May 19, 2015
By Mary Stiff
The passing of one of my most fervent mentors has illuminated the topic for me as of late. My mentor was a former boss who always knew when to push or to pull or even when to stand down with a good “you’ll figure it out.” This mentorship taught me a lot about how to think when working with company leadership, and to think differently about my work and the engineering field as a whole. This industry does a lot of good around the world every day, not just in building the tallest bridge or in repaving a highway.
The industry is changing rapidly, but we still need those among us who can teach what the industry has already learned—and that knowledge is oftentimes bypassed in engineering school in favor of technical instruction in how to improve the world. Mentors teach protégés how to ready themselves for success in their own careers and methods for improving the world within the framework of their companies. They also teach the social side of the engineering field. The networking, contacts and opportunities they provide are invaluable.
We all know that mentors are important, but perhaps we don’t really understand the impact that we can have as mentors. It’s kind of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” thing. Protégés learn more than what the mentors teach. They learn confidence and that there is someone who will watch out for them. Someone who will teach them how and when to find their voices and vision and perhaps even directions they hadn’t considered. Mentors often teach actively, but just as often lead by example, modeling effective ways of conduct and communication.
AMT does a good job at mentoring its employees. Our leadership invests in the younger members of our industry, both inside the firm and through association contacts. We recognize that it’s essential that younger generations of engineers learn from what their forebears understand. That said, mentors learn from their protégés as well. Technology changes at such a rapid rate and younger engineers bring fresh perspective to problem solving. They challenge accepted ways of doing things and this is a good thing.
The mentor-protégé relationship is rich and rewarding for all involved and we as professionals need to seed out opportunities to support and encourage those who will take over when we set our sights on wearing black socks with sandals on a beach somewhere.*
*We strongly recommend against black socks with sandals. They are just wrong. Your protégé would tell you that.