After being independent, several people encouraged me to share my experiences with others as a mentor, since some of the backgrounds are unique yet relevant enough to those who are working inside/outside of the industry:
- Took multiple roles between engineering, science, and business;
- Served different scales of business at start-up, Big Tech, and as an independent;
- Worked globally (both physically and remotely) on diverse verticals such as e-commerce, gaming, online media, and supply chain.
Following the comments, I registered to ADPList, a free online mentoring platform, and mentored about 10 people over the last three weeks.
Note that everyone's life is highly contextualized in a certain situation, and mine is not an exception. Therefore, a general recommendation is NOT to take a single person's advice too seriously and try to incorporate multiple perspectives from diverse people.
Would you be willing to take an action NOW?
First and foremost, regardless of the form of mentoring, I ultimately give only one take-home message to mentees: Your specialty comes only from experience. The point my mentor made explicit more than five years ago is the most important (and only) statement I still recall regularly.
Simply put, it means Don't (over-)think. Just do. When people challenge something new or take a big step toward ambitious goals, they understandably become anxious about the situation and often try to be very strategic, resulting in a deadlock condition where we overthink and cannot move as quickly as it should. Of course, in-depth investigation and planning do help and increase the odds, but specialty (e.g., certain knowledge or skills) is mostly experiential at the end of the day.
For example, if you want to be a web developer, make your hands dirty as soon as possible and learn how to create applications in a hands-on fashion. There are several tutorial content and online platforms that allow you to create and publish full-fledged working examples. Eventually, it will naturally give you an experiential coding power, yield the first revision of the portfolio, and surfaces particular topics you may want to dive deep into as a next step. Practically speaking, there are multiple ways to acquire new skills, and you don't have to read a pile of beefy textbooks or take formal education. In other words, if you hesitate to generate a visible output by yourself in your spare time, your motivation is unlikely strong enough.
Meanwhile, preparing for interviews is everyone's favorite topic, and my experience tells me that there is no such a moment as "once I become ready". Though we should research a typical interview process, review basic data structures and system design techniques, and jot down talking points about previous work, nothing beats the experiential learnings from real (or realistic, mock) interviews. In many cases, now is the best time to take an action unless you already know a specific direction (e.g., technology to be an expert of, company to enter) you want to pursue, which you won't know until you gain experience.
Even if things went wrong due to the actions, the experience remains, and we at least know what didn't work. It narrows down a search space and eases considering the next steps. For this reason, I am a strong believer in the statement that an individual's specialty is experiential, and hence I always emphasize the point when it comes to mentoring.
After mentoring a few people on ADPList, as well as my previous in-person/virtual conversations with others about career growth in general, I found some commonalities in what I'm asked and how I reply to them. Here, I list three of them for reference.
What is the best way to learn new skills? — My answer would be the same as the above, and I'd look for project-based online courses or books that enable me to undergo an end-to-end process in a hands-on manner. I've been following the principle whenever I learn something new e.g., UI/UX design, blockchain, data visualization with React, and sustainability and nutritional science. Make sure you wear a hat of those who are professionally working on the topic.
How can I get a job as a full-stack developer? — Many people are aware of the high demand for full-stack engineering positions, who can work both on frontend and backend, or even some data and business stuff by themselves. But I'd suggest focusing on a particular domain, to begin with. In my opinion, full-stack development is not something you can "learn", and it's more of a set of diverse expertise you organically gained from previous experiences. Many job postings are indeed seeking full-stack generalists because, from an employer's perspective, such a hybrid role is "cost-efficient" as a single employee brings wide-ranging contributions. However, to be a generalist in a practical way, there are numerous things we should learn from real-life experiences such as scalability in production and conflicts with stakeholders. That's why I don't recommend taking a strategic approach to getting the attractive "full-stack" job title.
How does the life and job market (as a software engineer) in Canada look like? — I cannot speak about Canada as a whole, but my experience in Vancouver, BC, and some anecdotal evidence show that the uniqueness can be twofold: (i) there are a lot of small businesses that do not have a clear picture of their technical problems but do want to hire skilled software engineers for digital transformation, yielding a lot of all-in-one "full-stack" type of job postings, and (ii) large global companies are leveraging the place to hire massive employees at a lower cost, meaning a salary range for tech occupations is high in Vancouver but still noticeably lower than the US. Indeed, these situations are not pleasant for picky job seekers (like me), but they may work for you. If getting a software job is your top priority, my general recommendation is to take interviews at large global companies, since their door is widely opening in Vancouver.
Notice that these are my general thoughts that are not specific to any individual I have interacted. I hope people find something useful out there, but it's crucial both for mentors and mentees to leverage them as a baseline and personalize the answers through communication.
Joy of mentoring
So far, I've enjoyed mentoring people online. It's not only transferring my experiential knowledge to someone else but getting motivated by the mentee's proactive attitude. That is, it is a mutual relationship between mentor & mentee who support each other, and I found the use of time has a positive influence on my life. Importantly, our communication is always positional, so the more people we talk to, the more crystalized insights we gain.
Not to mention mentors themselves also have a lot of things to learn to become better mentors. In particular, the difference between mentoring, tutoring, and coaching poses a common myth they first need to correct, and they should learn how to effectively communicate with mentees. Or, as a result of sharing my stories, I sometimes find my weakness on a certain topic; it's an awakening moment that reminds me of my incompleteness, and a mentor is a "mentee" at the same time.
The next step may be exploring different options to act as a mentor. Unfortunately, on the free ADPList platform, last-minute cancellations or no-shows happen quite often; although life happens, I hope everyone shows a little more accountability for the bookings and respects others' time. Meanwhile, different mentoring platforms have a different distribution of demographics. Thus, even though I have no plan to become profitable by mentoring, moving to a paid program e.g., on MentorCruise can be a reasonable choice to establish a more responsible, longer-term relationship with the communities.
In any case, I'm grateful for being part of the mentorship communities and meeting with passionate people across the globe.
- My 2022 Annual Review: Towards the Deepness
- Rethinking Why, When, and How I Learn
- Next "Dot" in Journey: Curiosity-Driven Job Change in Canada (Aug 2021)
Last updated: 2022-12-08
Author: Takuya Kitazawa
Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, previously working at a Big Tech and Silicon Valley-based start-up company where he wore multiple hats as a full-stack software developer, machine learning engineer, data scientist, and product manager. At the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications, he is passionate about promoting the ethical use of information technologies through his mentoring, business consultation, and public engagement activities. See CV for more information.Support by donation Gift a cup of coffee
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