When you’re at the beginning of your IT career and learning as much as you can, networking is one of the most rewarding things you can do. And when you are networking, I believe it’s very important to begin identifying a mentor. By mentor, I don’t mean a casual relationship you strike up with a colleague. I mean something more formal. Casual conversation is good, but actually asking someone how you get better at different skills and attributes, working with someone who has been there, can be very powerful.
IT is a field with a rich tradition of mentorship. I’ve had some great mentors in my past, and one thing they taught me was less to be a great manager and more about being a true leader. I’ve not only mentored people that work with me inside my company now but also people who are external; people I used to work with as well as people I’ve kept in touch with over the years.
Plan, Deepen and Broaden
I encourage up-and-coming talents to ask someone they admire for mentorship. And you should have a plan of different areas you want to cover: your communication style, expanding your knowledge, your role as an IT professional, your ability to talk about thought leadership within your industry, your skills in understanding business processes, and so on. For example, I think a key IT skill going forward will be to have a voice about technology and leadership and how you can transform IT organizations.
I’ve been a proponent of telling people to broaden within their IT realm and get outside of IT and learn the business. That may be an uncomfortable feeling at first, but I tell people I mentor to take it easy and go out there and learn about the business. I’ve also stressed that you should try to build a network outside your company, because it’s very helpful to understand how people operate in other industries and companies. Where you are at, is not the only way to do things and the only way people operate. I’ve done that myself and I also counsel people to do that.
People I talk to are always surprised at how willing people are to act as mentors and how much they have to offer. That’s never a surprise to me. I’ve looked to mentors who can help me broaden my skills and knowledge wherever I am. I’ve done almost every job in IT, and I think that allows me to connect better to IT professionals that are part of my organization as well as those outside. I’ve also found mentors across industries, from previous roles in insurance, transportation, logistics and retail; all of which have given me a great perspective for business that I can use to help people with their knowledge and career. It’s a journey that continues to this day, and one every IT professional should undertake.
Cynthia Stoddard is the senior vice president and CIO at NetApp. In her role as CIO, she is responsible for providing a long-term technology vision that supports and is aligned with the company’s strategies and goals, business plans, operating requirements, and overall efficiencies. She has over 25 years of business experience and IT expertise leading large global organizations in supply chain, retail, and technology companies.
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