem-solving skills and build their confidence in the long run. Technical mentors should focus on offering advice and instruction, rather than making decisions on the mentee’s behalf.
4. Ask Mentees Whether to Offer Feedback and Listen to Mentees’ Feedback
Of course, good technical mentorship involves providing feedback to mentees, but when technical mentors begin by inquiring whether mentees are ready for feedback, they can demonstrate respect for their mentees.
Technical mentors need to ensure that their feedback is prompt, constructive, specific, and simple. Good feedback spotlights both the positive and the negative. Technical mentors should deliver feedback in a private setting and use a measured tone.
Listening to mentees’ feedback also helps technical mentors identify how to improve the mentoring relationship. Asking mentees whether they feel they are meeting their goals is a good way to elicit their feedback.
5. Stay Up to Date on Technical Innovations
The mentoring process is a learning opportunity for technical mentors because they need to be knowledgeable about the latest technical innovations. Sometimes the two parties in a mentoring relationship can even teach each other about new technologies.
The process of mentoring itself has been moving toward new technologies to improve mentoring outcomes. Artificial intelligence to match mentors and mentees and apps to manage goal setting, monitor engagement, and track progress are now available to help facilitate effective mentoring relationships.
The Role of Engineering Leaders in Technical Mentoring
Technical mentorship in engineering is important in promoting efficiency and productivity, ensuring the continuity of the profession, and enabling the profession to advance.
The specific benefits derived from technical mentoring in engineering illustrate how important technical mentoring can be. For example, technical mentoring can:
- Reduce inefficiencies that result in lost time and wages
- Boost engineers’ job satisfaction
- Increase diversity among engineers
- Improve employee retention
While the educational and experiential benefits mentees can derive from technical mentoring are clear, the benefits to technical mentors also are important. For example, technical mentors get to:
- Experience the rewards of sharing their expertise
- Develop soft skills in areas such as communication and employee motivation
- Expand their networks of engineering colleagues
- Give back to the engineering profession
Thoughtful and intentional technical mentoring can enable engineers to continue making advances that benefit society as a whole.
Leadership in Engineering: An Opportunity to Advance the Profession
Individuals who pursue leadership positions in engineering can contribute to the profession and guide new engineers through technical mentorship.
Exploring Ohio University’s online Master of Engineering Management program is a good way to learn about moving into a leadership role in engineering. Start on a path toward the rewards of engineering leadership today.
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