The story behind Meet a Mentor and why we created it

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Meet a Mentor is now over four years old, the community has over 2000 people and we’ve made over 3000 introductions between mentors and mentees — but where did it all begin?

Earlier this week, someone asked me what my motivations for starting the Meet a Mentor community were. As I answered him, it occurred to me that others might also be interested in the reasons and origins of the Meet a Mentor (MaM) program. So, I’ve written this post to share it with everyone.

Ultimately, I’m a career geek/hacker. And what I mean by that is: I’m fascinated by careers. Why do people make the choices they make? We spend most of our lives at work, but still we often let chance or coincidence decide what we spend our careers on.

I find it sad that so many people don’t enjoy their careers. When you work in recruitment, you see behind the curtain of how career choices really work.

How much profound decisions can come down to serendipity or luck. Often people apply for a job based on quite abstract or random reasons, and it ends up dictating what happens for the rest of their lives. Or they’ve had particular mentors early in life that have moulded the choices they make. I see so many people do things mainly because that was what family did before them.

I worked in recruitment for a few months, saw how it all worked and my life and career has never been the same. Since then, I’ve been developing and running various initiatives that blend my passions of mentoring and community with recruitment, in order to help people improve their career and ultimately their life.

MaM is the culmination of ideas that date back to me being a kid. I remember wanting to create a TV show called, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, which would involve interviews with people about what they did.

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We set up the Graduate Developer Community in 2009 to help graduates understand what careers in tech looked like. This resulted in one of my career highlights where my advice put someone on a path to their dream job with CERN. I then set up a website with James Bowkett aimed at explaining the difference between various tech career options.

This led to the idea of running a series of speed mentoring events at universities. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea within the community. Members like Trisha Gee, Martijn Verburg and Ben Evans were excited by the concept. We set about organising events at universities for 5–10 students at a time. Moving from table to table, they could meet with mentors from different industries and positions and learn tremendous amounts over the course of a short evening.

We ran events at a variety of venues including Kings, Queen Mary and UCL. We had mentors from every major bank and tech company in London and several startups. We ran about 50 events and helped over 1000 students.

After that, I began making mentor focussed introductions between junior CTOs and experienced CTOs. I realised that all levels of experience face similar hurdles and it got to the point I was making mentor introductions almost weekly.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Over the years, I spent a lot of time talking about what mentorship was all about. In particular, with Sandro Mancuso, who is the leader of the London Software Craftsmanship Community. Mentorship plays a huge part in the Software Craftsmanship world and Sandro helped me understand it’s importance in software development.

I started experimenting with Slack and realised we could use it to make introductions. And here we are, over 3000 introductions later. I personally made the first few hundred introductions with the help of Dominique Carlo our ‘Head of Things’ but it is fairly time-consuming, I reached a point where I no longer had the bandwidth to take it on and was lucky enough to have Helen Lewis in the team who fell in love with the idea of making the introductions, Helen has been been doing it with Dom’s help ever since.

Speaking personally, my motivations are both personal and professional. Personally, it boiled down to doing something new and interesting, and being able to use our network and resources to help people. We plugged a gap that existed, connecting those early in their careers with people a few steps further along. Professionally, we built and expanded our network and ensured people understood that at RecWorks, we really do care and are more than just a recruitment agency.

If you’d like to learn more about the Meet a Mentor program, you can here.

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