Saturday, May 15, 2010

Guest Post: Teddy Reed "A Mentorship is a Great Opportunity"

Today, our guest blogger is Teddy Reed. His blog post on "Interviewing for Information Security Internships" can be found here.

My name is Teddy Reed and I’m an undergraduate entering my senior year in college. This past year I was selected as a mentee for the Scholarship for Service’s trial mentorship program. The program is sponsored by the NSF and pairs Scholarship recipients with Information Security professionals in an attempt to help the mentees focus their career. For more information on the SFS program checkout their website at (www.sfs.opm.gov). I’ve also been a mentor for computer science students as part of my university’s computer science honor society (Upsilon Pi Epsilon). However, the honor society’s mentorship program is more aimed towards tutorship.

A mentorship is a great opportunity for both the mentor and the mentee. I’m a strong advocate of mentoring programs, as both a past mentor and mentee. However, I’ve seen a few things that can disrupt a mentorship. The relationship seems to fall somewhere between friendship and professional contact, and there are many programs which attempt to formally define the boundaries. I like to think of it a bit more casually and say a mentorship is a friendship with direction and focus. And it should be the mentor’s responsibility to make sure it stays this way. Though from my experience, mentoring peers usually results in a strong friendship.

From my experiences, as a mentee and casual mentor for other students:
  1. If a mentee doesn’t respond or fails to show interest, you are going to have a difficult time mentoring them.
  2. A multi-tiered mentorship does not work.
  3. Shyness can be overcome by choosing another communication channel.
  4. Share your interests; speak openly about your level of understanding.
  5. Be careful about formalizations; don’t turn the relationship into a chore.

Some elaborated tips for those interested in joining a mentorship program:
  1. Your job as a mentor is not to extract or create interest but mold and embrace it. Turn interest and motivation into enthusiasm. If your mentee does not show interest, then they are not taking the relationship seriously. Don’t give up on them, but don’t kick yourself if they don’t succeed.
  2. Keep communication flowing! It’s heralded time and again that communication is the key to organization and success. Use this opportunity as a mentor to demonstrate good communication practices to your mentee. You should be familiar with the appropriate channels, utilize them, demonstrate them, and teach them.
  3. To the mentee: find someone with similar interests. InfoSec is not enough; make sure they are interested in the same information security topics as you: secure coding, policy, network, management, forensics, testing, malware, virtualization, privacy, mobility, surveillance, compliance, etc.
  4. Build your community! Take every opportunity for referral, a mentorship does not have to start and end with the same mentor. By introducing your mentee to others who may share their interests you can build your community and possibly find someone who’s more suited to comment on their concerns.

I’ve had some very successful mentorships, and some very poor ones. It’s a wonderful opportunity for both the mentor and the mentee to better understand their fields of study. Working as an instructor is eye-opening; you instantly become detail-oriented without the typical pressure associated. The questions students come up with are interesting too! Remember, I’m a student, formalization is not my style. Some of these suggestions may seem na├»ve but they are all compiled from experience. If you’d like to know why I made any of the suggestions feel free to send me an email.

More writing from Teddy Reed and the projects he is working on can be found at his blog here. If you want to contact him, drop an email to teddy@prosauce.org.

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