A lot of people in traditional corporate jobs ask me for advice on how to make the move to tech. One of the things I tell many of them is to find a reverse mentor.
A reverse mentor is when the student becomes the teacher. When someone (often) less experienced than you offers valuable knowledge that can open new doors to the way you do things or think. Given that I learned to type on a typewriter and went to college before the Internet, I’ve had a lot of reverse mentors as I’ve become more involved in tech in the past few years. The help and advice of these reverse mentors have helped to give me the knowledge, confidence and connections to make the leap to the start up space. So, if you are sitting in a corporate job dreaming of joining a tech start up, you likely need a reverse mentor.
Here are three ways they can help you:
- Technology: OK, I admit it. A few years ago, I thought Twitter was weird. Now I think people who think Twitter is weird are weird. The wonderful Christine Dyer, Founder of Bridaltweet who used to work for me at Amex, taught me not only how to use it, but how it’s a powerful marketing tool for brands. And if it weren’t for Alex Taub, I’d still have a Hotmail address. So, if # and @ look like hieroglyphics to you, and you still have a clamshell phone or AOL email address, find a reverse mentor. Now. Seriously. Go.
- Networking: Networking is no longer the realm of cheesy sales people. It’s what powers the NYC tech community and is second nature to those who grew up in it. Even though I’m an extrovert, networking used to scare the bejeezus out of me. Enter Matt Friend and Alison Lindland, who both used to report to me at Amex and are MASTER networkers. These guys literally would tell me after meetings who and how to follow up with to build my external network. Sample conversation -> Them: Go ahead, ask him to coffee and ask him about his business. Me: Do you think he really wants to? Matt would literally drag me up to talk to panelists after events. And now, my network is broad and meaningful and people ask me for advice on networking. So, if you don’t know how to properly use LinkedIn or how to build mutually beneficial relationships, attach yourself to a master networker. Or hire one.
- The lingo: If you want to be involved in tech, you can’t sound like a visitor from yesteryear. You’ve gotta be able to talk the talk. So, if you don’t know what UI/UX stands for and why it’s important or if you think a Rails Developer has something to do with trains, you need to 1) read blogs like TechCrunch & SAI and 2) find some nice people who know and won’t make fun of you when you ask.
Even if you don’t long for a job at a tech start up, hanging with a reverse mentor 1) is fun and 2) keeps you from becoming a dinosaur in your current job. Go ahead. Take the hipster in the design department out for coffee. You’ll both be glad you did.