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by: Zank, CEO of Bennett Data Science

Mentorship is probably the single most important source of outside help I’ve ever received. I spent 10 years at a big consulting company and I worked for a wonderful man, Duane. He was slow.

This is all for good reason; when Duane started programming, he had to punch holes in punch cards and feed them into a computer manually. When something went wrong, he had to recreate the entire stack of cards. So when he started using modern computers, he held onto this careful methodology.

And it drove me crazy. But when he finished slowly finger-pecking a few lines of code into the terminal and the code ran, he always got the result he was after.

What I learned from Duane

I think of him every time I attack a new problem as crazy-quickly as I can and it errors out and I fix it and run the code and there’s another error and so on. Lots of people do it this way.

And when I don’t get an answer I like, I use breakpoints and print statements in my code to let me know how things are progressing. Duane was different. He’d look up at me and say something like, “The answer is roughly one divided by the square root of the number of samples.” Please go run the analysis.

I remember coming back after a week of work only to tell him, “Yep, the answer is about 1 over root n”. I can’t shake that memory. He had intuition, and I wanted it. So I started to ask him questions and spent as much time with him as possible. Sitting with him at lunch? Yep. Sailing trip in San Francisco? You bet! Over the years we worked together, I became more confident and a much better coder and critical thinker. He was the most important mentor I ever had in terms of technical skills.

Mentorship today

Nowadays I spend a lot of time with tremendous business people, learning how to best work with clients and grow our firm. I apply the same approach that I did with Duane. I get close, I ask questions and I listen a lot. And the advice I received helped me tremendously.

Convinced yet?

If so, you may wonder how you can find a mentor? Or maybe you’ve been around the block and you’d like to start mentoring others yourself. How can you find people who need your help?

The answer… find someone you’re interested in working with and ask them.

People have asked me for help over the years and I formed wonderful relationships with more than a few budding young scientists and entrepreneurs, as a result. And I’ve asked others to help me. Something like, “Hi Jenifer, I really admire how you XYZ, and I think I could learn so much from you. Would you be willing to have a quick half-hour meeting with me once every two weeks?”

Accountability calls

Darren Hardy recommends a weekly accountability call (based on yearly or quarterly goals) that can go something like this:

  • Name three things that went well this week?
  • What thing or things didn’t go well this week?
  • Specify what you are going to do to change that?
  • What was your one a-ha from the week?

I do this each week, and have been for over two years with my mentor, and I get a ton out of it. (Thanks S.C.!!)

Still need convincing? Check out this wonderful book, Your Best Year Ever by Darren Hardy. He talks about mentorship and a whole lot more. I highly recommend it!

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