The value of experience and mentoring

By Natalia Marek, TechUp Women Graduate

There is a lot of research with regards to the benefits of mentoring. We can find out that mentoring is associated with a wide range of favourable behavioural, attitudinal, health-related, relational, motivational, and career outcomes. So, overall it is not just about career guidance. Here I would like to talk about my experience with mentoring and shadowing that was possible thanks to BJSS.

Does mentoring matter?

First a bit about my background – I have Master’s degree in Psychology, and I have been working as a self-employed behaviour therapist for the last few years. I started learning to programme in 2019 and my goal is to work in the tech industry by the end of this year. I joined the TechUp Women scheme and as part of my training to get into programming, I was very lucky to be assigned a mentor from BJSS. My mentor, Harriet Dixon, a Software Developer at BJSS in Leeds, had all the qualities of the mentor I could ask for – she was proactive with her approach, contacting me from time to time to check how everything was going when I went quiet, and answering all the questions I asked (so many of them!).

I must say, I undervalued the importance of mentoring before I started my training – I thought this wouldn’t be a wise use of my time, considering that I had to work full time in a very demanding job whilst learning to code. I was very wrong! I received support with regards to my career path – I wasn’t sure what should I focus on, whether the language that we had been learning during TechUp training was the ‘right’ one and then questions around interview processes. Harriet explained to me what working as a software developer in the tech industry looked like. I found that very helpful. We had regular phone calls scheduled and that gave me a good opportunity not only to get some advice frequently enough but also to self-reflect upon the work I had done. And finally, thanks to my mentor and Business Analyst, Eleanor Davill, who I had an opportunity to meet during one of the TechUP residentials, it was possible for me to shadow one of the teams at the BJSS Manchester office.

A one day experience?

One could think – well it all looks great, but how will one day of experience help? Surely one day is not enough to count as any kind of experience on your CV. And of course, it won’t replace one year of experience working in the industry, but that one day – that was carefully arranged by BJSS, so that I could gain as much knowledge and learning opportunities as possible was a tremendous opportunity to learn, that cannot be replaced by any course. I was assigned to shadow one of the Manchester teams, with close support and help from Senior Business Analyst and Product Owner, Matt Visser.

My day in the Manchester office started with being introduced to the team. I then sat down with Matt, who briefed me with regards to the product the team was working on and explained what my day was going to look like. I had a chance to see how the product development had looked until then, and how the partnership between the client and the BJSS team worked.

Shortly after, I participated in a daily stand up with the whole team, which was a great opportunity to see everyday work in Agile environment but also team dynamics and the importance of communication and good leadership. Next up, I participated in a ‘Three amigos’ meeting, where the team was working on a crucial issue. Up to this point, I had read a lot about the Agile and Three amigos (and I mean a lot!), but this was a great opportunity for me to see why this way of working is so effective.

Last but not least, at the very end of the day I was a part of a sprint planning meeting, again with the whole team. There was a lot of information and interaction, but afterwards, I sat down with Matt to discuss everything and he was ready to answer all the many questions I had carefully written down throughout the day.

Lack of experience and advice is often a problem for people that are just starting their journey into tech or like me are undertaking a career change. Thanks to my mentor and the BJSS Manchester team this journey is turning out to be a lot easier than expected. This was a great opportunity for me, and a great example of how vital mentoring and advice could be.