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Posted on: Friday, 27 August 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Jack triggers a casual conversation about his need for mentorship

Yes, that mentorship where he is looking for an 'in office mentor' to handhold him and help him grow technically. He feels he is not 'growing' because he does not have a mentor who can train him.

He talks at length about the glory of his past mentors as you listen in silence. You happen to know and respect some of these guys that he is talking about, personally. Five minutes into the conversation and you have realized the absurdity of it all.

Respecting someone for his talents and wisdom is perfect but when people start putting other human beings on a pedestal higher than themselves and start hoping that these mentors will show them the way, strange things happen.

You look at Jack wondering if you should tell him to snap out of the Matrix. You wonder if he is ready for the red pill.

That red pill.

Then you do it. You ask him to name one hugely successful project of one of these mentors that he is talking about actually led from the forefront.

Silence. Crickets chirping.

Ok, how many times did this mentor of his actually conduct a training where he wrote code that inspired Jack?

More crickets.

Newsflash! These mentors were just as lost and confused as Jack himself or me.

Ours is a business where we mix way too many things together. We mix authorship with authority, years of experience with technical competence, a condescending attitude with power or wisdom and respect with mentorship. We see people with power or authority and assume that just because they were able to get themselves in a position where they can demonstrate power or authority, we need stop questioning and start following them.

The red pill in the software development world is about challenging the validity of every human being you learn from. Question everything that they have to say. Look for your own facts, take your own decisions and make your own judgment calls.

As you read this, you are either nodding your head in agreement or shaking it in disagreement. I am not going to try and convince you one way or the other because becoming your mentor is the last thing that is on my mind. I am not good enough to mentor anyone and I have no misconnections about that.

If I can just collaborate with a few interesting minds around the world, learn something from them, teach them a thing or two and exchange ideas worth sharing with them, I have done my part.

Now stop cribbing about not having a mentor at your workplace. Go find the best alpha geeks and loud characters out there and collaborate with them. Mentorship is not a one way street. It's cluster-fuck of hundreds of minds engaging in countless battles of ideas, facts or techniques and learning from  those battles. These battles can cause a few scars but once you get the point they are so worth the scars they cause.

Now the real question you have you ask yourself is:

Are you man enough to put yourself out there and participate?

Go on. Connect with the best of the minds you can find and then learn from them. I dare you.