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Jun 22 / 2017

The Lost Art of Mentorship

Christian Duvall, Group Vice President, Enterprise Services


I can remember it like it was yesterday. That is, how I began my journey as a software developer.

Join me for a moment, while I take a trip down memory lane.

Like many others of my approximate age, my tale begins with the Texas Instruments TI-85 Graphing Calculator. For the uninitiated, the TI-85 had a shell implementation of the BASIC programming language, which was the perfect gateway-drug to my programming addiction.

In study hall I would write little “apps,” like a number guessing game or basic blackjack. I even wrote a dating game that would ask you questions, then randomly pick another class member as your “perfect match.” If AdWords existed back then, I could’ve bought those Oakley sunglasses I always wanted from the use of that one alone.


I had the bug and I was absolutely hooked.

During that same time – many years ahead of the emergence of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) – I was playing entirely text-based roleplaying games (MUDs), spending most of my free time slaying dragons and making friends all across the world.

Sorry ladies, I’m taken.

When a chance came to start actually coding the MUD I played, I enthusiastically jumped on it. Sure, I exaggerated my experience a bit, but I knew I was going to be successful. I felt it in my bones. All that was left to do was trivial task of learning to program in C …

So, I grabbed a book on Borland’s Turbo C and got to work. Surely there would be a chapter on writing online role playing games? Of course not. Most of my early gains were actually spent downloading other developers’ “snippets,” which contained patch files to apply to the vanilla code base. This rapidly took me from novice to your average StackOverflow user of today. I became very skilled at finding other people’s code and adapting it to the outcomes that I actually wanted.

A turning point came the day I met another MUD developer, who was already working in industry as a software engineer. He was a meticulous developer, favoring predictable style and convention and he constantly provided me with learning opportunities. Through his feedback and expertise, I was invited into a world of pointers, linked lists, hash tables and bucket chains. Before I even stepped foot into a university classroom, he had provided me with a wealth of education, all at the cost of nothing more than a little time. Time he was more than happy to spend talking about his passion.

In today’s world, the ability to seek out answers is easier than ever. Thanks to the explosion of the Internet, the answer to most any issue you face is a Google search away.

Yet with the amazing convenience, we’ve lost one important thing – we’ve lost the need to seek the advice and wisdom of others.

I often see developers, so habitualized into finding the answers alone, that they rob themselves of the massive experience that surrounds them every day. Indeed, this is the lost art of mentorship.

My advice to technology professionals at any level is to seek out a mentor. From CEO to newbie dev – we are all works-in-progress – and there is no shame in having someone to accelerate your growth. If you aren’t sure where to start, you may have forgotten that Google isn’t just a debugging tool.

If you run a team or development organization, create a mentorship program or at the very least, facilitate a culture of knowledge sharing through lunch n’ learns, presentations and even company chat rooms.

At Workstate, mentorship is an extremely important part of our culture and success. When you hire us, you hire a little bit of everyone in the entire organization and borrow from hundreds of years of cumulative experience across many clients.

Embarrassingly, I don’t remember the name of my early mentor (and I bet he doesn’t remember mine). But the lessons he taught me are used to this day and I promise you that someone else out there is writing better code because of his impact on me.

Mentorship also goes hand-in-hand with our client relationships -- we value both teaching and learning. Reach out to have a conversation.

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