I have run an informal mentoring program, every single Monday, since 2018. It’s very simple; I use the hashtag #CyberMentoringMonday on Twitter and Mastadon, to try to help people find each other. I don’t pair people myself (it turns out I am an awful matchmaker), people use the thread to announce they are looking for a mentor or offering mentoring, and then the rest is up to them. Since starting it there have been countless amazing human beings who have offered their time, expertise, and assistance to those who want to join our field, all for free. I don’t run it by myself anymore, it’s bigger than me now, several other people run it with me! Although most of the ‘action’ happens in direct/private messages, there is more happening than it may appear.
Anyone can help with #CyberMentoringMonday, just use the hashtag to help people find each other!
This small mentoring program has helped thousands of people find each other over the years. It has resulted in jobs, friendships, starting companies together, and more. Since I have been running this program for a long time, people often ask me how to be a good mentor. I would love to tell you all that I know the answer and that applies for every situation, but we all know one size does not fit all. That said, I will tell you what has worked for me, and that is advocacy. Advocating for the people I am mentoring, by sending them as many opportunities as I can.
Mentoring can take many forms, but the format that has always worked best for me (receiving and giving) is to create opportunities (which is part of advocacy!). I have had my professional mentors do all sorts of amazing things for me, such as: standing on stage with me when I gave my first conference talk so I wouldn’t have a nervous meltdown, telling a hiring manager they wouldn’t accept the job unless I was hired too, introducing me to people who wanted to hire me/buy my services and/or products, helping me navigate having people stalk me online, and more. To say I am incredibly grateful to my mentors would be an understatement.
Anyone can help participate in #CyberMentoringMonday, as a mentor and/or as a mentee. And it’s freeeeeeee!
In attempts to ‘even the scales’ and ‘pay it forward’, I do my best to advocate for others whenever possible, especially those from groups that are underrepresented in tech (such as women, disabled people, people of colour, etc.). Since I fit into more than one of these groups, I do my best to lift us all up, not just myself.
I am of the opinion that if I’m going to work my butt off to open the door for myself, it’s not that much more work to hold it open for one more person. Seriously, it’s really not that much extra work. If I manage to get myself invited to be a guest on a podcast, it takes very little effort to put myself out there a tiny bit more and say “Hey, are you looking for more guests? Because I have a list of a bunch of other women security experts, who are less well known that me, but who are equally knowledgeable and awesome. Want some intros?” The worst they can do is say no. And I have to tell you, most of them say “Hell yeah, send me that list!”
I’m going to tell you about some of the ways that I use my power to help others, in hopes that YOU think of ways that you can share your power and/or privilege with others.
Examples Advocating for Others:
Example 1: I wrote an essay to explain to a conference why one of my mentees deserved a diversity grant. She has worked SO HARD to teach herself and change careers. She won the grant because of her hard work, but my essay helped. It took me 30 minutes, and she benefited.
Example 2: I brainstormed talk ideas with a mentee, then she built an amazing technical proof of concept. I asked a conference that I was keynoting to book her, even though she’d never spoken before. She was AMAZING! Out of this world! I knew she would be good, but she was 10 times better than I would have dared to hope for. I’m so proud of her!!!
Example 3: When I’m invited to speak somewhere but cannot make it, I ask if they would like me to recommend someone else. I have a list of people who are not as well-known as I am, but who are amazing. I always recommend one of them to take my place. I advocate for them.
Example 4: I asked a friend to let one of my mentees into his very expensive training for free, and he said yes. I let her stay in my hotel room with me so she could afford the trip. It cost me one favour and sharing my room, to give her a huge leg up for her career.
I use the power and privileges of my career and whatever job I’m currently doing to help others, and you can too. You may not even realize how much power you have until you start helping someone.
Sometimes it’s recommending or loaning someone the right book. Sometimes it’s about letting them have a place in your training, workshop, talk, or conference for free. It’s giving someone a lift to an event they wouldn’t be able to get to themselves. Sometimes it’s helping them when they are stuck at work on a technical problem and you give them the answer. Maybe you will introduce them to the person who will hire them some day. It’s about helping however you can. You don’t need to put yourself out very much, to make a big difference in someone else’s life. And it’s definitely worth it!
I have a secret for you all: helping others FEELS GOOD. And the more often you do it, the more you will want to do it again.
I hope to see some of y’all at the next #CyberMentoringMonday!